4 “Genes” Found in the DNA of Successful Startups

Would you go on a ship that has a 90% chance of sinking?

Thought so.

And yet every day, a visionary, emboldened by an idea, joins the ranks of countless other start-ups, in the quest of still existing after one year.  

It’s almost canon to say that start-ups almost always fail. But then, there is that little group of them that make it through—sometimes even changing the whole landscape on the way to becoming unicorns.

What did these start-ups do to escape the pull of gravity and become flourishing enterprises?


They acted with T.A.C.T.

Here are the four genetic hallmarks of start-up success:    

#1 Timing

Lifelong entrepreneur, Bill Gross, founder of IdeaLabs, a startup incubator, has looked into hundreds of nascent businesses and sorted those that made it from those that didn’t.

He found that you can have a great idea for a business and still fail. You can have a great business model and still fail. But one of the single biggest factors for business success is timing.

Timing can be tricky because you can have the best product offering but be rejected by the market. That might indicate that you’re unrecognizably early. Or, you can be late to the party and can come in an already saturated space and die a quick and quiet death.

YouTube’s timing was perfect. It came at a time when most of the technical and quality issues for videos were slowly being addressed and internet speeds were decent enough for larger file sizes. By being at the right place at the right time, (and by continuously improving the product), YouTube has become the economic and social juggernaut that it is today.

Great timing means a set of circumstances that provides the least resistance, putting you in the best position to succeed. 

When you see a gap in the market and realize that customers badly want to see the pain points removed, then the industry just might be ripe for the picking. 

Timing is very difficult to ascertain, and luck can play a role. But an entrepreneur “in love” with his gem of an idea will always think that it’s the perfect moment to launch. So oftentimes, launched businesses, if they are to succeed, must learn to roll with the punches.   

Speaking of which…

#2 Adaptability

What is your strategy? Should you go small and fast? Should you go big but slow?

In reality, many “best practices” contradict. One company’s experience might encourage you to go left. Another success story can pull you right. The road to success is rarely a straight line, and the term “strategy” is losing meaning in the face of rapidly shifting landscapes. Too many factors are at play. For example, new technology can suddenly change how the entire game is played.

The market is not a stable, predictable or homogenous space.

Gone are the days when a start-up holds faithful to a one true strategy in the face of changing realities.

In their Harvard Business Review piece “Adaptability: The New Competitive Edge,” Reeves and Deimler argued that start-ups survive by being nimble—quick to respond to an emerging trend and ready to act on signals.

Prof. Carl Schramm of Syracuse University, for his part, points out that contrary to what is being taught in business schools, entrepreneurs have no choice but to “learn as they go.”

The road to success is unpredictable, risky and complex. Startups have to become learning organizations—flexible and rapidly adaptive to whatever shows up on the horizon—like a 911 emergency dispatch centre fielding calls at any given night.

If your start-up is to survive the high level of attrition, adaptability and flexibility should be baked into the DNA of your venture.      

#3 Cash flow

We now turn to the “unsexy” part of the program. But herein lies the heartbeat of any business.

Just as a heart has blood coming in and out of it, money is going in and out of your business. Money comes in through sales, interests and investments, and money goes out via payments to suppliers, payments of loans and interests, operating expenses, purchases of equipment and business expansions.

The primary goal of cash flow management is to increase the pump of money into the venture, hold onto it as long as possible, and optimise the money that comes out.

We often celebrate sales superstars—you know, people with the persuasive charisma to sell blocks of ice to an Eskimo. We recognize business development mavericks who see opportunities for expansion where others don’t. But we rarely notice the “numbers guy” closely looking at the true health of the enterprise. And this has proven to be a common downfall for a great many start-ups.

When doctors look into the state of an individual’s health, they are looking at different sets of numbers (blood pressure, weight, blood count), and based on those figures, they prescribe a safe course of action.

This is not the time to be loose with the purse strings. Numbers are very important to a fledgling business as it needs all the cents it can save and have those cents work as hard as possible.

Startups that make it have been able to do so through a slew of cashflow management techniques from cash float to JIT (Just In Time) inventories.

So while looking at tall piles of inventories might warm your heart, in the land of start-ups, cash is truly king. To succeed, a young business must be ruthless with its financials.

#4 Team

In the early days of a venture, entrepreneurs will often find themselves wearing many different hats: accountant, social media manager, marketing manager etc.

But this can only go on for so long. Sooner or later, the burnt-out warrior gets overwhelmed by the immensity of the task and finds that he or she is competing against entities run by teams. These teams are often distributed around the world, utilizing the latest technology to create and collaborate and busy working while he’s fast asleep. A one-man army does not a survivor make.

He decides, rightfully, that to compete, he needs a dedicated team—a team with the ideal mix of skills to make his vision a reality.

The survival and success depend, to a large extent, on the composition of the group he assembles.

Earlier we talked about “adaptability” and “cash flow.” These are not just nice posters that hang on the walls of your office. They require flesh and blood to be executed. An enterprise needs people who can finesse through different situations and quickly respond to emerging trends. People who look after the cash flow and ensure the business is in safe waters.

You need passionate, loyal and competent people to trumpet your product or service.

You need to hire not just the right people, but the right mix of them.

happy employees of a startup company

The task might be underwhelming because, at first glance, it seems like all applicants are the same. Or, it can be overwhelming because you don’t want to make a mistake. Either way, the realization that you need a team behind you is usually the first step to making it in today’s cutthroat competition.

Timing, Adaptability, Cashflow and Team. These are the four main genes found in the DNA of successful start-ups. Act with T.A.C.T. and you drastically improve the chances of your start-up making it.  

We at Kinetic Innovative Staffing understand the challenges facing today’s business upstarts. So we find the right people who can help them achieve their goals.

We have a great pool of vetted remote professionals, experienced in their fields, who can make an impact from day one. These are your expert virtual assistants, technical support staff, writers, graphic designers, accountants, bookkeepers, project managers, marketing assistants, social media managers, software developers, etc.    

At Kinetic, we unlock human potential and unleash them on our client companies…at the fraction of the cost.

(Ask us how.)


 Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.

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