Do startups fail because of poor technology?


Plenty of startups fail because they don't get traction in the market, their market didn't exist, or they get elbowed out by competition.

But does it happen that startups fail because their technology is poor?

I see plenty of articles that say "ship first, no matter how bad". Does this imply there's no real place in a startup for proper software engineering principles that may reduce the time to market, but make the solution easier to grow?

And if that's the case, does that mean that technology doesn't really matter?


asked Dec 14 '09 at 20:01
Jeremy Mc Gee
371 points

6 Answers


But does it happen that startups fail because their technology is poor?

Yes, sure, happens all the time. Healthcare and biotech are especially hurt by this (nobody wants a medicine that doesn't work). Software companies get hit by this too, though the effect is often less obvious.

Cuil, the much hyped Google killer, is dead now IMHO. They hyped themselves to the stars, and then delivered a crappy first release, making everyone feel let down and negative towards their brand. Arguably it's not a 100% pure technology failure, it's also about wrong marketing, but its still a technology-driven failure.

I see plenty of articles that say "ship first, no matter how bad".

No, they don't say that (or they shouldn't say that). They say smartly define a Minimum Viable Product, and then iterate on it. Release the first version in a state where you still have some work to do, but target your marketing so that the only people who see the initial release are early adopters who are somewhat forgiving of problems. In other words you compromise, but mostly in the areas of feature scope and marketing, and only a little on quality (which you then aim to rapidly improve).

Does this imply there's no real place in a startup for proper software engineering principles that may reduce the time to market, but make the solution easier to grow?

No. But getting the compromise just right is damn hard, you don't want premature optimization either.
answered Dec 14 '09 at 21:45
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points
  • Shipping a bad product is a management problem, not a technology problem. – Tim J 14 years ago
  • @Tim: I think you're partially right, but on the other hand, everything could be said to be a management problem then. I still think www search is a technology-driven field, due to the scale of the Internet, and thus that poor technology was (a) root cause for Cuil's problems. – Jesper Mortensen 14 years ago
  • I thought Cuil was a horrible name. Half the time I couldn't spell it right... Cuil Ciul Cuul ?!? – Joe A 14 years ago


Startups fail because they did not get the three critical pieces perfect:

  • Technology: Does it work and solve a customer pain better than competitors
  • Team: Can the team do the job? This is the entire team, tech and management
  • Market: Does a market exist for your product or service? Will people actually buy it.

If you don't get all three perfect, then your chances of success are close to zero.

answered Dec 14 '09 at 23:48
Jarie Bolander
11,421 points
  • I would just amend "work and solve a customer pain" to "work and solve a customer pain better than competitors". Often people develop a solution without adequate research to figure out solution are already available. You can't assume your first customer is aware of all available solutions. – Dane 14 years ago
  • Dane- Good point. That sounds much better. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago


I suppose this would depend on what type of start up you are. Web based ones that wish to experience explosive quick growth and exit seem to be what is typically discussed here. Most of these are often service based, vs. product based, and as such being the first and grabbing that initial market share and online presence is usually very powerful especially with the ability to rapidly iterate based on customer feedback and only needing to update a web site.

If your making and selling a non-web product however I think rules are fairly different. Often you have one initial launch point and your product needs to be as polished and functional as possible. You aren't able to rapidly iterate changes generally like a web app, and so its important to get it right the first time.

Technology wise I think It also depends on if you plan on selling the technology your developing. Look at companies like ID software and valve, they were once start up companies as well, they made and delivered great products, and then turned around and licensed out their technology for hundred of thousands of dollars a license. You don't have those type of options if your technology is bad.

answered Dec 14 '09 at 21:14
Centurion Games
626 points


Let me answer this with a few question, how would you define "technology"?

  • Platform (Window / Linux)
  • Stack (Microsft / LAMP)
  • Software Practices (Agile vs Waterfall)

If you make poor decisions that are not aligned with the business on those fronts, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Success just like failure comes in plenty of flavors. The reason will usually boil down to people and luck.

If you choose the right people they will choose one of the many right technologies. And usually there is no single tech solution to a business problem.

It is a complete fallacy to think that aggressive iterations of a product imply sloppy software engineering. You can ship a new iteration of your product weekly and still follow best practices and have a product that rocks. You can ship one version a year and have it suck royally.

For startups, having a living product is huge advantage, listening to customers and iterating quickly is a huge advantage. Hence the "ship it" philosophy.

Can a business fail cause the wrong technology was chosen? Of course.
Can certain businesses succeed with either LAMP or MS stacks? Of course.

answered Dec 14 '09 at 23:44
Sam Saffron
432 points


It is simple. In business, the best product wins most of the time. So while technology is part of the product, it does not have to make or break your company.

Focus on giving the best product to the users. The question of whether tech is part of that is dependent on your particular case.

answered Mar 26 '11 at 05:51
1,821 points


Shipping fast doesn't imply skipping software engineering principles. It simply means to implement features progressively as they are "requested" by your customers and not waste time where very little value is added compared to the amount of effort required. If you master object oriented design, it is possible to scale your software and add features without ending up with a code soup!

answered Dec 14 '09 at 21:46
Olivier Lalonde
2,753 points

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