The Single Biggest Reason Why Startups Succeed

In his TED2015 talk, Idealab founder Bill Gross asks the audience to guess which factor is most important to startup success:

  • Idea
  • Team: How well you execute and adapt
  • Business model: Your path to generating revenue
  • Funding
  • Timing: How early or late you are.

Which one would you pick?

Gross, a serial entrepreneur who went from selling candy to solar energy to loudspeakers to software companies, has always believed in the idea – after all, he named his incubator after it. Idealab has incubated more than 100 companies since it was founded in 1995, including PetSmart,, and Citysearch.

So Gross did some data analysis – he took 100 Idealab companies and 100 non-Idealab companies and analyzed them on the five factors above. The results were surprising: the #1 factor was timing, which accounted for 42% of the differences between the successes and the failures.

  • Timing: 42%
  • Team: 32%
  • Idea: 28%
  • Business model: 24%
  • Funding 14%

TED - Bill Gross screenshot

It turns out that every other factor is changeable – you can add on a business model, raise more funding, switch up the team, or even refocus your idea. But if you’re too early or (especially) too late – if consumers aren’t ready or you have too much competition – there’s not much you can do.

“Look if consumers are really, really ready for what you have to offer them,” Gross advises entrepreneurs. “If you have something you love, you want to push it forward, but you have to be really honest about that timing factor – not in denial.”

Did you find this article helpful? Click on one of the following buttons
We're so happy you liked! Get more delivered to your inbox just like it.

We're sorry this article didn't help you today – we welcome feedback, so if there's any way you feel we could improve our content, please email us at

Written by:
Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact
Back to top