A Reminder of Some Less Obvious Reasons Founders Fail

  • — February 8, 2019

    A Reminder of Some Less Obvious Reasons Founders Fail


    I had a recent conversation with the founding team of a brand we admire and follow. They shared with me that they were planning to wind things down. While their reasons were sound and their outlook positive, I couldn’t help but feel sad. They’re brilliant, seasoned entrepreneurs who created a craveable product that fit a need in the market. But, it takes more than that to succeed. I remain frustrated that too many brands fail. It made me think of this article that I wrote a year and half ago. I realized that there might be some value in sharing its message again. I hope you find this helpful.

    A founder of an emerging food and beverage brand faces fierce headwinds. It’s not easy to take an idea, commercialize it, and then successfully shepherd it into the carts and stomachs of American consumers.

    Brands fail. In fact, failure is the most frequent outcome. I am not trying to be a buzz kill. I am, however, attempting to paint a realistic picture of the competitiveness of this industry. A friend who is the VP of grocery for a large retail chain told me that “For every new brand I put on the shelf, I have ten more that are ready to take its place.” Success is often a war of attrition.

    There are some common reasons that brands don’t succeed, such as the lack of product/market fit, poor packaging or positioning, category saturation, or the biggest brand killer of them all, when it just tastes lousy.

    In this article, I don’t want to concentrate on the above or the many other reasons that can be added to that list. Rather, I want to focus on the less obvious. The ones that can still take a brand down, even if everything else is in its favor. These less visible reasons all deal with mindset.

    Reason #1 – The blindness of passion

    I wrote about this in a recent article. A deep passion is usually considered a positive attribute. Yet, it can also cause blindness. When passion prevents its holder from having their eyes wide open, the results can be devastating. When belief in the product is so strong, it can prevent both the seeking and the receiving of valuable feedback. In the absence of feedback, the needed adjustments and adaptations are often missed.

    Reason #2 – Not knowing what you don’t know

    The food and beverage business is complicated and convoluted. I’ve been a student for 28 years and still have plenty of learning ahead of me. No one starts a brand with all the answers. It’s vital to recognize the knowledge boundaries and find others who can fill that gap. A team, whether employees, mentors or paid advisors can speed growth and mitigate risk.

    Reason #3 – It’s not all about the exit

    In today’s climate so much talk and hype is tied to a brand’s exit. While a nice exit is great, placing focus on it is a mistake. The best way to increase the odds of a nice exit is to create a strong brand with great tasting products while simultaneously building a real business with a good EBITDA to support that brand. The focus should always be on the business first not the exit.

    Reason #4 – Focus, focus, focus

    Opportunities rarely present down a single path. They frequently show themselves as multiple forks in the road. The hard thing is to place focus on just one or two. I see this time and time again. A founder senses opportunities on many fronts. It could be multiple categories or channels, even geography. Tackling them all, they wind up diluted and ineffective. To this point, I’d recommend the book “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown. It is vital to stay focused and to not become a squirrel chasing its next nut.

    This list is anything but exhaustive. My purpose is to illustrate the importance of mindset. My hope is that we can use this article to start a deeper conversation on the topic. Please share your thoughts on the other ways mindset can impede success.

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    Author: Elliot Begoun

    Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on accelerating the growth of emerging food and beverage brands. He helps clients gain distribution and win… View full profile ›


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