The Biggest Reason why startups success

Opening Questions

What’s the most important thing when developing a startup?

  • the team
  • the execution
  • adaptability
  • the idea

Prioritise the following in order of importance for startups:

  • business model
  • funding
  • timing
why startups succeed

We are going to watch the first 6 minutes of a Ted talk by Tristan Harris

Using Ted talks and video are a fantastic way to improve your listening comprehension, practice listening to different English accentsvocabulary building for the real world and improving your pronunciation.

Here’s how to use video effectively.

1. Go through the English language transcript of the video and identify the difficult vocabulary.

  • Look up the new words and understand them in context.

2. Listen to a short 5 minute video (or part of a video) just in English with no subtitles. Try to understand as much as possible.

  • At the end, try to mark your listening comprehension with a %. Did you understand 60%, or 80% or the talk?

3. Listen again to just the first 5 minutes but with English subtitles. Listen and read to the speakers words and focus on the global meaning, their way of speaking and pronunciation.

  • At the end, try to mark your listening comprehension with a %. How much did your listening comprehension improve from the first listening?
  • Try to identify where you had difficulties from the fist listening. Was is the speed, the pronunciation, the accent or the vocabulary?



By following the steps above you will improve your listening comprehension on the 1st listening. The objective is to close the gap between 1st and 2nd listening. 

1. Vocabulary Questions

Before we watch the video, let’s discuss some of the vocabulary. 

What are “the right equity incentives” for people working in a startup?

Describe a way to unlock human potential?

What are loudspeakers used for?

Name a new technology that you have high hopes for?

What does it get traction in a market?

Name an example of something you passed on recently?

What is another way to say come out in the context of a new product or service?

In your opinion, what is the most cost-effective way to get to London from Seville?

Can you use the phrasal verb “work out” in 2 different ways?

2. Watch the first 6 minutes of the TED talk

3. Comprehension Questions

What was his first job in high school?

Why did he name his company Idealab?

What is the number one factor for success?

What were number 2 and 3 factors?

Why did people pass on Airbnb as an investment in the beginning?

In the summary, whats the best way to assess timing?

4. Watch the video again with English subtitles

You can select the subtitles by clicking on the caption controls  on the bottom of the screen below.

Listening comprehension

What was your level of comprehension after the 2nd listening?

Now that you understand most of the vocabulary, what aspects of his English were hard to understand?

  • pronunciation
  • speed
  • accent
  • grammar

Listening comprehension for numbers and percentages

Fill in the blanks:

Timing accounted for ……………… of the difference between success and failure, which we announced actually at TED in ……………..

But broadband penetration was too low in ……………….

When broadband penetration crossed ……………. percent in America, YouTube was perfectly timed

5. Using the vocabulary in a new context

How much equity do you need to control a business?

You can unlock human potential but what physical object can be unlocked?

Tell me one personal objective you have high hopes for?

Traction in the market could be seen as customer demand but in what sport can you use traction?

I passed on accepting the job but at the same time I passed on the name of someone who I think is interested. Whats the difference?

Can you think of 2 examples using “come out”?

Is Spaces the most cost-effective office solution?

The Beatles have a lyric which says “we can work it out”, what do you think they mean? 

6. Summerizng Exercise

Listen again to these sections and try to summarize in your own words the main ideas. 

Starting from Timecode 4:10 to 5:50, what does he say about the timing for some success businesses?

7. Discussion Questions

Can you think of a situation from your life experience that suits the expression: “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.”

Can you think of an amazing startup and why you like it?

Can you think of any other factors that influence the success of startups?

Video Transcript

I’m really excited to share with you some findings that really surprise me about what makes companies succeed the most, what factors actually matter the most for startup success. 

I believe that the startup organization is one of the greatest forms to make the world a better place. If you take a group of people with the right equity incentives and organize them in a startup, you can unlock human potential in a way never before possible. You get them to achieve unbelievable things. 

But if the startup organization is so great, why do so many fail? That’s what I wanted to find out. I wanted to find out what actually matters most for startup success. 

And I wanted to try to be systematic about it, avoid some of my instincts and maybe misperceptions I have from so many companies I’ve seen over the years.

I wanted to know this because I’ve been starting businesses since I was 12 years old when I sold candy at the bus stop in junior high school, to high school, when I made solar energy devices, to college, when I made loudspeakers. And when I graduated from college, I started software companies. And 20 years ago, I started Idealab, and in the last 20 years, we started more than 100 companies, many successes, and many big failures. We learned a lot from those failures. 

So I tried to look across what factors accounted the most for company success and failure. So I looked at these five. First, the idea. I used to think that the idea was everything. I named my company Idealab for how much I worship the “aha!” moment when you first come up with the idea. But then over time, I came to think that maybe the team, the execution, adaptability, that mattered even more than the idea. 

I never thought I’d be quoting boxer Mike Tyson on the TED stage, but he once said, “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.” (Laughter) And I think that’s so true about business as well. So much about a team’s execution  is its ability to adapt to getting punched in the face by the customer. The customer is the true reality. And that’s why I came to think that the team maybe was the most important thing.

Then I started looking at the business model. Does the company have a very clear path generating customer revenues? That started rising to the top in my thinking about maybe what mattered most for success. 

Then I looked at the funding. Sometimes companies received intense amounts of funding. Maybe that’s the most important thing? 

And then of course, the timing. Is the idea way too early and the world’s not ready for it? Is it early, as in, you’re in advance and you have to educate the world? Is it just right? Or is it too late, and there’s already too many competitors? 

So I tried to look very carefully at these five factors across many companies. And I looked across all 100 Idealab companies, and 100 non-Idealab companies to try and come up with something scientific about it. 

So first, on these Idealab companies, the top five companies — Citysearch, CarsDirect, GoTo, NetZero, — those all became billion-dollar successes. And the five companies on the bottom —, Insider Pages, MyLife, Desktop Factory, Peoplelink — we all had high hopes for, but didn’t succeed. 

So I tried to rank across all of those attributes how I felt those companies scored on each of those dimensions. And then for non-Idealab companies, I looked at wild successes, like Airbnb and Instagram and Uber and Youtube and LinkedIn. 

And some failures: Webvan, Kozmo,, Flooz, and Friendster. The bottom companies had intense funding, they even had business models in some cases, but they didn’t succeed. I tried to look at what factors actually accounted the most for success and failure across all of these companies, and the results really surprised me. 

The number one thing was timing. Timing accounted for 42 percent of the difference between success and failure. Team and execution came in second, and the idea, the differentiability of the idea, the uniqueness of the idea, that actually came in third. 

Now, this isn’t absolutely definitive, it’s not to say that the idea isn’t important, but it very much surprised me that the idea wasn’t the most important thing. Sometimes it mattered more when it was actually timed. 

The last two, business model and funding, made sense to me actually. I think business model makes sense to be that low because you can start out without a business model and add one later if your customers are demanding what you’re creating. And funding, I think as well, if you’re underfunded at first but you’re gaining traction, especially in today’s age, it’s very, very easy to get intense funding. 

Timecode 4:10

So now let me give you some specific examples about each of these. So take a wild success like Airbnb that everybody knows about. Well, that company was famously passed on by many smart investors because people thought, “No one’s going to rent out a space in their home to a stranger.” Of course, people proved that wrong. But one of the reasons it succeeded, aside from a good business model, a good idea, great execution, is the timing. 

That company came out right during the height of the recession when people really needed extra money, and that maybe helped people overcome their objection to renting out their own home to a stranger. 

Same thing with Uber. Uber came out, incredible company, incredible business model, great execution, too. But the timing was so perfect for their need to get drivers into the system. Drivers were looking for extra money; it was very, very important. 

Some of our early successes, Citysearch, came out when people needed web pages., which we announced actually at TED in 1998, was when companies were looking for cost-effective ways to get traffic. We thought the idea was so great, but actually, the timing was probably maybe more important. And then some of our failures. We started a company called, it was an online entertainment company. We were so excited about it — we raised enough money, we had a great business model, we even signed incredibly great Hollywood talent to join the company. But broadband penetration was too low in 1999-2000. It was too hard to watch video content online, you had to put codecs in your browser and do all this stuff, and the company eventually went out of business in 2003. 

Just two years later, when the codec problem was solved by Adobe Flash and when broadband penetration crossed 50 percent in America, YouTube was perfectly timed. Great idea, but unbelievable timing. In fact, YouTube didn’t even have a business model when it first started. It wasn’t even certain that that would work out. But that was beautifully, beautifully timed. 

So what I would say, in summary, is execution definitely matters a lot. The idea matters a lot. But timing might matter even more. And the best way to really assess timing is to really look at whether consumers are really ready for what you have to offer them. And to be really, really honest about it, not be in denial about any results that you see, because if you have something you love, you want to push it forward, but you have to be very, very honest about that factor on timing. 

As I said earlier, I think startups can change the world and make the world a better place. I hope some of these insights can maybe help you have a slightly higher success ratio, and thus make something great come to the world that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. 

Thank you very much, you’ve been a great audience.