Software startups, like rocket launches, are difficult to get right. Extensive and detailed planning is required to successfully launch a software project or a rocket. The failure rate is much higher for software projects (though far more explosive for rockets), yet both innovations require detailed planning up front. 

There is another similarity between launching software and launching rockets: failure is almost never due to technical issues. Failure is more often a result of insufficient planning. We’ll expound on that and how startup founders can avoid software failure. 

Wait, Startups Aren’t All Ping Pong Tables and Happy Hour Brainstorms?

We’ve all heard of failure to launch as it relates to rockets, but the reality is that the course for software failure (or success) is set from the very beginning planning stages, long before launching.

When most of us think of innovation, we rarely picture the hours of planning, research, and testing that go into translating an idea into a finalized digital product. A majority of the focus is on the glamorous parts: idea generation, brainstorming, the build, and launching. 

The less exciting aspects, like planning, research, quality assurance testing, and being willing to discard a concept or feature because it can’t be validated, are the most overlooked. As many failed software startups can attest, these oft-ignored parts are also mission-critical for success. 

What Every Software Startup Should Be Doing

Most digital projects begin once an idea is combined with action. But early action shouldn’t be anything technical or related to building the product. 

The first objective should be Clarity. What actions can startup founders take to gain clarity? We have a proven process for gaining clarity called the Innovation Lab. You may adopt something similar. 

It’s important to note that three of the four stages of the Innovation Lab don’t include any development. 

    1. Discovery Sessions: This stage is for defining and fully understanding the problem the software will solve.
    2. Ideation Workshops: This stage is for generating ideas and plans for how the software might solve that problem for the end user.
    3. Experiments: Research and testing will be used to validate ideas generated in the previous stages. If they can’t be validated, you must be willing to scrap them. By the end of this stage, no development should have occurred. All resources should be dedicated to gaining clarity, defining and ranking priorities, and focusing on the needs of the end user.
    4. Rapid Development: Develop a prototype to showcase to either prospective investors or customer test groups.

When Failure is Not Really Failure

During the clarity phase, you and your team may discover something that causes you to abandon the project. Perhaps the end user’s needs are being met by existing software. Perhaps the solution you ideated isn’t feasible. 

Learning in the clarity phase that a software project shouldn’t move forward is a win. Call it a lesson and use what you learned for your next endeavor. It’s when you make those kinds of discoveries deep into development or after launch when considerable money and time has already been sunk that the project becomes a failure.

What Kind of Clarity Should We Have Before Developing?

How much information must be synthesized during the clarity phase to support moving into the development phase is up to startup founders, their team, and their investors. Though there is a breaking point where preparation turns into stalling, at ENO8, we believe almost all startup founders should get more clarity than they do. More clarity up front is beneficial in many ways, because it:

  • reduces risk for the startup
  • boosts the confidence (tied to willingness to fund) of investors
  • cuts costs by reducing reworks during development
  • narrows the timeline
  • contributes to an end product that is more likely to be used and loved by customers (this is called product/market fit)

Questions to Answer

But what specifically should be uncovered during the clarity phase? Here are some (of the many) questions startup founders should be able to answer before moving into the development phase of software:

  • Who are the end users? Do we know them really well?
  • What will the user’s journey be as they interact with our software?
  • What features do our users want? What features do they not want or will not use?
  • Why will they care about or be motivated to use our software?
  • What’s our differentiator?
  • How much will it cost to build this?
  • How long will it take to build this?
  • What technology is required to bring our idea to fruition?
  • Is it feasible to build this?

Failure from Technical Issues Doesn’t Really Exist

That last question is critical, and it’s the reason we are taking a stand against the idea that technical issues are ever really the reason software startups fail. By now, it should be clear that major technical problems can only arise when they were not accounted for and addressed during the clarity phase. 

Minor technical problems are bound to happen throughout the software development phase. This is why software is typically built in two-week sprints. At the end of every sprint, the feature that was just developed undergoes quality assurance testing. If a problem arises with the feature, it can be solved in the moment, rather than later on when it has potentially snowballed into a greater issue.

Unless a development team is completely ignoring minor issues to the point they turn into major issues (which will go against every instinct of your developers, and they will let you know), the the majority of technical issues that should have the power to take down an entire software project should have been predicted and solved well before development started.

It’s incredibly challenging to launch rockets and to build software that people love. That doesn’t stop people from trying again and again. Why? Because the human drive for innovation is innate and powerful. And because the success of such an endeavor – be it an app or an orbit of the planet – has the potential to transform lives.

Need Help? Contact the Clarity Pros

If you have a great idea, don’t hesitate to launch into that clarity phase. If you are looking for a partner, there’s no team that investigates and innovates better than ENO8. Our Innovation Lab is where your idea goes to grow into software that really matters.



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Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is a veteran entrepreneur and co-founder of Dallas-based digital product studio ENO8. Jeff and his business partner, Rishi Khanna, created ENO8 to empower companies of all sizes to design, develop and deliver innovative, impactful digital products. With more than 18 years working with early-stage startups, Jeff has a passion for creating and growing new businesses from the ground up, and has honed a unique ability to assist companies with aligning their technology product initiatives with real business outcomes.

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