Entrepreneur Epidemic: Second Startup Syndrome


You're successful. An entrepreneur who nailed your first startup, raising tons of VC and creating a great product. You feel like a regular Mark Zuckerberg.

But now you've come down with a serious condition: Second Startup Syndrome. Warning: This needs to be treated immediately.

According to Ben Horowitz, cofounder of venture cap firm Andreessen Horowitz, Second Startup Syndrome "occurs when an entrepreneur wants to pick up her second startup right where her first startup left off." As Horowitz explains, this condition starts when entrepreneurs believe they can simply continue their wave of success rather than starting from scratch—that is, founding a startup based on the right product and the right market.

"During this period, there is no glamour and very little breadth—the company must be narrow," Horowitz prescribes on his blog. "Serial entrepreneurs who suffer from Second Startup Syndrome want to skip through the narrow early steps and move quickly to more exciting topics such as long-term strategy, sales and marketing, company positioning, company culture, and more. Unfortunately, when you build a house, it’s usually a very bad idea to start with the roof."

The most telling symptom of Second Startup Syndrome is a lack of anxiety. Finding success with a new startup, Horowitz believes, should always be difficult, stressful, and never certain—there is no way to skip the grueling side of the process. However, "all those things that you go through," he says, "turn out to be good." After all, success always requires you to "sweat the details" and put in the hard work.

Other symptoms, as Horowitz describes in WebMD fashion, include:

•"The company assumes that the first product will succeed and spends more time figuring out business models and monetization strategies than developing the core product idea.
• The company becomes obsessed with the things that went wrong in their last company and focuses entirely on how to rid the new company of these mistakes. If the previous company was successful, the entrepreneurs often ignore what went right and focus on what went wrong.
•The company glosses over important details assuming that what worked the first time will automagically work the second time."

What about you? Do you have Second Startup Syndrome?

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  • Geri Stengel

    An interesting insight: second startup entrepreneurs may move too quickly through the early steps to more exciting big picture steps. As a serial entrepreneur, I've experienced it myself. The good news is by time you get to the third startup, you've learned what you did wrong in the second. Yes, once again you attend to the details. Second startup entrepreneurs should heed your advice.

  • Trudy Phillips

    Lack of attention to details and lack of anxiety. Thanks for sharing this. Now I know what happened and why when after my 4th startup, it failed. I was guilty of both, until the 5th was sinking and then like many entrepreneurs and first timers, kept going 6 months longer than I should. This actually makes me feel a lot better. I have not been embarrassed as any serial entrepreneur is bound to have at least unsuccessful tale to tell. And I am willing to share my experience with other budding.