Near-Death Experience

Each step along a long journey is laden with challenges; challenges that can be fatal. Knowing how others overcame those challenges can better prepare us to face them.

The story goes, when pondering about the life in the Universe Fermi asked: “Where is everyone?”

Given the vastness of the universe, even with a very small probability, there should be several intelligent civilisations. Where are they and why have we not found them? This is referred to as Fermi’s Paradox.

The explanation that is often provided is called the Great Filter. Each filter requires overcoming a tough challenge and life needs to pass through all those filters to reach a point where it can discover another.

For life to move from non-living to living form;

For life to them evolve from single-celled to multi-cellular;

For life to then develop intelligence;

For life to find a way to move beyond its own planet;

For life to colonise other planets;

Each step is an incredible challenge and not every life-form is expected to pass through all of these filters to the next stage. It is posited that these are the filters that have kept other highly evolved beings from emerging and being found.

For Startups

Startups go through filters of their own and many of them go through several near-death experiences when building their ventures. Some push through those challenges and then others do not.

For a startup, you need to have an insight to build a product around;

For a startup to even be a startup you need to be able to acquire the first customers;

For a startup to continue growth you need to be able to build a team;

For a startup to continue to grow you need to raise investment;

For a startup to continue to grow, your product needs to keep improving and evolving;

For a startup to continue to grow, customers need to satisfied with what you offer;

For a startup to continue to grow, subsequent investments need to materialise;

A Startup needs to eventually turn profitable;

At any point, any number of things can pose a challenge and lead to the failure of the startup. Team Stagnation; Product Stagnation; Funding Stagnation; Customer dissatisfaction.

Almost all startups face these challenges at some stage or the other. These are the near-death experiences that startups go through. If they are not able to pass through the filter, they may not be able to scale successfully. Sometimes, the solutions are found by those running the company and sometimes there are outside influences that smoothen the way. Without Smartphone and 3G, Facebook would have been another Orkut. Without demonetisation, Paytm would not have been anywhere close to the scale it has achieved today.

Whether the ingredients for success come from within the company or from outside it, the key to success is to not give up. To keep pushing despite the odds. Moreover, young entrepreneurs need to learn about the challenges that these startups went through to achieve their success. It is rarely a straight line.

When it comes to life, we may have no way to know how life got through these filters, but with startups, we can.

No startup wants to publish stories about how they got through these filters. How close they were to death. How weak their business was or perhaps is. It would hurt their prospect of raising money, would result in competitors looking to take advantage of it and might even result in customers moving away.

As an ecosystem, we need to start talking more about the near-death experiences, if we want future startups to be better prepared to deal with the challenges. Provided these experiences are shared, the next breed of startups will emerge far stronger and capable.


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