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A Study on High-tech Startup Failure

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A significant number of startups fail during their first years of operations, and most of them crash within five years. A wide range of reasons for startup failures has been identified in the literature. However, most of the reasons for startup failures are too general in that they focus on startups in general. In this regard, not every factor may be responsible for the failures of some startups. Although there are adequate investigations that have provided substantial evidence about different reasons that cause startups failure, this study aimed to review these reasons collectively to determine how they relate to high-tech startup failure. This study used a qualitative research method to collect and analyze data from 15 founders of high-tech startups in the United States (US), Finland, and Canada. The researcher conducted interviews through Skype and analyzed data using thematic analysis to derive relevant themes to the study. Likewise, the researcher conducted a profound, systematic review to identify themes relating closely to startup failures. The results showed that high-tech startups failures relate closely to product and market challenges (product timing difficulties, product design problems, improper or absence of selling strategy/ distribution channels, and small market size), financial problems (initial undercapitalization and debt burden), and management issues ( lack of competent teams and human errors). The study showed that a wide range of factors leads to the failure of high-tech startups. Therefore, founders and personnel working in these high-tech startups should pay attention to the identified areas to minimize the chances of failure.
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A Study on High-tech Startup Failure
Antecedents, Outcome and Context
Vedat Öndas
Master’s thesis
April 2021
School of Business
Masters Degree in Entrepreneurship and Business Competence
Öndas, Vedat
Type of publication
Master’s thesis
April 2021
Language of publication:
Number of pages
Permission for web
publication: Yes
Title of publication
A Study on High-tech Startup Failure: Antecedents, Outcome and Context
Possible subtitle
Degree programme
Master’s Degree Programme in Entrepreneurship and Business Competence
Akpinar, Murat
Assigned by
JAMK Centre for Competitiveness
A significant number of startups fail during their first years of operations, and most of
them crash within five years. A wide range of reasons for startup failures has been
identified in the literature. However, most of the reasons for startup failures are too
general in that they focus on startups in general. In this regard, not every factor may be
responsible for the failures of some startups.
Although there are adequate investigations that have provided substantial evidence about
different reasons that cause startups failure, this study aimed to review these reasons
collectively to determine how they relate to high-tech startup failure.
This study used a qualitative research method to collect and analyze data from 15
founders of high-tech startups in the United States (US), Finland, and Canada. The
researcher conducted interviews through Skype and analyzed data using thematic analysis
to derive relevant themes to the study. Likewise, the researcher conducted a profound,
systematic review to identify themes relating closely to startup failures.
The results showed that high-tech startups failures relate closely to product and market
challenges (product timing difficulties, product design problems, improper or absence of
selling strategy/ distribution channels, and small market size), financial problems (initial
undercapitalization and debt burden), and management issues ( lack of competent teams
and human errors).
The study showed that a wide range of factors leads to the failure of high-tech startups.
Therefore, founders and personnel working in these high-tech startups should pay
attention to the identified areas to minimize the chances of failure.
Keywords/tags (subjects)
High-tech startups, failure, financial problems, management issues, market, and product challenges,
1. Introduction ........................................................................................................... 5
1.1 Background ....................................................................................................... 5
1.2 The Motivation for the Research………………………….……………………………………….6
2. Literature Review ................................................................................................ 10
2.1 Management Skills, Partnerships, and Competence ...................................... 11
2.2 External Environments ................................................................................... 13
2.3 Improper Business, Product, and Selling Plans and Strategies ....................... 17
2.4 Under Capitalization, Credit Markets, and Improper Financial Management 19
2.5 Impact of Failure on Businesses and Entrepreneurs ...................................... 22
2.6 Theoretical Framework .................................................................................. 24
3. Research Methodology ........................................................................................ 26
3.1 Research Design ............................................................................................. 27
3.2 Data Collection ............................................................................................... 28
3.3 Data Analysis .................................................................................................. 30
3.4 Validity and Reliability .................................................................................... 31
3.5 Ethics .............................................................................................................. 32
4. Results ................................................................................................................. 32
4.1 Product and Market Problems ....................................................................... 32
4.1.1 Product Timing Difficulties ........................................................................ 32
4.1.2 Product Design Problems .......................................................................... 33
4.1.3 Improper Selling Strategy/ Distribution Channels ..................................... 34
4.1.4 Small Market Size ...................................................................................... 35
4.2 Financial Problems .......................................................................................... 36
4.2.1 Initial Undercapitalization ......................................................................... 36
4.2.2 Debt Burden .............................................................................................. 37
4.3 Managerial Problems ..................................................................................... 38
4.3.1 Lack of Competent Teams ......................................................................... 38
4.3.2 Human Errors ............................................................................................ 40
5. Discussion ............................................................................................................ 41
5.1 Product Timing Difficulties ............................................................................. 41
5.2 Product Design Problems ............................................................................... 42
5.3 Improper or Absence of Selling Strategy/ Distribution Channels ................... 44
5.4 Small Market Size ........................................................................................... 45
5.5 Initial Undercapitalization .............................................................................. 46
5.6 Debt Burden ................................................................................................... 48
5.7 Lack of Competent Teams .............................................................................. 49
5.8 Human Errors ................................................................................................. 50
6. Conclusion and Recommendations ...................................................................... 51
6.1 Conclusion ...................................................................................................... 51
6.2. Managerial Implications ................................................................................ 52
6.3 Implications for Research ............................................................................... 53
6.4 Limitations of the Research ............................................................................ 53
6.5 Recommendation for Research ...................................................................... 54
Appendix 1. Interview questions…………………………..…………………………………………………..61
Figure 1. The conceptual and theoretical framework of the antecedent and outcomes
of a high-tech startup failure……………………………………….…………….……………………………..24
Table 1: Characteristics of the Study Sample……………………….…….……………………………...30
Table 2. Codes of the failures………….…….…………………………………………………………………..31
1. Introduction
1.1 Background
The advent of technologies and innovative ways to make life easier has ushered in a
period that witnessed small companies' emergence that experience exponential
growth. They are usually referred to as startups. But how does one define a startup?
According to Bednár & Tarišková (2017), a startup is an entity in its first stages of
operations, aiming to monetize its founder or founders' unique idea or product. The
initial funding of a startup is usually from the founders' pockets or their families and
friends. For a startup to monetize their idea or product, they need to develop, test,
and market, which requires a substantial amount of money. Therefore, one of the
startup's challenges is to raise this amount of money, often requiring that the founders
develop a good argument for their idea or a prototype of their product to support their
pitch to potential investors. However, according to Graham (2012), it does not
necessarily mean that a startup should venture into fundraising or be related to
technology and aim for growth.
Moreover, a startup must develop a valuable idea that can be marketed to a wider
audience, which is already taken. According to Blank & Dorf (2012), a Silicon Valley
entrepreneur who started the Lean Startup movement, "a startup is a temporary
organization searching for a scalable, repeatable, profitable business model." To
generalize, a startup is a group of talented entrepreneurs that design and develop
innovative ideas that are investable and have the potential for a business with a larger
impact and opportunities in society.
The history of startups relates to the “tech bubble” that happened between 1997 and
the early 2000s, an event where there were more supplies of technology than the
number of individuals buying them due to the increase in technology stocks Griffin et
al. (2011) and one of the biggest speculative bubbles in history. During this time, many
Internet-based companies pitched to a huge number of investors, making it lucrative
for companies to pop up and increase their stock prices by just appending a .com or e-
to their company names. However, startups did not start with the tech bubble. Still, it
has become widespread during this period because it is also during this period when
the successful startups we know today, such as Google (n.d.), began their existence.
These startups operated on the actual business model of a startup. Google is a perfect
example of a startup because it began as a PhD research project, called BackRub, in
Stanford University of founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, laying the foundation for
the very popular search engine (Google, n.d.). It stemmed from the goal of creating a
search engine on a very large scale. A startup should aim for – growth – finding a niche
market and creating its niche.
There are five types of startups (Blank & Dorf, 2012):
Small Business Entrepreneurship refers to service-oriented businesses,
such as mini-marts, laundry shops, and barbershops, where the owner
does not aim to take over the industry but to make a profit from well-
paying customers.
Scalable Startup refers to a company started by entrepreneurs who
believe their ideas can create a change globally and bring them sales that
can amount to millions or billions of monies. In return for a rapid
expansion, it requires a huge amount of third-party investments, which is
very attractable to capital risks. Examples of this type of startup are
Google, Facebook, Uber, and Twitter.
Buyable Startup refers to companies that emerged from ideas that are
low-cost but are meant to be purchased by bigger companies who are
after the talent more than the business itself. Examples of this type are
web and mobile applications.
Large Company Entrepreneurship refers to companies with a definite life
cycle that create new innovative products in response to changes in the
external environment such as customer needs and expectations, market
competition, legislations and regulations, and new technologies.
Social Entrepreneurship is similar to scalable startups in terms of being
driven by the desire to change the world, albeit different in their pursuit
to create a deeper impact on society rather than just earning huge
amounts of money for their idea. Examples of this type of startup are
Solarfood (Solar Foods announced a partnership with the European Space
Agency to research food programs on Mars.), Mifuko (Helsinki-based
designers Minna Impiö and Mari Martikainen's design company, and an
online shop that produces bags, baskets, jewellery, and shoes from
recycled material in Kenya.), and ResQ (Founded to reduce food waste,
ResQ focuses on restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and hotels. Their mission to
“leave no meal behind” saw them rescue more than 2M portions by
allowing consumers to discover new restaurants at a 50% discount rate)
The common denominators among these different types of startups are
entrepreneurship and innovation, but each type uses customer focus to help them
reach success. Identifying and understanding the needs and expectations of potential
customers can create an enjoyable experience for them.
A high-tech startup is a company that aims to deliver new or existing technology
products or services to the market. The high-tech industry includes companies that
focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, playing an important role
in the United States' economy (Wolf & Terrell, 2016). Innovation plays an important
role in high-tech startups. Innovation is associated with the idea of adopting the latest
and trendiest technology, but innovation is more than that. It is what lies between
technology and customer needs, which means that innovation is the outcome of
improving customer-related issues based on their needs and expectations are relevant
stakeholders. And to enable a successful venture, high-tech startups should use proven
technology instead of trying to be too innovative by using disruptive technology.
1.2 The Motivation for the Research
Some startups reached the pinnacle of success, such as Airbnb, Instagram, Pinterest,
and LinkedIn, to name a few. However, not all startup stories end up in success. In
2012, a Harvard Business School professor, Shikhar Ghosh, conducted research based
on data from more than 2000 companies that received venture funds between 2004 &
2010 (Gage, 2012). His study results showed that 3 out of 4 startups fail based on the
definition of failure as "failing to see the projected return on investment." Hassan
(2019) listed ten startup companies that failed to reach a successful ending, three of
which are presented below as examples:
Laurel & Wolf, an online marketplace for interior design that started in
2014, received a total funding amount of $25.5M from 14 investors and
experienced operational and management challenges that led to
customer dissatisfaction and unhappy employees, which became the
precursor for their virtual shop to shut down in March 2019.
Call9 is a startup founded in 2015 to help patients in-home care relay
their doctors' issues without going through 911 or waiting in nursing
rooms. The company received a total of $34M from 10 investors but
closed in 2019 due to a bad business model.
Aria Insights is a startup that was founded in 2008 and specialized in the
development of highly advanced drones, such as the Persistent Aerial
Reconnaissance and Communication (PARC) that can fly for days instead
of the usual hour-length fly time of drones. They received a total funding
of $39M from 8 investors. Still, they shut down in 2019 due to multiple
reasons, such as losing their founder in 2018 and refocusing their
operations from developing drones and its technology to developing
smart AI systems and drone programs, to name a few.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020), approximately 20% of new
businesses experience failure during the second year of their operation, 45% during
the fifth year of operation, and 65% during the tenth year of operation. Moreover, only
25% of these businesses reach to operate for 15 years or longer. Studying the data of
the US BLS, the following are the common factors that contribute to the failures of
new businesses:
There was no adequate market research conducted – Not being able to
investigate the market that the business aims to target will result in trying to
push your product or service to a market that does not need it.
There was no adequate planning for the business – While it is inspiring that
there are several successful startups that do not have a business plan to start
with, a successful business is built upon a solid foundation called a plan. During
the planning phase, goals and objectives are established to provide a
framework for the business. The business plan will provide you with an
understanding of what needs to be done, who needs to do it when to do it,
where to do it, and how to do it. Moreover, a concrete plan will tell the
business owners how to address possible problems that may arise while the
business is in operation.
There was no adequate financing. If there is little capital to work on and
problems start to arise during the operations, the company cannot opt for a
loan to save the business.
There were no good internet presence and marketing. Like not having foot
traffic for a business in a bad location, not having enough Internet presence
when people rely on everything online will mean bad business for the owner.
Furthermore, marketing is an important aspect of the business if it will help
reach the right people.
The expansion was done abruptly. Being successful entails an expansion for the
business, but it should not be done without adequate planning because an
expansion is like starting the business over.
The current study aims to identify the factors that contribute to high-tech startup
failures to support future research on analyzing their outcomes by addressing how
startups that experienced failures progressed and developed new business ventures.
This study will also help future startups change how they must behave towards
business and its practices considering these failures and how they can provide them
with a new perspective on decision-making.
The study focuses on the antecedents that contribute to the outcome of failure in
high-tech startups. The study's main goal was further divided into the following
assumptions upon which the questionnaire was based to identify and analyze the
factors that contribute to high-tech startup failures.
Most startups do not have:
1. A clear understanding of the context of their organization
2. A concrete risk management before starting their operations
3. Measurable goals and objectives
4. Customer focus
5. Established processes and controls
As such, this research answered the following questions
6. What are the causes of high-tech startups failures?
7. How be the outcomes of high-tech startup failures analyzed to provide a
framework for the improvement of business behaviors and practices?
2. Literature Review
When a business fails, losses to the owners, creditors, and investors are incurred,
which may or not be recoverable, leading to the shutdown of the business. The event
that leads to a business failure is not something one can easily predict but one that can
be easily prepared for. The sector of high-tech startups has seen a tremendous amount
of growth in the number of businesses that have opened, but it has also witnessed the
fall of many of these businesses. This section of the thesis explored the studies that
have investigated startups and their failures and how these can be related to the
current study.
Before one starts a study of startup failures, and analysis of the ecosystem of startups
in the area of interest may provide insights on how the study may be designed to
gather as much information as needed to construct its outline. Bui (2016) conducted a
study on the ecosystem of startups in Finland that aimed to gain insight and
knowledge to clarify questions related to the activities and environment of
entrepreneurs of Finnish startups as compared with their Nordic counterparts that
would provide a framework for the management of Finnish startups to improve the
quality of their ecosystem. Moreover, this study used the qualitative method of
research that combined the collection of primary and secondary data from academic
literature, Internet sources, and interviews. This study is relevant to the current study
because it also aims to focus on Nordic startups and utilize the qualitative research
method through an interview to gather information about high-tech startup failures.
Similarly, Hermanseter & Mull (2017) conducted a cross-sectional study using an online
survey that investigated 49 international startup companies in a Nordic startup
community in Silicon Valley in terms of the influence of the manager’s international
exposure to the performance of the startup that ventured internationally. Their study
is a great source of information on Nordic startups, especially in the international
setting. Moreover, their study also discussed the relevance of management in the
performance of a startup, which is one of the factors considered in this study to have
an impact on high-tech startup failures.
2.1 Management Skills, Partnerships, and Competence
In 2005, Mehralizadeh & Sajady (2006) presented a paper at the European Conference
on Educational Research on the factors related to the success and failure of 51
business startups in Ahvaz City. The study both explored the success and failure
perspectives of business startups. The findings show that from the point of view of
successful entrepreneurs, their success is related to their suitable management skills,
the selection of qualified personnel with skills relevant to their business, the
continuing professional development of their people, and appropriate planning and
organization of their business. Meanwhile, from the perspective of failure
entrepreneurs, their failure is related to their weak management skills, personnel that
lack the appropriate training and qualifications, and ineffective planning and business
organization. This study is relevant to the current study because it relates to the
individual and organizational factors to the success and failure of startups in Iran.
Similar to the objectives of the current study, the factors were used as bases for
providing recommendations on how future entrepreneurs can address the inadequacy
of these factors and ensure that their business will reach its success.
According to Van Gelderen et al. (2006), a lack of human capital is another cause of the
failure of startups. Many startups fail because they lack the knowledge, skills,
education, and experience to operate them. The absence of these human capital
variables is likely to adversely influence the development and actualization of a
business idea. For instance, the lack of startup experience among nascent
entrepreneurs makes them unable to exploit learning opportunities. The absence of
work experiences deprives entrepreneurs of the skills they need to operate their
businesses successfully. As such, the absence of these human capital variables among
entrepreneurs leads to the failure of startups.
The process of entrepreneurship is affected by the combination of individual,
organizational, and contextual factors (Shepherd et al., 2019). In a similar context,
Shepherd & Wiklund (2006) believe that failure is a process more than it is an event. As
a process, failure is influenced by both internal and external factors. Applying the
process approach to failure, management must understand the five elements of a
process, namely, input, output, controls, resources, and process transformation. This
perspective is relevant to the current study because it can provide a more holistic
approach to understanding what contributes to failure in high-tech startups. And for a
high-tech startup to be successful, the management must consider all aspects of the
business that are likely to have an impact, both negatively and positively, on its
viability as well as exhibit skills in identifying opportunities and mitigating risks.
Stayton (2015) investigated four innovative fast startups in the cleantech industry to
address the downside of rapid emergence in entrepreneurship. The study explored the
antecedents to and outcomes of a rapidly changing environment of startups intending
to contribute insights to business incubation, which influences the time it takes to
launch innovative businesses. Semi-structured interviews were conducted as well as an
analysis of private and public records. The focus of the study is the risks and challenges
that may be encountered during the quick start of an innovative startup. The study
concluded that if risks can be identified, actions to address them may lessen the
impact on the startup. Therefore, having a better understanding of the identified risks
and applying appropriate mitigation action plans will contribute greatly to the
improvement of the success rate of startups. The study also recommends further study
using more case studies are needed to come up with a more solid groundwork for
recommendations for improvement.
Again, Atsan's (2016) study showed that a significant number of businesses fail
because of problems associated with partnerships. In most cases, businesses fail
because some partners tend to prioritize their relationship over the business's welfare.
Notably, this situation is common when business partners are siblings, in-laws, and
friends. Likewise, the failure of businesses is associated with the lack of critical
information and mentorship of entrepreneurship. Many entrepreneurs start
businesses without managerial skills and "secrets of the trade," so they fail.
Likewise, Van Gelderen et al. (2006) study revealed that push motivations and high
ambitions tend to lead to business failures. When individuals are forced to start
businesses or are on the lookout for organizational employment, they tend to fail
because they make irrational decisions. In some cases, entrepreneurs tend to write
unrealistic business plans that have high ambitions. Some startups lack business plans,
and hence they end up neglecting some important business decisions or paying
attention to unimportant activities.
Again, Ooghe & De Prijcker's (2008) study revealed that optimism and risk-taker
behaviours are likely to cause failures in startups and already established businesses.
Entrepreneurs are likely to threaten their startups' survival if they engage in risky
behaviours such as investment in products that do existing markets. Likewise,
managers are likely to cause business failure if they ignore shareholders' interests by
favouring risky projects. In a different vein, management errors relating to a corporate
policy may quickly lead to business failure or bankruptcy. For instance, a corporate
policy that discontinues a particular product in the market may lead to a business's
failure if it is the main source of income. Mainly, these errors can be in the form of
heavy capital expenditures, underestimated expenditures, and low sales volumes.
2.2 External Environments
In 2008, Ooghe & De Prijcker (2008) investigated failure processes, showing that the
external causes of failure are the general and immediate environment of the company,
whereas the internal causes are the management and its policies. The causes of failure
are shown as five interacting aspects, namely general environment (i.e., factors such as
economics, social, politics, technology, and international), immediate environment
(i.e., customers, external providers, competitors, creditors, financial institutions, and
stockholders), management aspects (i.e., motivation, skills, qualities, and personal),
corporate policy (i.e., those governing personnel, strategic planning, investment,
operations, marketing, finance, and administration), and company characteristics (i.e.,
size, industry, niche, and maturity). This model is relevant to the study because it
further digests the factors that contribute to failure into more details and relates it to
the different elements of the business that may provide a better understanding of the
root cause of failure in high-tech startups.
Moreover, Ooghe & De Prijcker's (2008) study established that a company's attributes
such as size, maturity, flexibility, and industry play a role in their bankruptcy or failure.
Startups in new operations and small in size tend to be at a higher risk of collapsing
than already established businesses. The higher risk among startups is associated with
newness liability, which mandates them to build authenticity and steady relationships
with their stakeholders. Again, and irrespective of the industry they operate in,
startups have lower leverage than existing firms in acquiring raw materials, resources,
market, and human capital. In this regard, startups have a higher chance of failing than
established business entities.
Altman (1983) conducted a study that aimed at determining the factors that lead to
business failures. In particular, the author identified economic stress as a major
contributor to business failure. According to the study, economic stress constitutes the
most devastating factor for vulnerable businesses such as startups. Using the data
from 1950 to 1981, Altman (1983) showed that the recessionary periods recorded
increased failure rates of businesses during that time. During those periods, business
failures are associated with a negative correlation between economic stress and sales
(and earnings).
Likewise, Bruno et al. (1987) identified other factors that lead to business failures.
Some of these factors include the decline of gross national product, poor stock market
performance, and dwindling money supply. Mainly, recessionary periods hit startups
hard through diminishing sales and making investors nervous about sustaining losses.
Besides, uncertain technology, uncertain strategy, high initial costs, flooded market,
lack of government support, short time horizon, and first-time buyers are other factors
that lead to business failures. Notably, first-time buyers imply that customers are not
yet used to the product or services, and hence they will respond slowly to the startups.
Since many startups operate with constrained resources, slow sales response leads to
the failure of some businesses. Moreover, startups tend to use uncertain strategy and
uncertainty because they operate under a learning environment where they keep
making business decisions to determine their outcomes. If some of their decisions
result in substantial financial losses, then startups end up failing. Besides, if startups
cannot align their business goals and objectives with customer expectations and
preferences, they end up failing. Notably, when strategies and "rules of the game" are
unclear to venture capitalists and startups, they account for almost one-third of
Again, Van Gelderen et al. (2006) study showed that the environment under which
startups operate determines their failure or success. In particular, the environment
that encompasses network, financial, and ecological factors influence startups'
operations. For instance, many startups lack a strong network or exposure to lenders,
customers, and suppliers. In this regard, many startups find it hard to compete for
resources, raw materials, and clients with existing businesses. Political turbulence,
media, influence rates, and culture hurt startups. For instance, political turbulence hits
startup businesses more because they still do not have sufficient resources to operate
and do not have a large base of customer loyalty. Likewise, many startups experience
culture shock because they lack knowledge about customers' tastes and preferences.
Atsan's (2016) study established that economic conditions, change in government
policies, and unexpected, unlike events, are principal causes of business failures,
including startups. For instance, a change of management in startup critical partners
such as lenders, suppliers, clients, and customers, tends to have adverse effects on
businesses' operation. New management in suppliers may withdraw their commitment
to a business, hence cause difficulties in operation and eventually leading it to the
business's closure. A change in government may lead to crisis, foreign exchange
fluctuations, standby agreements, high taxes, economic meltdown, new banking laws
that affect the business's ability to manage their credit and debt. Further, accidents
during the delivery of goods may lead to the failure of businesses.
Kuckertz et al. (2020) conducted qualitative research on the impact of the COVID-19
pandemic on startups. The study's findings noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was
detrimental to startups because it led to illiquidity through the decline of sales.
Besides, the study results showed that crises like the COVID-19 pandemic led to
existential fear that eventually leads to their failure. Likewise, crises create hostile
climates for innovations because businesses focus on crisis response and "life-saving"
measures (Kuckertz et al., 2020). Many entrepreneurs avoid investment in innovations
in fear of risks associated with the underlying business environment. Likewise,
pandemic and other forms of crisis create additional hurdles in funding. Investors
curtail their willingness to invest in startups because of fear that the existing problems
would curtail development and development. As such, these make startups have little
financial support to capitalize on potential markets and hence fail. Again, the study's
findings showed that crises increase hurdles relating to the hiring of personnel and
management, reorganization of business structures, and interruptions in the smooth
running of businesses (Kuckertz et al., 2020). For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic led
to some businesses' lockdown, hence interrupting their operations through the loss of
contact with existing customers and suppliers.
Akter & Iqbal (2020) studied the reasons for the failure of platform startups through
the proposal of a theoretical structure that explores the elements that impact their
failure. They conducted a systematic review of 113 sources of literature. The results of
their study revealed that three elements have an impact on the failure of platform
startups, namely, organizational, business model innovation, and environmental. Other
than these factors, the study results also revealed that finance, market, and ecosystem
factors contribute to the failure of platform startups. Similarly, (Hasani & O’Reilly
(2020) analyzed the effects of antecedents such as technological, organizational,
environmental, and managerial factors on the performance of 389 Malaysian startup
companies using the principal component analysis and the orthogonal model with
Varimax rotation. The findings of their study showed that technological and
environmental factors have positive effects on the performance of startups. Moreover,
managerial characteristics do not have positive effects on startup performance. These
studies are relevant to the current study because they recognize that there is not a
single reason for startup failure. The combination of several internal and external
factors contributes to the failure of platform startups, which can be expanded to the
context of high-tech startups. Furthermore, these studies also recommend that further
research should be done in light of these findings to gather substantial information to
make a more generalized conclusion regarding the reasons why startups experience
Altman's (1983) study also showed that price level changes or inflation led to
businesses' failure. Increased inflation tends to make startups and other businesses
unable to pay their debts. Notably, the inability to pay loans means that businesses
cannot operate smoothly or access additional credit. Again, inflation cuts the
purchasing power of consumers, and hence it leads to the plummeting of startups'
sales. Firms tend to pass increased prices to consumers, some of whom become
unable to afford them. Given that most of the startups have a small market share, their
sales' plummeting tends to lead to failures.
2.3 Improper Business, Product, and Selling Plans and Strategies
A case study of a high-tech startup over 4 years revealed that despite being initially
successful, the insights provided by ostensible customers led to its product, business,
and organizational failure (Scaringella, 2016). This is a rare case because instead of the
popular belief that customer focus helps in improving the business, the
counterproductive feedback received by the company brought negative impacts to the
process of product innovation.
Cantamessa & Gatteschi (2018) explored 214 post-mortem reports of startups using
descriptive statistics and showed that an inadequate business development strategy
contributes greatly to the failure of startups in most cases examined. By providing a
methodology that can be repeated and scaled up to databases of post-mortem
documents, the study aims to contribute to the literature and help future research in
deriving patterns among startup failures. Similarly, Giardino et al. (2014) aim to
address the gap in the literature to address failure characteristics during the early
stages of startups to raise awareness and provide insights to future ventures. The
behavioural framework developed in this study has helped identify that the
inconsistency between strategies and implementation of management can lead to the
failure of software startups. It emphasizes the need to ensure that whatever was
planned needs to be implemented accordingly to prevent the risk of failure in the early
stages of the startup. These studies are very important to the objective of the current
study as they shift the focus to the antecedents of failure instead of success in the
high-tech startups that are usually studied in the literature.
Nyman (2020) explored the similarities among reasons of success and failures among
six Finnish startups using semi-structured interview questions among startup founders
to check if there is a pattern between success and failure. Based on the conducted
interviews, business and people skills play important roles in startup success.
Ooghe & De Prijcker's (2008) study results showed that a primary initial shortcoming of
startups relates to the absence of managerial or industrial experience. As such, many
startups lack necessities in their business plans, and they lack a strategic advantage. In
other words, startups fail because they lack strategic advantages, such as resources,
market, competence workforce, and location. Notably, a lack of a competent
workforce tends to lead to improper management of existing resources and hence
cause severe operational inefficiencies. A combination of these factors makes the long-
term survival of startups very unlikely.
Giardino et al. (2014) conducted a study to establish the primary challenges that early-
stage software startups. The authors relied on a large-scale survey constituting 5389
complete responses. The findings showed that high-tech startups experience
challenges relating to thriving in technology uncertainty, building entrepreneurial
teams, managing multiple tasks, acquiring initial funding, targeting a niche market,
reaching the breakeven point, defining minimum viable product, acquiring first reliable
customers, and delivering customer value. For instance, high-tech startups find it hard
to attract reliable customers (Giardino et al., 2014). Mainly, this is because customers
must learn to trust high-tech startups before they can commit themselves to buy their
products. Again, high-tech startups attract fewer investors and hence initial
undercapitalization. Many high-tech startups lack clear products and business plans,
and therefore investors avoid them. Again, the study findings revealed that many high-
tech startups tend to have personnel, which lack diversity (Giardino et al., 2014). For
instance, a high-tech startup producing artificial intelligence is likely to hire
inexperienced computer scientists only. The hiring of inexperienced workers means
that high-tech startups do not have other people to work in other parts of the
businesses, such as financial and human resource managers.
Ooghe & De Prijcker (2008) conducted a study to gain a profound understanding of
failure processes in companies. In particular, the study sought to give this studied
phenomenon a more grounded knowledge of the connection between firms'
characteristics, primary causes of failure, and economic effects. Using a literature
review and in-depth case study research, the authors identified four types of failure
processes – the failure process associated with unsuccessful startups, ambitious
growth companies, dazzled growth companies, and apathetic established companies.
Again, the study revealed that management errors, corporate policy mistakes, and
external factors cause company failure. For instance, inappropriate management skills
and quality pose a threat to companies' survival, and hence it is linked to startups'
failures. Likewise, if these unqualified managers are reluctant to accept advice from
their colleagues or other parties, they substantially lead to the decline of companies'
2.4 Under Capitalization, Credit Markets, and Improper Financial
Atsan (2016) reviewed the primary causes of business failures and learning outcomes
that emanate from such experiences. The researchers used data they collected
through interviews done on 13 entrepreneurs who had operated for at least three
years. Atsan's (2016) study focused on automobile, logistics, supplier, construction,
software, ceramic, iron, logistics, textile, and advertisement. In particular, the
researchers conducted a thematic analysis of interview notes, whose results showed
that the largest number of mature business failures was explained by the integrative
approach, which includes both individual/ organizational (internal) and environmental
factors. Notably, some of the identified internal factors of businesses' failure included
the lack of financial skills, such as the inability to perform financial controls and
calculate costs appropriately. Another identified lack of financial skills that leads to
business failure is improper management of loans.
Likewise, Altman's (1983) study noted that businesses fail because of investor
expectations that are not aligned with business objectives. Businesses tend to fail
when investors do not take the necessary steps. A business will not succeed if the
investment community expects that the business will fail, which is reflected in the
prices paid for financial asset ownership. In most cases, investors are not willing to risk
their money with business startups, and hence the prices of stocks of these entities are
in some cases below the value of the financial asset ownership. As such, the prices of
common stocks and business failures have a strong, though not direct, relationship. A
more direct relationship between business failures and stock price may occur if the
definition of insolvency in bankruptcy (a situation where a firms' liabilities exceed its
assets) is considered. Therefore, a fall in stock prices below firms' liabilities leads to
insolvency and business failure. Overall, investors' expectations as denoted by the
price of stocks determine the extent to which a business might fail or succeed in the
Nyman (2020) study results revealed that adequate funding combined with the proper
human skill and customer-centric philosophy are also key contributors to a startup’s
success. The study is relevant to the current study because the area of concentration is
Finland, which is closer to the context of business in the Nordic setting.
Van Gelderen et al. (2006) studied the success and risk factors of startups during their
initial stages. To determine why some startups, succeed and another fail, the authors
used a sample of 517 nascent entrepreneurs – those in establishing a business. The
study's findings showed that 195 efforts of starting businesses were successful while
entrepreneurs abandoned 115 startup efforts. This study's findings showed that
finances are one of the primary reasons why startups fail. Notably, a significant
number of business startups start operations with small capital through founders. As a
result, businesses' inability to meet their financial needs leads to their failure during
their initial phases of operations. Likewise, many startups rely on capital derived
through loans obtained in banks. Some of these sources of capital tend to be risky for
startups as they command significant interests.
Again, Altman (1983) study observed that money market and credit conditions
influence business failures. Mainly, money and the availability of credit and its cost is a
potential source of business failure. Notably, the typical chain of events that lead to
business failure starts with operation challenges that manifest themselves through
losses and deterioration of market share. High financial and operating leverage
structures always augment the vulnerability of firms, including startups. Given that
capital markets are not available to businesses whose solvency is threatened or those
that have just started to operate, and suppliers are reluctant to increase their
exposure, the primary source of credit is commercial banks. Irrespective of how poorly
a business is performing, it is unlikely to declare bankruptcy so long as credit is
available, and liquidity is sufficient. Therefore, it is obvious that businesses' propensity
to fail during periods of economic stress when commercial banks employ relatively
tight credit conditions is high vis-a-vis periods of economic boom when commercial
banks employ relatively easy credit conditions.
Bruno et al. (1987) conducted a study to determine why businesses fail. The study
findings showed that small businesses, including startups, fail because of financial and
management reasons. Again, the study showed startups tend to fail because they
cannot deal with crucial contingencies that threaten their survival. Startups fail in this
case because they constitute the weakest firms.
In his study, Orkiszewski (2012) explored the attitudes that entrepreneurs have when
they fail in their technology ventures. Notably, the author observed that entrepreneurs
develop high-tech startups in uncertain environment conditions with technologies that
are not proven and with inadequate resources. As such, a significant number of these
ventures fail. Orkiszewski (2012) examined how entrepreneurs' attitudes to failure in
high-tech startups vary in different locations – Silicon Valley (US), Germany (Munich),
and Cambridge (UK) and they might show about entrepreneurial learning and
identification of opportunities. The findings of the study revealed that entrepreneurial
attitudes towards high-tech startup failures differ in the three locations. Germany
seems to show substantially different attitudes than that of the UK and the US. Again,
the findings showed that failure and setback play an important role in entrepreneurial
Further, Ooghe & De Prijcker's (2008) study identified low cash flow and profitability as
another cause of startup failures. These financial indicators of distress cause liquidity
problems. Mainly, low cash flow and profitability are associated with bad investment
decisions. Again, mistrust between investment and the management of startups leads
to the absence of external legitimacy. In such situations, investors withdraw their
financial support to startup projects. Another financial-related problem that causes
startup failures is the banks' refusal to cooperate with these entities' management.
Notably, startups without a substantial amount of starting capital have little chance to
survive. As such, initial undercapitalization marks the start of failure among many
Cressy (2006) conducted a study to determine why startups fail in their early phases of
operation. Specifically, the authors developed a model to explain why startups died in
their first years of operation. The study's findings showed firms failed in their first
years of trading because of the depletion of initial financial resources due to trading
losses and bad luck. Another reason for startup failures was the absence of managerial
human capital or talented entrepreneurs to propel their startups to grow faster. In
other words, the study showed that many startups tend to start with low human
capital that comprises the wrong combination or lack of diversity. As such, these issues
make these firms fail early in their operations.
2.5 Impact of Failure on Businesses and Entrepreneurs
Yamakawa & Cardon (2014) carried out a study on causal attributions and apparent
learning from entrepreneurship failure. The authors acknowledged that
entrepreneurship is about success and failure, given that failed attempts or intentions
to start new ventures to determine subsequent ones' success. The study's findings
revealed that failure enables entrepreneurs to expand their knowledge and
perspective about doing business, reverse their previous ineffective practices, and
reveal mistakes. In other words, the results of the study revealed that internal,
unstable failure attributions relate to greater perceived learning. However, external
stable ascriptions lead to less apparent learning. Again, the study showed that
entrepreneurs who start their ventures immediately after their previous one failed to
enhance their ability for perceived learning. In this regard, the high-tech startup's
failures are a precursor to future startups' success as founders learn through their
Sarasvathy & Menon (2013) conducted a study that aimed at showing the relationship
between the failure of firms and the success of entrepreneurs. Notably, the authors
observed that perceived learning's performance augments the ability to succeed in the
ventures. In most cases, many entrepreneurs record failures in their startups before
they achieve success in subsequent ventures. They learn how to operate successful
businesses through failure experiences. Therefore, habitual entrepreneurs tend to
accumulate knowledge about their suppliers, customers, a network of contacts, and
market-specific information. In many startups, this information is not available to
entrepreneurs. In turn, this situation increases the chance of startups failing in their
first years of operation.
Stayton (2015) addressed the pitfalls of starting startups quickly. In other words, this
study sought to demonstrate that one cause of startup failures is starting them within
a short period. In particular, the author argued that the emergence of organizations
and innovative products in rapid succession is a complicated Endeavour requiring
efforts from different fields such as entrepreneurship, innovation, law, public policy,
psychology, management, and organizational behavior. The findings of this study
showed that forming an organization very quickly might lead to some problems.
Notably, the results showed that forming organizations very quickly compress the
period of venture launch. In turn, this phenomenon leads to the elimination of some
important activities or conducting them quickly. Overall, the left-out activities such as
financial management, human resource organization, and marketing initiatives are
likely to influence startups' survival or failure in the future.
In retrospect, the following themes have emerged as common among startup failures.
For instance, failures are caused by different factors that affect the way the startups
perform and achieve their objective of making an impact on society. Likewise, the
review of literature showed that organizational, environmental, and human factors
play important roles in creating the antecedents to a startup failure. Despite the
similarities in the characteristics of startups within the same context, the combination
of different factors makes the development of the context of failure different for every
type of startup. Overall, these common themes gathered from the review of literature
form the foundation of the current study and provide the framework for its construct.
2.6 Theoretical Framework
The SHELL model has four components, namely Software, Hardware, Environment,
Liveware People, and Liveware Environment that comprise the foundation for human
factor studies in the aviation industry. It is a conceptual model developed by Hawkins
in 1975, that was in turn based on the work of Elwyn Edwards in 1972, that provides a
framework for analyzing the relationship between human factors and the resources of
the aviation system (Dumitru & Boşcoianu, 2015). As the model adopts a systems
perspective that considers how different human interactions with contextual and task-
related factors affect their performance, it focuses on the active and latent features of
aviation system failure. In this regard, the research will utilize this model to analyze the
failure of high-tech startups, explore the different factors that contribute to failure and
provide recommendations on future research.
In analyzing the antecedents and outcomes of a high-tech startup failure, the SHELL
model provides a framework to address how the startup has progressed and
developed new ventures considering the failure and how the previous failures of the
startup have affected how decisions were made to arrive at the outcomes such as a
new business venture. In this paper, an adaptation of the SHELL model was used to
come up with the following theoretical framework.
Figure 1. The conceptual and theoretical framework of the antecedent and outcomes
of a high-tech startup failure
Startup Failure
Figure 1 shows the antecedents and outcomes of a high-tech startup failure. The
Antecedent to the high-tech startup failure consists of elements of the SHELL model.
The Software in this framework refers to the intangible and nonphysical component of
the startup that can affect the performance of a high-tech startup. The Software
provides the rationale for an organization to create, deliver, and add value to its
desired market. This includes having a business model, startup positioning in the
market, product-market fit, and product vision. Hardware is the tangible and physical
component of a startup and refers to the product factor that includes focusing on the
product, feasibility, quality, and product evolution in the market. The Environment
refers to the physical component of the startup that defines where it operates, which
includes the effects of competition, economical, and political situations on the startup.
Liveware refers to the human components of the startup and is divided into customers
and central liveware. This component considers the performance, organization,
capabilities, and limitations of the human factor. The first Liveware refers to the
customer or ends user factors such as customer satisfaction, cost of acquiring
customers, and customer needs and expectations. Central Liveware refers to the
startup organizational factors such as management skills, the competence of people,
business organization, and finance. The interactions of these components determine
the occurrence of a failure in a high-tech startup, specifically the interactions between
the human factors and the other components. The outcomes of a high-tech startup
failure may lead to a behavioral change towards decision-making or new business
ventures. Thus, with this framework, the study aims to investigate the factors that
contribute to Nordic high-tech startup failures and their outcomes. Specifically, the
study aims to explore the outcomes in terms of the effects of the following
components of the antecedent:
The individual component (i.e., the human factor such as competence, skills,
and limitations)
The organizational component (i.e., management skills, planning, and risk
The environmental component (i.e., relevant stakeholders, feasibility, market
niche, and customer satisfaction)
Qualitative research was used in different studies of business failures such as Atsan
(2016) and Forsberg & Mattsson (2006) to understand how businesses fail, especially
how an individual develops within the context of a phenomenon. It is used to explain
why things exist as they do, helping in the understanding of the events that lead to the
outcomes. Therefore, in qualitative research, personal narratives and accounts are
important to understanding the process under study. Thus, the current study used the
qualitative method to gain insight into Nordic high-tech startups through a semi-
structured interview with questions that aim to identify the antecedents and outcomes
of failure.
The researcher used the theoretical framework as a foundation for developing an
empirical study. It provided the researcher with insights into the studied phenomenon.
Besides, the researcher used the theoretical framework to design the research
methodology, develop research questions, and collect data. Moreover, the researcher
used the theoretical framework as a foundation for thematically analyzing the data
and discussing it based on previous study findings.
3. Research Methodology
Since the discovery of the internet, the world and, particularly, Western countries have
recorded an increased number of startups. Many high-tech startups have succeeded in
becoming multinational companies, such as Facebook, PayPal, YouTube, and Uber.
Likewise, a significant number of high-tech startups, such as Palm, AltaVista, Friends
Reunited, Pebble, Vertu, Path, StumbleUpon, started as profitable businesses and
ended up failing after a few years. Although numerous studies, such as Altman (1983),
Atsan (2016), Kuckertz et al. (2020), and Van Gelderen et al. (2006), have focused on
startup failures, most of them have not focused on a single industry or sector. For
instance, Atsan (2016) studied the causes of business in various sectors, including
automobile, logistics, supplier, construction, software, ceramic, iron, logistics, textile,
and advertisement. Therefore, a review of high-tech startups' causes would explain
why numerous new ventures operating in this sector continue to fail despite their
3.1 Research Design
This study used a qualitative research method and, exploratory case, design to
determine the primary causes of business failures among high-tech startups. A
determination of the cause of high-tech startup failures would provide the
government, high-tech startups, entrepreneurs, and other policymakers with insights
on how to mitigate their failures. Using a qualitative research technique that uses
exploratory case design will better understand the underlying studied phenomenon
(Järvinen & Mik-Meyer, 2020; Yin, 2017). Likewise, the questions adopted in this
research were aligned more to the qualitative research method. They were preceded
by the adverb "what" so that it can warrant the use of the exploratory case study
Notably, the research design usesthe SHELL model that focuses on the idea that
humans are not the only root cause of any aviation accident. According to this model,
other factors interact with the human, affecting their performance and contributing to
the workplace's realization of accidents. In this regard, the model also considers
operational failures, those that happen during process operations, and latent failures,
those unobserved failures that remain hidden within the organization's structure
(Dumitru & Boşcoianu, 2015). Moreover, due to the model's simplicity, it is commonly
used in any study investigating accidents in the workplace and can be extended to
related studies. In this regard, the study will utilize the model to investigate failures in
high-tech startup companies. A questionnaire (Annex 1) based on the model was
created and distributed to 15 high-tech startup companies with experienced
operations failures. The researcher relied on the qualitative research method to
analyze the data generated from interview. Interviews were designed to gain insight
into high-tech startup companies in terms of their context as an organization, their risk
management approaches, client focus, setting targets and objectives, and process
management. These aspects of a business bring concrete outcomes of success if
utilized to improve the operations.
The study focused on the causes of high-tech startup failures. As such, this study
defined high-tech startups as business entities that rely heavily on technological
innovation to provide products and services to their customers. In this regard, the
study included startups that use technological innovations, such as social media,
smartphone and computer applications, online payment methods, and so forth.
Mainly, the researcher accessed the startups for interviews from websites such as (n.d.) because they have information and links to thousands of startup
companies spread across the world. Therefore, it is easier to identify and contact
eligible study participants via network. Notably, the entrepreneurs were eligible
to participate in the study if their high-tech startups had operated for at least three
years. The sample size was 15 founders of high-tech startups.
3.2 Data Collection
The researcher conducted 15 interviews. Each interviewee was a founder or co-
founder of a high-tech startup. Notably, the researcher chose interviewees using
convenience sampling. In line with DiClemente et al. (2020) recommendation, the
researcher relied on a readily available and existing group of individuals (founders or
co-founders) of a high-tech startup and who were willing to participate in the
interview. Besides, the researcher chose potential interviewees who knew the English
Language, as interviews were conducted in that language. Specifically, the researcher
searched for these interviewees in the LinkedIn database and requested them to
participate in the interview. A request to participate in interviews was done through
emails. Interviewees were hesitant on participating in the study, and hence they only
accepted to participate in the study after the researcher assured them of the right to
their confidentiality. Therefore, interviewees did not permit their names and other
personal information, such as the name of high-tech startups to be released in the
Interviews were done through an online platform – Skype. The researcher used open-
ended questionnaires to collect data. Before interviews, the researcher sent
questionnaires to potential respondents – founders of high-tech startups who have
operated for three years. In line with Agee's (2009) argument, the researcher used
open-ended questions in this study to explore the studied phenomenon in depth.
Therefore, these questionnaires constitute part of qualitative studies whose aim is to
articulate what the researcher intends to know about the studied phenomenon's
issues and perspectives. According to Agee (2009), the idea of qualitative inquiry acts
as a reflective process that underscores the strengths of a qualitative research method,
given that it represents microscopic details of the studied phenomenon. In this way,
the qualitative research method allows researchers to determine how they can clarify
what is happening in the studied phenomenon. In line with Creswell (2013) and Lewis's
(2015) observation, qualitative research questions use research questions that invite
exploration and discovery. Mainly, the researcher collected the data from the founders
of high-tech startups operating in the US, Finland, and Canada through written and
recorded methods. Each interview took between 30 minutes and one hour. In some
cases, interviewees did not want to spend a lot of time claiming their busy schedule.
Apart from interviews, the researcher used journal articles, conferences papers, and
books as secondary sources of data. Some of these second sources of data included,
but not limited to Altman (1983), Atsan (2016), Kuckertz et al. (2020), Bruno et al.
(1987), González-Bañales & Andrade (2011), Schmuck and Benke's (2021), (Hassan,
2019), (2018a, 2018b), and Giardino et al. (2014). Mainly, the researcher used these
secondary sources as complementary sources of data in both the literature review and
discussion part. They helped the researcher to identify, define, and review the themes
of the study.
The researcher labelled the founders of high-tech startups and their respective
startups with pseudo names to mitigate privacy issues associated with data collection.
In particular, the pseudo names entailed a combination of gender, age, and country
initials. The pseudo names of study participants are included, and their demographics
were presented in the table below.
Table 1: Characteristics of the Study Sample (n=15 Interviewees).
Pseudo Name
Nationality and Initial
27 Years
3 Years
United States (US)
37 Years
6 Years
United States (US)
35 Years
5 Years
Finland (FI)
33 Years
4 Years
Canada (CA)
44 Years
5 Years
United States (US)
40 Years
5 Years
United States (US)
41 Years
6 Years
United States (US)
48 Years
12 Years
Finland (FI)
39 Years
3 Years
Canada (CA)
45 Years
5 Years
Canada (CA)
29 Years
4 Years
United States (US)
26 Years
3 Years
United States (US)
38 Years
7 Years
Finland (FI)
34 Years
5 Years
Canada (CA)
31 Years
6 Years
United States (US)
3.3 Data Analysis
In line with Williamson and Johanson's (2018) recommendation, the study used the
cross-case synthesis technique and case study strategy to analyze the collected data. In
particular, the study used thematic and narrative-based analysis of responses from 15
interviewed participants – founders and workers of high-tech startups. Mainly, the
analytical approach combined both thematic narrative analysis by Riessman (2007) and
grounded theory from Corbin & Strauss (2014). Data analysis was based on written and
recorded information to ensure that the interviewees' responses were within the
context of their arguments. Based on the sequence of the SHELL Model-based
questionnaire, numerous themes emerged from interviewees' responses.
Data analysis was done using numerous phases recommended by Lofgren (2013) to
ascertain thematic accounts associated with high-tech startups' business failures.
Notably, the first step was listening to the recorded interviews on numerous occasions
while noting important and interesting perspectives. The second step was coding and
indexing – reviewing and labelling labelled important notes based on phrases, sections,
words, or sections (Lofgren, 2013). In particular, the researcher coded data based on
phrases and words because some interviewees emphasized them. Interviewees
repeated them on numerous occasions. They were in line with concepts of high-tech
startups' failures. Below are codes or themes that researcher identified from the
collected data.
Table 2: Codes of the failures
1. Small market size
2. Initial undercapitalization
3. Debt burden
4. Lack of competent teams
5. Human errors
6. Product timing difficulties
7. Product design problems
8. Improper selling strategy
9. Distribution channels
Step three of Lofgren's (2013) process entailed putting codes together to form themes
on the studied phenomenon – high-tech startup failures. The primary themes that
emerged included small market size, debt burden, human errors, product timing and
design challenges, absence of competent teams, improper selling strategy and
distribution channels, initial undercapitalization. Step four entailed labeling each
theme based on its importance to high-tech startup failures. Therefore, the data
analysis from interviewees was presented via recognized themes, and these categories
constituted the main results of the study. The sixth and final step was to discuss the
findings, whereby interpretation of results was based on previous scientific and
academic sources such as books and journal articles.
3.4 Validity and Reliability
Notably, "an account is valid or true if it accurately represents those features of the
phenomena that it is intended to describe, explain or otherwise" (Cutcliffe & McKenna,
1999, p. 376). In this study, the researcher conducted both external validity tests on
three classmates and faculty members. As Cassell (2012) recommended, the validity
test sought to ascertain whether the study results meant sense beyond that of
participants. Likewise, as Hammersley (1992) argued, the external validity test showed
that the findings would be credible and authentic. The research will focus on the
experiences of interviewees – founders of high-tech startups.
Likewise, the researcher conducted reliability tests on the same three classmates and
faculty members. The test was to ascertain the effectiveness of using Skype and other
predetermined tools and data collection instruments. In line with Cassell's (2012)
observation, the results revealed that the study's findings would be transferable to
other contexts with varied or similar settings such as industries, participants, and
settings. Moreover, the test showed consistency within and across the data from three
classmates and faculty members through data similarity. In this way, these findings
imply that three classmates and faculty members’ questions were relevant to the
studied phenomenon.
3.5 Ethics
The study was conducted based on the University's Research Ethics Policy regarding
humans' participation and sensitive data treatment in research. In particular, the
interviewer requested each interviewee to fill a consent form before participating in
the interview. Besides, interviewees were informed about their right to withdraw at
any given time or avoid answering questions. Likewise, the researcher withheld
sensitive or personal information of interviewees other than education, genders,
marital status, and age from this study.
4. Results
4.1 Product and Market Problems
4.1.1 Product Timing Difficulties
Many high-tech startups tend to experience product-timing problems. In the high-tech
industry, products become obsolete within a short period. Therefore, startups that
introduce products late in the market end up failing. Likewise, high-tech startups that
introduce products to the market prematurely before the market exists tend to fail.
Notably, many interviewees noted that bad timing is the primary source of failed
startups. High-tech industry is very competitive and flooded with products and
services. Hence, startups must ensure that they do not introduce their products and
services in the market when it is too late. When this happens, it is hard to draw
customers from competitors who introduced their products at the right moment.
Below are same quotes that show that the late or early introduction of products and
services in the market is detrimental to startups' operations.
MALE37US: Starting a high-tech firm that provides solutions to
problems that do not exist already has been one of the main causes
of startup failures. This situation implies that there is no market for
startup products or services.
FEMALE41US: Technology changes every day, and startups that
introduce products in the market enjoy market leadership. Any new
entrants who introduce products and services that already exist in the
market fail because customers tend to stick with the ones they
already know.
Based on these quotes, high-tech startups must emphasize timing – when to launch
their products in the market. Mainly, this is because when the market is not ready or is
past its peak, even appropriate product design would not attract buyers. If you are not
the pioneer or don’t do better than rivals, it’s hard to draw customers from
competitors who introduced their products at the right moment.
4.1.2 Product Design Problems
High-tech startups encounter numerous problems relating to product design and
development. All 15 interviewees noted that many startups launch their operations
with little knowledge of their products or services' effectiveness to the designated
solutions. Many founders conceive ideas from scratch, which they later transform into
products and services. Since products and products are created through learning
processes, a significant number of them have design problems. Products with design
problems culminate into many high-tech startups' failure because they do not have
additional income sources. Besides that, some product designs tend to take a lot of
time to actualize, and hence they become unattained within the planned period or
allocated budget. In turn, such products or services increase the operating costs of
startups. Given that most high-tech startups are resource-constrained, a prolonged
period of designing and perfecting products and services leads to their failure.
On the other hand, many high-tech startups endure delays in product design and
development. In some cases, these high-tech startups can compromise some features.
However, they can compromise the primary features of their products and services. As
such, startups have to consider tradeoffs between delaying their products and services
or launch substandard products in the market. In either way, high-tech startups facing
such dilemmas tend to fail because delays enable competitors to occupy the market.
At the same time, substandard products lead to the underperformance of a product in
the market.
MALE38FI: Some of the products are made and designed before their
time. For instance, live video and online streaming services were not
efficient in 2007 and we were trying to give services over live stream,
that was far way beyond our products. Hence, any high-tech startups
that focused on areas that were beyond their time already fails in
their initial stages of inception.
Overall, interviewees believe that product design problems contribute significantly to
the failure of high-tech startups. Product design problems tend to cause delays and
increase operating costs. A combination of delays and increase operating costs compel
some high startups to abandon their operations.
4.1.3 Improper Selling Strategy/ Distribution Channels
Startups introduce their products in the market without having had proper or existing
distribution channels. Mainly, this is because their products are new in the market.
Many startups face challenges associated with distribution challenges and selling
strategy because they do not yet know about their preferences, tastes, and reactions
of customers. Startups find it hard to determine the appropriate marketing strategy for
their products. They end up selling these products in the wrong markets. Also offering
a small commission doesn’t attract talented salespeople who generates good income
source for the startup. In some cases, you will find that your salespersons do not pay
attention to some of the products because they give them a smaller commission
amount. As such, they are more than willing to ignore some clients who want products
that yield little commission and vice versa. If such products constitute the backbone of
a startup's income, then it struggles or fails. However, a startup must also align its
distribution and selling strategies. They cannot purport to sell a product without
having the means to deliver it to the client. Many startups lack a selling strategy
because they want to sell to everyone, and hence they end up putting more effort into
market targets that want their products. This was the case for one of the interviewed
startup that they invested heavily in products that target populations with little use of
it and hence to low sales.
FEMALE31US: You will find startups selling expensive products
through trade shows instead of direct sales. Notably, it is much easier
to sell expensive products in direct sales than marketing through
trade shows. In the end, startups end up selling very few products
and eventually fail in the end. Again, these interviewees noted that
sales representatives tend to face some challenges when selling
products of high-tech startups.
The time zone is also another issue when setting up the distribution channels and
customer service both. More time zones need more people in the team.
FEMALE35FI: To attract customers, some high-tech startups (like
ours) provide potential clients with trial services and products. Once
the trial period ends, high-tech startups lose most of these potential
clients despite having spent a substantial number of resources. Such
situations lead to high-tech startups failures. Another problem was
that time zones relating to deals with Mexico, Malaysia, and Spain.
Overall, these quotes from interviews show that startups' inability to reach out to
appropriate clients through sales and distribution strategy culminates into low sales. In
some cases, these low sales make startups end their operations due to losses and
other forms of financial problems.
4.1.4 Small Market Size
All interviewees noted that many startups rely heavily on a small number of
customers. As such, any changes in the arrangement between these customers and
startups lead to the latter's failure. Income and revenue generations in high-tech
startups are very slow due to reliance on a few customers. This problem affects high-
tech startups cash flow and forecast as well. Also, the overreliance of few customers
limits the ability of high-tech startups to expand quickly. Notably, the income
generated from these is considered constant. As such, some startups are held back to
operating at the same capacity for some time. Eventually, once these customers stop
procuring from these startups, they end up collapsing. That condition doesn’t change
even when it comes to the governmental purchase order. Many startups that sell their
products to one client like the government. Once the priorities of the government
change, then these startups are left without customers. As such, they collapse or
change their operations.
Below are some of the quotes from the interviews that show the "dangers" of over-
relying on a small number of customers.
MALE39CA: High-tech startups begin with few customers, and they
rely heavily on them to continue their operations. As such, when
some of them withdraw from purchasing their products, these
startups collapse.
FEMALE33CA: Some high-tech startups develop products and services
that are only useful to a few customers, such as the government and
non-governmental organizations. As such, these startups depend
primarily on the demand of these few clients, and once they stop
needing their products or services, the operations of these startups
commend to an end.
MALE26US: High thestartups that focus on producing parts of
products used exclusively by one or two customers pose a danger.
This danger is because once one or two withdraw from purchasing
such parts, that marks the startups' end.
Like other businesses, therefore, a significant number of high-tech startups fail
because they depend heavily on a few clients. The presence of few clients means that
many startups struggle financially. When some or all clients stop consuming products
or services, these startups collapse.
4.2 Financial Problems
4.2.1 Initial Undercapitalization
All interviewees acknowledged that many startups start their operations with few
resources. Due to the high initial costs needed to design and develop products, some
startups abandon their operations. A significant number of high-tech startups embark
on introducing new products in the market. Mainly, the designing and development of
these new products lead to high operational costs. Since many startups at early stages
are not making profits and are under-resourced, they are forced to shut down the
business. Another issue for some startups that they tend to have financial troubles at
the beginning of their operations if they do not attract a large pool of resources from
investors. Likewise, these investors want to see financial gains quickly. As such, a
struggle between working within the budget to make products and meeting investors'
goals constrain startups' ability to operate. Undercapitalization creates a pressure from
the investors side for startups. Therefore, many of them end up failing.
The quotes below try to link initial undercapitalization and startup failures.
MALE29US: Startups need many resources to operate, but
unfortunately, this is not the case. Startups incur sunk costs, which
they can only recover if they start recording profits in the short-term.
Since most of the startups cannot realize profits in the short-term,
they stop.
FEMALE35FI: Many high-tech startups lack sufficient resources and
perfect knowledge, which make them unable to high-quality
products. In some cases, you realize that you are missing one or two
resources to design high-quality products or services.
MALE44US: Many investors are not enthusiastic about investing in
startups because of their vulnerability to failure. As such, many of
them attract little resources. In cases where they are unable to
finance their operation costs, they mostly end up shutting down.
MALE26US: In some startups, the cost of designing and developing
products and services exceeds the revenues generated in the short
term. As such, the undercapitalization of startups makes them unable
to operate in the long term, and hence they close the business after
some period.
These quotes show that most high-tech startups lack financial resources. High-tech
startups needing many resources, however, only few investors are willing to provide
resources to these ventures because of risks associated with them. As a result, most of
them end up producing products and services that do not meet customers'
expectations, or they fail to start their operations altogether.
4.2.2 Debt Burden
All interviewees identified the burden of debt among high-tech startups as a major
cause of their failure. Mainly, they noted that the inability of high-tech startups to pay
loans and interests is one reason they fail. Some founders rely on bank loans to
actualize their dreams and ideas. They borrow money in anticipation that their ideas
will be successful in both the short run and long run. However, many startup ideas take
time before startup founders can realize financial benefits. The high-tech startups that
find themselves unable to service their loans end up shutting down their operations.
Borrowing resources and taking loans is part and parcel of many founders of startups.
In most cases, they approach banks and other financial institutions with ideas with the
sole goal of convincing the banks why they should give loans. However, some of these
ideas fail altogether. As such, the pressure from creditors compels founders to shut
down their startups.
MALE38FI: Most high-tech startups, like ours, are built using
borrowed money, and hence the accumulation of debts leads to their
inability to pay them.
MALE26US: A lot of entrepreneurs use debt financing to fund their
startups. In turn, many of them become unable to meet repayment
provisions. Inability to repay debt causes other problems to startups,
such as ineligibility to borrow more funds. Eventually, these financial
situations lead to high-tech startup failures.
MALE34CA: Loans and forms of borrowings constitute a large part of
the capital that startups use to fund their operations. The burden of
these borrowings arises when startups begin to repay the loans. If
high-tech startups are unable to finance the debt, they simply
discontinue their operations.
These quotes also shows that many high-tech startups use loans and other forms of
borrowing to finance their operations. The loans hit hard startups when they fail to
succeed in the market. In extreme cases, these debt burdens lead to the closure of
4.3 Managerial Problems
4.3.1 Lack of Competent Teams
Among the interviewees that they launched high-tech startups without knowledge or
experience of operating businesses. As such, they end up making mistakes that lead to
the failure of their startups. They also have had a lack qualified management teams
and support from primary workers and consultants. The absence of qualified personnel
and consultants makes founders of high-tech startup firms vulnerable to making
mistakes relating to financial management and product development. In return, some
of these mistakes lead to the closure of businesses. Besides that, some of the high-tech
startups lacking measuring the satisfaction of their customers. As such, they ignore
customers’ feedback, which in turn leads to their withdrawal from consuming high-
tech startups products and services. Overall, the situation causes the failure of high-
tech startups.
Below are some of the interview quotes that associated a lack of experience and
business knowledge with startup failures.
MALE37US: Many startup founders do not understand the strengths
and weaknesses of their entities. As such, they fail to capitalize on
their startup strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. If some
of these mistakes are ignored, like management of human resources
and finances, they lead to these startups' mismanagement and
Here is another fine example of how workload balance management affects between
the founders which creates a lack of competent teams.
MALE48FI: Founders of high-tech startups tend to engage in fighting
because they are not satisfied with the work or contribution of one
another. Some cofounders feel dissatisfied because they made
judgments or signed contracts relating to shareholder agreements
with their partners who did not honour them at the end.
Hiring a no liable friends or relatives is also an issue for some startups. Talent comes
FEMALE33CA: Some founders of high-tech startups tend to hire their
friends and relatives to manage and run them. Most of these friends
and relatives lack the qualifications to manage businesses. As such,
these individuals end up making conscious and unconscious mistakes
that make these startups struggle to operate and other cases
These quotes show that a significant number of high-tech startups do not have
competent teams. Entrepreneurs, as team partners, found these technology-based
startups. Most of these entrepreneurs do not have sufficient knowledge or experience
to conduct some tasks in businesses, such as designing products or creating
distribution channels. Therefore, these incompetent teams end up making bad
decisions that lead to the failure of their high-tech startups. In a different vein, the
founders of high-tech startups tend to hire incompetent professionals. Notably, some
professionals such as secretaries and lawyers fail to read some sections of contracts
that come to haunt startup operations. For instance, professionals' inability to read
loan provisions tends to burden startups, and extreme cases lead to bankruptcy.
4.3.2 Human Errors
Interviewees in this study identified human errors as some of the causes of business
failures. Human errors are very common in startups, given that founders and
employees operate through the learning process – they develop and try ideas such as
product features from scratch to see if they would achieve their intended solutions.
Due to a lack of experience in doing businesses, some entrepreneurs fail to transform
their ideas into successful businesses. As such, some of these businesses ended up
failures in the early stages of their inception. Likewise, most high-tech startups do not
have measuring or monitoring tools. As such, high-tech startups end up having an
unmet target. Mainly, this problem occurs because high-tech startups must start their
ideas, collect data on them to gain some facts to validate them. In other words, high-
tech startups must collect data from customers, which in most cases they do not, to
align their ideas with their (clients) needs. On the other hands, founders take time to
learn how to perfect their ideas. Before that happens, these startups founders and
personnel make numerous errors like hiring unqualified people, mismanaging funds,
and having no defined business objective. These errors lead to the use of resources
inappropriately and, in extreme cases, their exhaustion.
Below are some of the quotes that links human errors with business failures.
MALE29US: Human beings run startups. These individuals rely on
thrills and trials to operate startups. In their effort, human beings
have expectations and stress. As such, these pressures tend to compel
founders’ personnel of startups to make decisions that turn to be
mistakes and costly. Some mistakes lead to the closure of startups.
MALE26US: Even experienced entrepreneurs make mistakes.
However, fresh starters of startups tend to make more and grave
mistakes. For instance, they tend to invest in projects and products
that turn out to be unfeasible. If such investments consume a lot of
resources, many startups end up struggling to operate. Some of these
startups go out of business.
MALE34CA: Human errors like those that we have noted in some
high-tech startups operating in the electric car industry, many
founders have ended up blowing millions of dollars without achieving
any substantial ground. Notably, some of them have ended up
collapsing or owners abandoning their dream startups.
FEMALE35F1: In the initial phases of high-tech startups operations,
employees and founders working long – working 18 hours a day. In
some cases, some workers perform different tasks at the same time.
Thus, human errors are inevitable.
These quotes show that operating startups is not a smooth run. Founders and
personnel make mistakes and correct them on the way towards perfection. In some
cases, these mistakes lead to the closure of startups if they lead to mismanagement of
5. Discussion
Startup failures are associated with numerous factors. These factors may be
categorized into financial challenges, product and market-related problems, and
managerial mistakes. In this regard and as Altman (1983), Atsan (2016), Kuckertz et al.
(2020), and Bruno et al. (1987) observed, the challenges of starting and running
successful startups are becoming more complex and difficult due to the changes in
technology, products, innovation processes, businesses regulations, and competitions.
Notably, high-tech startups are some businesses that witness severe competition due
to their products and services' short life. As such, more than 50% of startups end up
failing due to these challenges. The findings of this study have revealed numerous
factors that lead to the failure of startups. These factors include product timing
difficulties, product design problems, improper or absence of selling strategy/
distribution channels, small market size, initial undercapitalization, debt burden, lack
of competent teams, and human errors. The extent to which founders and personnel
running high-tech startups encounter these factors determines their likelihood to fail.
5.1 Product Timing Difficulties
Product timing challenges are among the primary contributors to startup failures. This
study's empirical and theoretical results have shown that many high-tech startup firms
find it hard to launch their products and services at their appropriate time. These
findings support that of Bruno et al. (1987) that revealed that high-tech startup firms
tend to bring products and services to the market too early or late. In other words,
high-tech firms tend to launch products in the market when the market does not exist,
or they are not ready to absorb them. Therefore, as Bruno et al. (1987) observed, early
and late product entry into the market are primary causes of startup failures
worldwide. Premature products mean that a high-tech startup is providing solutions to
problems that do not exist. Aria Insights is an example of startup failure; it provided a
solution to a problem that did not exist at the time – it developed driverless air
vehicles for search, inspection, and rescue missions (Hassan, 2019). Therefore, the
early introduction of products and services is problematic to startups.
Late product entry in the market is associated with high-tech startup failures through
short product lives and severe competition. According to González-Bañales & Andrade
(2011), businesses' long-term success is no longer tied to satisfying customers' goals.
Long-term success is associated with the persistent need to acquire loyal and
profitable clients. In this regard, late entrants have a slim chance of acquiring loyal and
profitable customers. High-tech startups that enter the market late tend to fail
because of their inability to acquire loyal and profitable customers. Notably,
companies such as Facebook and Twitter have succeeded because they entered the
social media market at the right time. The startups that entered the market late, such
as Google Buzz, Meerkat, Friendster, and Google Plus, failed because customers had
adopted to services and products that Facebook and Twitter offered. In line with Atsan
(2016) and Bruno et al. (1987) argument, late entrants into markets find themselves
acting as copiers of what already exists. Hence, the response of customers is very slow.
In other words, late entry into the market made these startups unable to draw
customers from existing companies that had introduced their products and services at
the appropriate time. Overall, high-tech startups must emphasize the right time –
launch products and services when their demand is at the peak.
5.2 Product Design Problems
Product design problems have a close relationship with timing – at what time should
startups design and develop products in demand in the market. As the results of this
study have revealed, and according to Bruno et al. (1987), many startups find it hard to
adhere to the planned product design or budget allocation. In this regard, these
startups choose whether to bring a prototype to the market or design the product until
they attain planned standards. Likewise, and as Giardino et al. (2014) observed, high-
tech startups need to develop technologically innovative products that require cutting-
edge development techniques and tools. Given that most of these high-tech startups
do not have these technologies, they tend to take a longer period to develop products.
Notably, these delays are hazardous to startups because they provide other firms
competing in the same industry to have an upper edge in the market if they lack their
products and services first. In line with Schmuck & Benke's (2021) observation, these
product design delays tend to make startups be considered replicators rather than
innovators. As such, clients will try to consume products and services that hit the
market first.
Again, this study's findings have shown that product design problems that eventually
lead to the failure of some high-tech startups are associated with the lack of
knowledge and experience in their development. In line with Bruno et al. (1987) and
Giardino et al. (2014) argument, the founders of high-tech startups build their
products and services from scratch, and hence they develop them through a learning
process: they learn and perfect their products and services through mistakes. These
errors and corrections lead to delays and financial costs. In situations where mistakes
made on products and services designing and development were resource consuming,
high-tech startups are forced to abandon their operations. In a different vein, some
product designs lead to creating products that do not solve the existing problem or are
meant to solve problems that do not exist. An example of such product design was
uncrewed vehicles that Aria Insights has introduced to conduct rescue missions
(Hassan, 2019). As a result, Aria Insights failed because the market it targeted was very
small or inexistent.
Moreover, this study's findings have revealed that some product design problems tend
to compel founders and personnel of high-tech startups to compromise some of their
features. These findings support Bruno et al. (1987) and Giardino et al. (2014)
observation that many high-tech startups lack proper mechanisms and criteria for
determining products or services' effectiveness to solve the underlying problems. They
build a prototype of the product at a time and then improve it based on their
underlying weaknesses. In most cases, high-tech startups do not have sufficient
resources. If product design and development are costly, some of these startups end
up halting their operations. Likewise, if they choose to launch substandard products in
the market, these high-tech startups end up underperforming in the market.
Eventually, these firms fail due to low sales revenues. Overall, product design
problems culminate into delays in launching products in the market and increase
operating costs. The extreme cases of delays and increased operating costs compel
some high-tech startups to go out of business.
5.3 Improper or Absence of Selling Strategy/ Distribution Channels
This study's findings have revealed that even the greatest products do not sell
themselves if businesses or their developers do not have distribution channels or
selling strategies. Notably, these results are in line with studies done in the past that
associate startup failures with improper or absence of a lack of selling strategies and
distribution channels. Bruno et al. (1987) and Huffman (2018a, 2018b) observe that
many startup founders tend to make mistakes by assuming their products will sell
themselves. These studies associated poor distribution channels as the primary cause
of startup failure. According to Huffman (2018a, 2018b), many startup founders start
with their enthusiasm about having the best idea ever. Still, later they become
surprised why people are not using it, and eventually, they come to think that their
product is not that great. However, the startup's product is not bad, but the
distribution channel is the problem (Huffman, 2018a, 2018b). In other words, the use
of improper distribution channels meant that the startup was unable to reach out to
the targeted market. As such, the startup is unable to realize instant user growth of the
product or service.
According to Huffman (2018a, 2018b), the best product does not always attract
customers. This observation explains why some startups with the best products fail.
Therefore, only products that satisfy the appropriate market attracts customers.
Notably, this is achieved when founders and personnel running startups align their
growth strategy with the actual product (Bruno et al., 1987; Huffman, 2018a, 2018b).
In other words, founders and personnel running startups must always connect their
products to their potential users in the right manner. When distribution plans in
startups are not thought well or take the wrong path, such entities fail in the long
term. An example of using the wrong path of distribution channel is a failure to get
products in front of the appropriate consumers or inhibit sellers' ability to get the
feedback they need (Huffman, 2018a, 2018b). For instance, some high-tech startups
tend to sell expensive products through inappropriate distribution channels such as
trade shows instead of direct sales. Notably, and as Bruno et al. (1987) observed, it is
much easier to sell expensive products in direct sales than marketing through trade
shows. Therefore, high-tech startups' failure is not associated with the tactics that
founders use but the approach and process that impair them from finding out the
appropriate way to align their product with the ideal consumers.
Proper distribution channels mean having a strategy that promotes sustainable
growth. Most startups are more focused on the product itself at the expense of paying
attention to the marketing strategies and distribution channels they intend to use to
reach out to the intended customers. In this way, and as Huffman (2018a, 2018b)
observed, these startups fail to market their products to customers who want to
purchase them. In the end, these errors lead to startups' inability to record instant
growth in the market. In turn, low sales and losses because of improper distribution
strategies and channels lead to many startups' failure. Mainly, this is because,
inappropriate distribution strategy fails to the product (solution) to the people who
have the need (problem) in a precise manner (Bruno et al., 1987; Huffman, 2018a,
2018b). Overall, the use of wrong distribution channels leads to businesses' failure
(including high-tech startups) through low sales and losses.
5.4 Small Market Size
The study results have shown that many high-tech startups suffer from a few or one
"big customer" trap. In particular, and as Bruno et al. (1987) argued, most high-tech
startups manage to get few customers they depend heavily on to survive. In other
words, these customers are the only source of income in that when one or two stops
consuming the high-tech startup products or services, that venture eventually
collapses. Again, some high-tech startups tend to develop products and services that
are useful to a few customers. For instance, high-tech startups building artificial
intelligence sell it to one or two big companies or entities such as Tesla, Amazon, or
the government. In such situations, and according to Bruno et al. (1987), such high-
tech startups' operations are pegged on this relationship. Therefore, customers'
withdrawal from the arrangement leads to the collapse of these high-tech startups
because they cannot sustain their operations.
Again, high-tech startups find it hard to attract customers to purchase their products.
Initially, and according to Giardino et al. (2014), many high-tech startups tend to
receive positive feeding at the beginning from customers. With time, however, it
becomes clear that startups can only acquire and depend heavily on a small number of
customers. Given that most high-tech startups operate on a low budget and are still
learning how to design their products and sell them in the market, they tend to avoid
analyzing why they are getting fewer clients. In cases where they analyze why they are
getting fewer users, they establish that the main causes are challenges associated with
the use of their products and marketing strategies (Giardino et al., 2014). Notably, a
few or one client's overreliance constraints high-tech startups' ability to expand their
operations. In cases where high-tech startups are not making profits due to few
customers' presences, they go out of business. Overall, the overdependence on a few
customers tends to cause many startups to collapse.
5.5 Initial Undercapitalization
The findings of this study revealed that most high-tech startups are in critical need of
initial funding to operate smoothly. In line with Giardino et al. (2014) observation,
high-tech startups tend to experience financial challenges, especially when operating
in small cities. Again, startups tend to be undercapitalized because few people want to
invest in high-tech startups that lack clear-cut products or business plans. Giardino et
al. (2014) believe that financial challenges are widely spread in high-tech startups. The
undercapitalization in high-tech startups prevents them from creating, change,
revolutionize products and services, which is a prerequisite of success in technology-
based industries. The inability to create, change, revolutionize products and services
means that high-tech startups' products and services become obsolete within a short
period. Consequently, the high-tech startups end shutting down as customers shift to
other similar product and service providers.
Again, the study findings revealed that some startups need many resources to design
and develop their products and market them. On the contrary, and as Bruno et al.
(1987) and Volquartz & Neumann (2016) observed, many investors tend to shun high-
tech startups because of the risk associated with the inability to recover the
investment. Mainly, many high-tech startups embark on introducing new products in
the market which risk-averse investors are uncertain whether they will be successful.
As such, most high-tech startups must start making profits in a short period of their
operations to recover sunk costs and continue funding their operations. In case it
becomes impossible to generate income in the short-term, then high-tech startups end
up abandoning their operations.
Likewise, according to Bruno et al. (1987) and Volquartz & Neumann (2016), some
high-tech startups tend to have financial troubles at the start of their operations.
Investors who put their money in these high-tech startups want to see their financial
returns in the short-term. Therefore, high-tech startups find themselves in a dilemma
of pleasing their investors or funding their projects with generated income. If they
choose to please their investors, high-tech startups end up producing substandard
products and services. As a result, customers shun these high-tech startups, and
eventually, they collapse. On the other hand, if these high-tech startups choose to
fund their projects with generated income, investors decline to fund other operations.
As such, these financial constraints force some high-tech startups to fail.
Moreover, according to Kiehl (1988), inadequate capital constitutes one of the main
reasons why new ventures collapse. Undercapitalization contributes to failure because
founders of high-tech startups have to spend a lot of time seeking funds to offset
short-term cash flow challenges. In this regard, undercapitalization creates two forms
of problems. First, many investors avoid investing in high-tech startups that are in
financial crisis. Second, the undercapitalized high-tech startups tend to lose the sense
of focus because of the loss of the main objective (Bruno et al., 1987; Kiehl, 1988). In
other words, high-tech startup founders and personnel shift their focus from product
design and development to worrying about the sources of capital. In some cases, these
financial problems lead to the failure of high-tech startups.
5.6 Debt Burden
The results of this study have revealed that assuming debt at the start of high-tech
startups poses a primary threat to the survival of these business entities. These
findings support the arguments of studies such as Bruno et al. (1987) that have
demonstrated that obtain debt financing early is problematic to high-tech startup
operations. Debt financing subjects high-tech startups to early repayment of debt.
Notably, most high-tech startups fail to meet debt repayment requirements because
they are still making losses or generating sufficient income to cover their operating
costs in the early phases of their development. Therefore, the inclusion of debt burden
in the early phases of high-tech startups' operations disrupts their operations, and
some cases lead to their closure.
A study done by Cole & Sokolyk (2014) contradicts this study's findings on the impact
of debt financing on high-tech startups. Cole & Sokolyk’s (2014) study findings revealed
that firms that obtain bank credit in the name of their businesses (business bank
credit) at the beginning of their operations tend to outperform other firms regarding
revenue growth and business survival. In other words, the findings of this study
showed that businesses that seek external financing have a better chance of
succeeding than others that finance their operations using equity and personal savings.
Notably, Cole & Sokolyk (2014) offer three explanations that could explain the superior
performance outcomes of startups seeking debt financing. These explanations include
“self-selection by high-quality firms to apply for business bank credit to signal the
firm’s quality and initiate credit record and reputation building, selection of high-
quality firms by bank lenders, and monitoring by lenders" (Cole & Sokolyk, 2014, p. 22).
One of these explanations implies that banks will only lend their money to high-tech
startups that show a promising future. These approaches leave other high-tech
startups without resources to fund their operations. Another explanation is that only
high-tech startups that feel that their products will be successful in the market choose
to seek debt financing from banks and other financial institutions. As such, the rest of
the high-tech startups are left with no alternative but to operate under financial
constraints that result in their failure.
5.7 Lack of Competent Teams
The findings that lack of competent teams in high-tech startups are in line with
previous studies that have revealed that they lead to business failures. Giardino et al.
(2014) provide a wide range of incompetence in teams working in high-tech startups
that lead to their failures. For instance, many high-tech startups fail to organize well or
motivate their teams. In some cases, their composition of teams comprises friends and
relatives who lack qualifications for their position. In other cases, there is a breakdown
of communication between entrepreneurial teams. For example, and as Giardino et al.
(2014) illustrated, failure to update important stakeholders such as consultants and
outsourced product developers compels them to leave their current positions and take
assignments from other firms. Such situations take high-tech startups to the initial
stages because new personnel will need to review everything that had been achieved
and then make recommendations where necessary. Therefore, this processing is time
and resource-consuming in that it could lead to the failure of high-tech startups.
Another lack of competent teams in high-tech startups is exemplified by the lack of
diversity in their team. In most cases, and as Giardino et al. (2014) observed, many
high-tech startups will constitute workers who perform the same tasks. For instance,
these high-tech startups building computer software and applications hire workers
who are computer scientists. In this way, they forget that building computer software
and applications is part of the business, and hence they need sales and marketers,
accountants, managers, and so forth. In this regard, such high-tech startups will be
forced to have some of their computer scientists perform these tasks – selling,
marketing, and managing finances – which they have little or no knowledge about. In
this case, and inline with Huffman's (2018a, 2018b) observation, such high-tech
startups might have the perfect product but still, fail because they target the wrong
consumers. Likewise, computer scientists managing these high-tech startups' financial
resources are likely to mismanage them and hence lead to their collapse or failure.
Another lack of competent teams in high-tech startups relates to the hiring of
unqualified individuals. In line with Bruno et al. (1987) observations, most high-tech
startups hire few and cheap workers because of their budget constraints. As such,
most of these workers are overburdened by the activities in their respective position of
work. For instance, and as Giardino et al. (2014) observed, some workers will be in
charge of product design and development, marketing, and financial management.
Doing so many tasks simultaneously, and hence workers are likely to make mistakes
that will cost the high-tech startups a lot of money. For instance, if lawyers and
secretaries of these high-tech startups fail to read some sections of contracts, their
actions will likely come to haunt the business operations. If these sections of contracts
have financial implications, the high-tech startups may end up collapsing.
5.8 Human Errors
This study's findings have shown that some human errors are responsible for the
failure of high-tech startups. These findings affirm previous studied on the same
subject. For instance, Bruno et al. (1987) and Giardino et al. (2014) observed that
founders and employees in high-tech startups learn through their actions. They
develop their products and services through try and error methods until they achieve
the intended results. Mainly, the lack of prior knowledge is risky to high-tech startups'
resources. Some investment decisions in products and services in high-tech startups do
not yield financial benefits. Consequently, such investments compel some high-tech
startups to shut down.
Again, many founders of startups begin them as a side hustle, and hence they work in
them as part-time employees. Employees working part-time do not have much time to
review and scrutinize everything. For instance, and as Giardino et al. (2014) observed,
these founders do not have time to conduct interviews, review financial usage, review
employees' performance, and so forth. These aspects constitute mistakes or failures
that founders of high-tech startups make. Their actions hinder them from knowing
when a problem such as financial mismanagement starts. They realize these problems
when it is too late to change the course.
Another common human error in high-tech startups relates to founders' inability to
foster self-discipline among their teams. According to Giardino et al. (2014), “staying
focused and disciplined is not easy for [high-tech startups]” given that a significant
number of members are less focused and self-disciplined (p. 8). Many founders tend to
dedicate little time to the projects – product design and development – because of
personal commitments or other jobs. As such, these actions demoralize other teams
and leads to low productivity. Likewise, and Giardino et al. (2014), when high-tech
startup founders lack physical touch with their businesses, a declined coordination
among team members and lack of discipline becomes major issues. Since high-tech
startups have small teams, it is important for all individuals – workers and founders
to contribute to the businesses' operations. In case founders lag, workers follow suit,
and in the end, the high-tech startups fail.
Moreover, another human error that leads to high-tech startups' failure relates to
actions prompted by unreasonable expectations. According to Bruno et al. (1987),
high-tech startup founders and employees tend to fall into the trappings of former
success. As a result, many of these founders and employees find themselves being
caught up in the excitement of running a business and hence losing sight of what they
need to do to achieve the desired success. For instance, high-tech startups, founders,
and employees may start by moving to big fancy buildings and recruiting a large staff in
anticipation that their businesses will succeed. These mistakes may mark the downfall
of high-tech startups as they attract increasing operating costs. Therefore, human
errors that attract high financial costs are likely to lead to high-tech startups' failure.
6. Conclusion and Recommendations
6.1 Conclusion
The primary theoretical contribution of the master thesis to ascertain the principal
causes of high-tech startup failures. Mainly, the study used data collected from 15
high-tech startups operating in the US, Finland, and Canada and that have been in
operation for at least three years. Using a SHELL Model-based questionnaire, the
researcher managed to obtain three common themes – management problems,
financial challenges, and product and market issues – that interviewees associated
with high-tech startup failure. The study results provided a better understanding of
how these themes contribute to high-tech startups' failures. Notably, the researcher
did this through a profound review of subthemes such as product timing difficulties,
product design problems, improper or absence of selling strategy/ distribution
channels, small market size, initial undercapitalization, debt burden, lack of competent
teams, and human errors. For instance, the study revealed that many high-tech
startups depend on few customers (small market size), and hence they end up a failure
if some of them decide to stop purchasing their products and services. Likewise, the
results showed that many high-tech startups lack selling strategies and distribution
channels, and therefore they end up attracting few or no customers for their products
and services. Moreover, the study has identified human mistakes as another frontier
through which high-tech startups are likely to fail. Overall, the study results showed
that numerous factors are likely to contribute to high-tech startups' failure.
6.2. Managerial Implications
This master thesis aims to help founders and entrepreneurs to establish and manage
high-tech startups into successful entities. Its potential contribution is assisting high-
tech startups and policymakers in understanding the primary cause of new ventures'
failures. Notably, the study provides insights into finance, management, market, and
product – where founders and personnel working in high-tech startups should watch
out as antecedents of failures. Initial undercapitalization and debt burden will impede
high-tech startups from designing and developing appropriate products and services
and impair them from expanding their operations.
The framework provided in this master thesis implies that the establishment and
operation of high-tech startups are complex endeavours that call for internal and
external actions for them to become successful. Related to this argument, starting and
operating high-tech startups is not the role of founders and entrepreneurs alone, but
inclusive of other professionals, such as financial managers, human resources
managers, product designers and developers, marketers and salespersons, and so
forth. These professionals play a crucial role in the successful launch and operation of
high-tech startups in numerous frontiers. For instance, product designers and
designers have the responsibility of defining and formulating product attributes,
creating print and digital drawing, and designing operational products and services.
Moreover, human resources managers have the responsibility of hiring and motivating
workers, as well as supporting technology and innovation areas of high-tech startups.
Notably, human resources managers' support is through recruiting competent and
desired product designers and developers. Hiring competent product designers and
developers in high-tech startups mitigates human errors and their associated financial
costs relating to product and service design and development. Financial managers are
responsible for the resources of high-tech startups. High-tech startups tend to have
fewer resources; hence, financial managers must ensure that these resources are used
optimally by deploying financial management policies that promote efficiency in high-
tech startups. Finally, marketers and salespersons are responsible for ensuring that
high-tech startups launch products in the market at the appropriate time – not too
early or too late – to realize a substantial growth in sales.
6.3 Implications for Research
From a theoretical perspective, this thesis contributes to various areas of research. For
instance, the study results reveal that numerous factors such as product and market
challenges (product timing difficulties, product design problems, improper or absence
of selling strategy/ distribution channels, and small market size) lead to the failure of
high-tech startups. Financial problems (initial undercapitalization and debt burden)
and management issues (lack of competent teams and human errors) are other factors
that lead to the failure of high-tech startups. For instance, the absence of competent
teams in high-tech startups tends to lead to mismanage of resources that eventually
cause their demise. Second, the study results show that the failure of high-tech
startups may stem from a combination of several factors. For example, a combination
of product design problems and initial undercapitalization may lead to high-tech
startups' failure. Therefore, this study contributes to literature relating to the causes of
high-tech startup failures.
6.4 Limitations of the Research
Consistent with Greener's (2018) and Price & Murnan's (2004) observation, another
limitation was that the researcher was not able to identify any systematic bias relating
to the study design or instrument of data collection. Notably, systematic biased could
have led to unintended effects on the results.
Another methodological limitation relating to intervening the founders of high-tech
start-ups. Notably, prior literature, such as Greener's (2018) and Price & Murnan's
(2004) recommended, interviews to take about one hour. However, this period was
not sufficient for in-depth interviews.
Again, the study’s use of founders of high-tech startups as participants of the study
raised another methodological limitation. In particular, and as Greener (2018) and
Price & Murnan (2004) noted, some founders of high-tech startups may have been
untruthful about the cuase of high-tech startups failures or overstated their
experienced with studied phonomenon, or even guessed their responses. In this
regard, many high-tech startups founders may have failed to reveal factual information
about high-tech startups failures.
Further, the study relied exclusievely on high-tech startups founders. As such, it
ignored veiws of other important stakeholders, such as potential customers of
products, workers, investors, and creditors.
The study reviewed high-tech startup failures in general, without paying attention to a
particular area – finance, products and markets, and management. Notably, focusing
on each area meant that the researcher left little room to conduct profound research
on each element.
This study used a sample of 15 founders of high-tech startups from three countries
along – the US, Finland, and Canada. Researchers, policymakers, and startup founders
cannot use the sample to gain insights into high-tech startup failures in other
6.5 Recommendation for Research
This study has introduced a new perspective of research relating to high-tech startup
failures. A substantial amount of literature exists about startup failures. Before this
study, researchers had not conducted considerable research that exclusively focused
on failures in high-tech startups. Mainly, most previous studies paid attention to a
failure in general – in all sectors. In this regard, future research should expand on this
area through studies that focus on high-tech startup failures in one subsector, such as
e-commerce, healthcare, and agriculture. More specifically, future studies can focus on
high-tech startups operating in marketing areas such as marketing, fashion, payments,
and so forth
Again, the study reviewed high-tech startups in general without paying attention to a
particular area – finance, products and markets, and management. Notably, each of
these areas has a high potential for causing high-tech startup failures. Therefore,
future studies should focus on how each area – finance, products and markets, and
management – influences high-tech startups' failure.
Moreover, this study used a sample of 15 founders of high-tech startups from three
countries along – the US, Finland, and Canada. As such, future studies should use
larger samples drawn from many countries across the world so that researchers can
draw inferences for most of this population – founders of high-tech startups. Likewise,
this study relied on a qualitative research method to analyze the collected data. As
such, future studies should use quantitative data analysis methods to determine the
extent to which the identified factors influence business failures.
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Appendix 1. Questionnaire
Dear Study Participant:
The study aims to investigate the factors that contribute to high-tech startup failures to
provide support for further research. Here is a list of questions to understand every
aspect of an organization that is relevant to making a success story out of a business
venture. Your contribution is highly valuable to the success of this research being able
to provide the researched with adequate data to analyze and evaluate the situation of
a high-tech startup. Moreover, the value of the information provided herein is important
to the researcher that the questionnaire results will be kept highly confidential and will
be used solely for the purpose of this research.
I. Understanding the Context of the Startup Business:
1. How are the domains of the business determined?
2. Who are the relevant stakeholders of the business?
3. What are the needs and expectations of your relevant stakeholders?
4. How does the company address the issues of its relevant stakeholders?
II. Risk Assessment
1. Has the company conducted a risk assessment before the start of the operation?
2. What are the techniques used by the company to identify the risks related to the needs
and expectations of the relevant stakeholders?
a. Brainstorming sessions
b. Interviewing subject matter experts
c. Root cause analysis
d. Problem prioritization
e. SWOT Analysis
3. What areas of risk categories have the company identified?
a. Technological risks
b. Operational risks
c. Quality and performance risks
d. Security risks
e. Legal risks
4. What risk prioritization methods were used by the company?
a. Probability impact matrix
b. Risk probability
c. Risk impact
d. Risk exposure
5. How does the company address the identified risks?
1. Are there established goals and objectives for the business processes?
2. What are the goals and objectives of the business processes?
3. How does the company determine the targets for the goals and objectives?
4. Are there monitoring and measurement tools for these goals and objectives?
5. How does the company address their unmet targets?
1. What are the means of communicating with clients?
2. How does the company measure client satisfaction?
3. How does the company address client feedback?
V. Process Management
1. Are processes established and documented for the business?
2. Are the resources identified and adequate to ensure that processes achieve their
intended outputs?
3. How are sources allocated for each department?
4. How does the company address nonconformities in the processes?
5. How does the company ensure the continual improvement of their processes?
Thank you for your participation.
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