The One Thing That’s Sure to Make Any Business Fail

January 11, 2016, 4:03 PM UTC
New York, NY - August 15: For Home. East of East developer Amol Sarva at his home in Arris Lofts, 27-28 Thompson Ave in LIC Queens, August 15, 2010.  Photo by Zandy Mangold.
New York, NY - August 15: For Home. East of East developer Amol Sarva at his home in Arris Lofts, 27-28 Thompson Ave in LIC Queens, August 15, 2010. Photo by Zandy Mangold.
Photograph by Zandy Mangold

The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s something you wish you knew before starting your business?” is written by Amol Sarva, cofounder of Virgin Mobile USA, Peek, Halo Neuroscience, Knotable, and The Knotel.

The “you-can’t-teach-it” school of entrepreneurship never seems to go away, mainly because we like to ask successful people, and good luck often makes unprepared people successful. But there are so many areas where natural talent is hugely important, yet training and learning are also vital: the 100-meter dash, chess, languages, leadership, and, yes, starting companies.

So here’s one thing that virtually no entrepreneur gets trained about enough: working with and managing people. Your cofounders, the core team, the troops at the growing company, as well as customers and the public are all too human. How should you handle conflict? How can you motivate a group? How do you focus amidst competing agendas? Some advice, some practices, and some familiarity with patterns of human behavior can make these existential crises look more like ordinary items on your to-do list.

See also: Breather CEO: These Ideas Build the Best Businesses

You don’t have to re-invent the ancient art of human relations.

How should you fire someone when it isn’t working out? State the obvious and say it’s over—that you will be in touch with details, no apologies or tears needed. Watch the Moneyball scene about trading a player if you need some tutoring.

How do you make a decision when the group is not at consensus? You aren’t there to persuade everyone. You are there to listen, say what you think, listen again, and tell people the plan. And if you’re not in charge, but don’t know who is, fix that problem first.


Leadership skills sometimes come naturally. If they didn’t for you, you can practice them. Try the conversation on a friendly partner: “Hey, friend. I need to ask my investors to invest more, but they are going to be annoyed. Can I try out the conversation on you?”

One thing that’s sure to fail: delaying the solution, ignoring the problem, or delegating the dirty work. Leadership is irrelevant when everyone already agreed on the answer. Learning to tackle the conflict is learning the job of leading people.

Amol Sarva cofounded several startups including Virgin Mobile USA, Peek, Halo Neuroscience, Knotable, BEMAVEN, Knotel, and built a building in New York called East of East. He studied cognitive science for his Ph.D. at Stanford with an undergraduate degree from Columbia.

Read all responses to the Entrepreneur Insider question: What’s something you wish you knew before starting your business?

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The One Regret Everyone Has After Starting a Business by Susan Drumm, CEO advisor and leadership coach.

Striving for Perfection Can Ruin Your Chances at Success by Diana Murakhovskaya and Irene Ryabaya, cofounders of Monarq.

The Painful Truth About Starting a Business by Suneera Madhani, founder and CEO of Fattmerchant.

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The Easy Way to Stop Wasting so Much Time by Greg Sewitz, cofounder of Exo.

The Real Reason so Many Businesses Fail by Catherine Bell, cofounder of BluEra.

Here’s How to Know Your Business Is Headed for Disaster by Andrew Ackerman, managing director of Dreamit New York.

Here’s Why You’re so Discouraged With Your Career by Simon Berg, CEO of Ceros.

Doing This for an Hour Each Day Can Make You More Successful by Dennis O’Donnell, cofounder ofPAW5andClear-Coat.

Why This Entrepreneur Doesn’t Regret Leaving His Successful Business by Chris Boehner, founder and CEO of Western Natural Foods.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do Before Starting a Business by Josh Reeves, cofounder and CEO of Gusto.

The Important Business Lesson Too Many Leaders Ignore by Aidan Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of Reincubate.

What Google and Richard Branson Can Teach Us About Success by Alexander Goldstein, founder and CEO of Eligo Energy.

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The Dangerous Mistake Too Many Leaders Make by Fayez Mohamood, cofounder and CEO of Bluecore.

The Biggest Challenge Every Entrepreneur Faces by Jeff Ruby, founder and CEO of Newtopia.

Here’s What Happens When Your Company Only Focuses on Data by Allison Berliner, founder and CEO of Cataluv.

What Every Entrepreneur Should Be More Prepared for by Feris Rifai, cofounder and CEO of Bay Dynamics.

Why Virtual Offices Don’t Work by William Vanderbloemen, founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group.

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