Over the years, I’ve covered hundreds of startup closures, from high-profile flameouts like HomeGrocer.com to smaller lesser known upstarts that never really got off the ground. Now, according to research from Harvard Business School lecturer Shikhar Ghosh, there appear to be a lot more failures going on than we ever learn about.
Ghosh’s research indicates that as many as 75 percent of venture-backed companies never return cash to investors, with 30 to 40 percent of those liquidating assets where investors lose all of their money. The Wall Street Journal this week reported on Ghosh’s findings, which is based on research of more than 2,000 venture-backed companies that raised at least $1 million from 2004 to 2010.
Ghosh tells the Journal that VCs “bury their dead very quietly,” which certainly has been my experience on the beat over the years.
Try asking a VC about failed companies in their portfolio, and you’ll usually get a response about the successes. Dead companies are quickly removed from the Web site’s of venture capital firms, never to be spoken of again.
Startups are hard, and it certainly takes persistence, smarts and a bit of luck to turn any new venture into a success. It also takes … failure. Seattle is littered with entrepreneurs whose first ventures hit the wall or didn’t meet investors’ initial hopes.
Part of the entrepreneurial process is picking oneself up from past mistakes, learning from them and moving on. That’s always been the case. But Ghosh’s findings indicate that startups may be just a bit harder than we thought.
The report comes a few months after the Kauffman Foundation released results which indicated that 62 of 100 venture funds failed to exceed returns available from the public markets, after fees and carry were paid.