Focus on broad statistics and it’s tempting to think that money is everything where startup success is concerned. One example: A study of 100 failed startups by CB Insights found that running out of cash was the top reason given by founders for their company’s demise.
But there’s a flip side: What you rarely hear is how a lack of money actually built a foundation for startup success.
Short-term success is relatively easy when you have money to burn. But if you don’t have tons of cash, you have to find creative ways to solve a problem. Like figuring out a way to maximize inventory turns, instead of simply renting more warehouse space. Like working to optimize a process, instead of hiring a consultant to tell you what you already know.
If you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If you’re a startup with capital, every problem gets solved by money.
Which brings us to Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel, the men’s 10,000 and 5,000 meter Olympic champion. How is he the dominant skater in the world, and not a Dutch athlete from the sport’s powerhouse country? How did he just win the 10,000 meter race by a remarkable 14 seconds?
After all, Dutch athletes receive market-leading salaries from professional teams. They attract significant sponsorship. Their resources–training facilities, coaching, etc.–are both extensive and considerable.
To van der Poel, the answer is simple. The resources enjoyed by some skaters actually create constraints:
We don’t have the freedom of economy (meaning resources) that they have, but we have the freedom of authority.
The con of having so much money is that you’re looking for solutions to problems that money can solve, but it’s not always the best solution.
To van der Poel, the Dutch are like a startup with an impatient investor. They don’t have the time to test, to analyze, and to experiment. They have to focus on short-term goals and targets–which often requires spending money to solve the growth problem–whereas van der Poel has the luxury of finding creative ways to build a foundation for long-term success.
That’s how he was able to take a year off from skating just to work on his aerobic fitness, a training strategy he feels greatly contributed to his recent success at the Olympics.
To van der Poel, lack of money isn’t a constraint. Lack of money creates freedom. Lack of money creates opportunity. The opportunity to do things your way. On your timeline. On the back of your own intelligence, experience, expertise, and vision.
The same is true for startups. Many businesses are bootstrapped with almost no money.
If capital is tight, make that your advantage. As Growthink founder Dave Lavinsky says, being an entrepreneur is the art and science of accomplishing more with less: Less money, less staff, less time, etc.
After all, you will never have “enough” cash or funding. So if you don’t have enough capital to launch your business the way you plan, change your plan.
Because you can’t always control what you have.
But you can control what you do with what you have.
Especially when you have the luxury of having no one to answer to but yourself.