亲爱的质疑者：毫无疑问，加入一家初创公司的风险，要远远大于你儿子现在的工作，而且他肯定知道这一点。对于初创公司失败率，比较靠谱的估计是75%到90%，甚至更高，这要取决于你对失败的定义。例如，哈佛商学院（Harvard Business School）的什卡•高希对2,000多家在2004年至2010年至少获得100万美元风险投资的初创公司进行了一番研究。高希发现，其中约有75%的公司让投资者血本无归，有95%未能实现特定目标，如收入增长率或收支平衡预测等。
Dear Annie: I don’t usually meddle in my kids’ career decisions, but I think my son is about to do something he’ll regret. He’s been working in IT at a Fortune 500 company since he graduated from Stanford three years ago, and he’s been pretty happy there. Now, some friends of his from school are starting a company, and he’s thinking of chucking his job and joining them. About half his compensation would be in equity, and he’s counting on a big payoff if the company goes public. But isn’t that kind of like buying a lottery ticket? It’s a long shot, and you only ever hear about the big winners, who are relatively few and far between. Your thoughts, please? — Skeptical in San Marino
Dear Skeptical: No question, joining a startup would be a lot riskier than what your son is doing now, and he surely already knows that. Knowledgeable estimates of startup failure rates range from 75% to 90%, and — depending on how you define failure — some are even higher. One study, for instance, by Shikhar Ghosh at Harvard Business School, looked at more than 2,000 fledgling enterprises that received at least $1 million in venture capital funding from 2004 through 2010. Ghosh found that about 75% failed to return investors’ money, and 95% fell short of specific goals like revenue growth rates or break-even projections.
Dire numbers like that don’t mean, of course, that people who want to change jobs should rule out startups — they simply need to ask the right questions up front. Kathy Harris, managing director of New York City tech recruiting firm Harris Allied, thinks job seekers have gotten a kind of gold-rush fever from the gargantuan Alibaba IPO, and the company’s subsequent success. Before making the leap to a startup, she suggests asking these questions:
• How much funding does the company have? Most brand-new companies are launched with money from friends and family, Harris notes, including the founders’ own savings and even their credit cards. Nothing wrong with that, but you need to know the total dollar amount divided by the “burn rate.” “How long can the firm stay in business with its current cash supply?”
• How does the firm’s product or service fit into its industry? “Is there a real need for what the company is offering? Look at competitors and ask how the new product or service will fit into its market space,” Harris says. “What are the opportunities to generate revenue, and the triggers that will make this company profitable?” A well-thought-out business plan should address all this in detail. Since this startup’s founders are your son’s friends, he should ask to see it. If there is no written business plan, or if it seems skimpy, it’s a sign that these folks are not ready to run a company. Period.