New book reveals how to successfully navigate the uncertainties that sink most startups

New book reveals how to successfully navigate the uncertainties that sink most startups

June 4, 20193 min read

INDIANAPOLIS – Research shows that the majority of startups fail. Even more never get off the ground. So how do you avoid the pitfalls that come with navigating the uncertainties of a startup?


A new book entitled The Titanic Effect: Successfully Navigating the Uncertainties that Sink Most Startups, guides early-stage startups and their supporters through the challenges they will encounter as they begin building their venture. Startups are inherently uncertain. Decisions have to be made with incomplete information. These decisions result in unanticipated consequences –- problems that lurk beneath the surface.


The book draws on lessons learned from the Titanic, which sunk in 1912 not only because it hit an iceberg, but because of a number of decisions that interacted to create one of the largest maritime disasters. A series of trade-offs and choices in the design, building and operating of the Titanic magnified the catastrophic consequences.


Co-authors M. Kim Saxton, clinical professor of marketing at the IU Kelley School of Business, Todd Saxton, associate professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at the IU Kelley School of Business, along with serial entrepreneur Michael Cloran, who has founded multiple startups, leverage decades of startup experience to reveal the often-overlooked human, marketing and technical “hidden debts” that sink startups, while drawing parallels to little known parts of the original Titanic story.

“The idea for this book came from a conversation about ‘technical debt,’ often used in a software development context, in which shortcuts taken early in a startup’s life limit potential later,” said Todd Saxton. “But this challenge isn’t unique to product development; it applies to other domains as well. That led us to broaden the idea to a more holistic one—That we call in our book ‘hidden debt,’ or debts that are beneath the surface but can limit growth or sink even the most promising startup.”

“Most books about entrepreneurship and startups are ‘how-to’s,’ detailing all the things you have to do to succeed when creating your own venture. Our book tells you what not to do, and it shows you how to identify the potential issues that could keep you from being successful,” said Michael Cloran.


The Titanic Effect explains that taking on these hidden debts is inevitable, but startups must be careful to recognize that debt and take steps to mitigate the risks.

“Over our more than 20 years of working with student, alumni and venture community startups—and helping launch and investing in them as well--we have seen the same patterns of mistakes repeated over and over again,” explained Kim Saxton. “We made a list of the most common startup mistakes, and that’s the main focus of this book. Our goal is to bring these so-called ‘icebergs’—or ‘debt-bergs,’ as we call them—out of hiding. Debt is not necessarily bad as long as you recognize, measure and manage it.”


“Entrepreneurs make a lot of decisions under uncertainty, and often, they don’t fully understand the consequences of those decisions,” Saxton added. “Each decision has the potential to either enable – or hamper – future potential. At best, the wrong decision could limit how the startup can grow. At worst, it could cause ventures to sink.”

The Titanic Effect is available as an e-book and will be available June 2019 in print. For more information, head to the book’s website here.

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