Guest column

Why you need to prevent 'expert syndrome' and find a market need for your startup to succeed

The biggest reason startups fail is because of no market need. Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

It's a brave new world. It's an era of hot IPO's, next-generation technological disruptions, Silicon Valley tech-storms, and many startups that eventually nosedive. Many startups believe that they are creating the next best thing, but in reality, more than 80 percent of the startups fail on a global scale.

These are staggering numbers as the world is evolving, and the job market is saturating exponentially, giving to the rise of startups and entrepreneurial ventures. Nowadays, it's easy to get caught up in the endless stories of startup successes, but in actuality, startup failures are way more common that startup successes in accord with data from CB Insights.

According to the surveys by CB Insights analysts and researchers, more than 70 percent of upstart tech companies fail, and their counterparts the 'consumer hardware startups' are prone to failure with 97 percent ultimately dying or becoming "zombies." Let's talk about why startups and businesses fail. One of the significant factors that cause startups to fail miserably is that there's no market need.

Preventing 'expert syndrome'

Startups can run into the problem of their being little or no market need for the product or service they are providing. Startup founders tend to overrate and overestimate themselves and underrate the more experienced people around them. This is known as 'expert syndrome,' and it is one of the contributing reasons why many startups tend to fail and nosedive.

Ignorant individuals are often bursting with escapism, unrealistic expectations and grandeur emotions, which may cause their businesses to fall out. The actual feeling that you are in control combined with an idealistic inevitability that there is market need for the creator's product or service can lead to inevitable failure.

Expert syndrome is recognized in the field of psychology as the Dunning-Kruger effect; cognitive bias of superiority in the mind of an individual that believes their knowledge is greater than it is. This can also result in unrealistic expectations for otherwise relatively small impact incremental innovations.

As an MBA, I have seen this in myself over the years (admittedly often in hindsight) and in waves of fresh MBAs trying to turn their class project business plan into a real business. However, it is not exclusive to MBAs as any domain experts' true knowledge could be limited by their perspective and experience of a given situation. On the contrary, the secondary issue of the nature of innovation is more complicated as it presents a cause and effect relationship with the market scenario.

For a startup's success, it is essential for the product or service to be more 'disruptive' in nature rather than being merely incremental. The startup needs to solve an unsolved problem rather than assisting the problem.

Lessons learned

Now, the million-dollar question is how to learn from 'No Market Need' as the leading startup reason for failure. My advice is to get out and speak early and often with those with a different perspective on the innovation, certainly outside of the area of the innovator. From my experience this is better done in waves in that the questions are asked to the relevant persons, first reaching out to those most proximate to but outside the invention and inception space. After that moving further out from the center to find reason, logic, and ideas for validation of the disruption that can support the startup momentously.

For example, the technology for Solenic Medical addresses infections on medical implants, which was invented by a pair of university researchers at UT Southwestern. The first is an expert in infectious diseases and the second is a thermal medicine engineer.

In my due diligence research, I first reached out to orthopedic surgeons who perform the implant surgeries and deal with the first challenges of infections that arise. Receiving great feedback, almost too good to be true at first pass, I moved on to a next wave of doctors a little further out. I spoke to an ER doctor, a neurosurgeon, an interventional radiologist, and so forth, which didn't result in the same level of enthusiasm but raised good questions that drove further investigation in the due diligence effort.

From there I moved on to contacts in surgical centers and medical billing experts, further removed from the problem and again less enthusiastic. Less enthusiastic for sure, but none of them raised significant barriers, and some helped refine our understanding of what it would take to get the product to market within facility budgets and medical reimbursement requirements.

The crux here was not in any way to disrespect or discredit the inventor of the invention, but to get a perspective that complements the inventor(s) and validate the technology in multiple dimensions: the customer perspective, the product enabled by the technology, team requirements, funding challenges, all leading to valuable insights on the value of the innovation itself.


Obviously in the case of Solenic Medical, we chose to license that technology and form a company around it because we became confident that there was significant market need worth the challenges of bringing the medical device to market. This is what 'Market Need' is all about. It's about finding the right need at the right time and in the right manner.

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James Y. Lancaster is the Texas branch manager for Arkansas-based VIC Technology Venture Development. Lancaster, who lives in College Station, oversees business there, in Dallas, and in Houston.

The oil and gas industry has been hit by a trifecta of challenges. This local expert has some of his observations. Getty Images

In the matter of a few weeks, COVID-19 disrupted life across the globe, but the oil and gas industry was hit especially hard with the triple impact.

First, there was the direct impact of COVID-19 on the workforce. Next, there was a dramatic drop in global demand as countries and cities around the world issues travel restrictions. Finally, there was a global increase in oil supply as OPEC cooperation disintegrated.

As energy companies raced to set up response teams to address all three concurrent issues, something that no one was quite prepared for was the speed at which all direct lines of communication for the industry were shutoff. Seemingly overnight, industry conferences and events ground to a halt, corporate offices were reduced to ghost towns, and handshakes were replaced with virtual high fives.

To fill this inability to interact, connect, and collaborate as we used to, my company, Darcy Partners, stood up a series of executive roundtables for the exploration and production community to come together and share ideas on how to approach this unprecedented series of events.

Each week, over 25 executives from various oil and gas operators (and growing) gather virtually to share best practices around COVID-19 response plans, discuss the broader impacts of the turmoil on the industry and learn about innovative technology and process solutions others are implementing to help mitigate the impact of the virus and associated commodity price volatility.

We've seen the priorities of these executives shift and evolve with each phase of COVID-19 and the market impact. In early discussions, the main focus was on taking care of their workforce and what plans were being instituted to help minimize the disruption to operations while also ensuring that no one was exposed to any unnecessary risks. Participants shared best practices and policies they had in place for communication both internally and externally as well as their transition to work-from-home.

At later roundtables, the discussion turned to commodity prices and market response. Although this industry is quite accustomed to the inevitable ups and downs, this time is notably different. The market dynamics during this cycle are far more pronounced than in past downturns – largely due to the concurrent supply and demand imbalances coupled with the broader economic uncertainty. Most operators are taking action by making cuts, and some have already decided to shut-in production. Additionally, the importance of technology and innovation came to the forefront, whether discussing tools to facilitate working from home or remote operations to ensure the continued safe operations in the field.

The future is largely unknown; all of the information and analytics and millions of outcomes being modeled do not create the full picture needed for leaders to make the difficult decisions that are necessary. But there are a few things we know for sure. First, there will be an oil and gas industry on the other side of the current turmoil. Secondly, technology will play an increasingly important role going forward. And, finally, the complex issues the industry is dealing with today can be more effectively understood and managed by coming together to share ideas and best practices.

Nearly 5 years ago, Darcy Partners was founded on the premise that there was a missing link in the oil and gas Industry for the adoption of new technologies. Today, there is a missing link for an entirely different reason. Darcy Partners has rapidly mobilized our vast network of operators, technology innovators, investors, and thought leaders to come together and create a shared level of certainty, in an entirely uncertain world. To help leaders make the decisions that must be made and prepare for a new future, one that might not have been expected, but one that the industry will evolve to succeed in.

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David Wishnow is the head of energy technology identification and relationship management at Houston-based Darcy Partners.