The Greatest Single Factor in Startup Success


Bill Gross is the founder and CEO of the business incubator, Idealab. In a recent conversation in Vancouver, Mr. Gross shared his findings on what factors matter most for startup success.

The Power Startups

To begin with, Mr. Gross asserted he believes the startup model is one of the greatest ways we can make the world a better place. According to Mr. Gross, by taking the right group of people and incentivizing them properly you can unlock human potential in a way that has never been possible before. Why then do so many startups fail? And what factors matter most in startup success?

The Five Key Factors for Success

In order to answer these questions, Mr. Gross reviewed the 100’s of startups founded within Idealab and examined what lessons could be learned from both these company’s successes, as well as their failures. In so doing, Mr. Gross identified five factors he felt contributed most to a company’s success or failure. Those five factors are: idea, team, business model, funding, and timing.

A Real Life Case-Study

To determine the effectiveness of these five factors, Mr. Gross examined the impact of each factor across 100 Idealab companies as well as 100 outside companies. Mr. Gross examined companies from Idealab which had gone on to achieve billion dollar valuations, as well as those he considered to have fallen short. Likewise, when examining outside companies, he examined both companies he considered to be wild successes like AirBNB and YouTube, as well as companies which he considered to be failures like and Friendster. For all of these companies, Mr. Gross measured the impact that each of the five factors had.

The Single Greatest Factor

According to Mr. Gross’s research, across all of these companies, the number one factor was timing (42%). The second biggest factor was execution (32%), then idea (28%), business model (24%), and finally funding (14%).

Two Real-Life Examples

As an example for how these key factors played out, Mr. Gross sited, AirBNB. According to Mr. Gross, at the time of AirBNB’s launch many very smart investors wanted nothing to do with the company. Very few could see the validity in renting out their home to a stranger. The model was new and untested. However, according to Mr. Gross, one of the major advantages AirBNB had was launching during the height of the recession when people really needed extra money. This timing helped people overcome their objections to the new business of renting out their homes to strangers. According to Mr. Gross, this was the same situation which helped to contribute to Uber, which launched around the same time. 

To Sum It All Up

In summary, Mr. Gross stated that execution and idea certainly matter a lot, but that it is timing which might matter even more. According to Mr. Gross, the best way to assess timing is to thoroughly determine if customers are ready for what you are offering them. According to Mr. Gross, if you are very honest with yourself about the factor of timing, you will have a better chance of seeing your startup join the ranks of those changing the world for the better as well.

How Flatiron is Improving Cancer Research

Flatiron Health was founded in 2012 after its founders witnessed firsthand how decentralized cancer research information had become. By bringing all of this information into a single repository, the New York City-based Flatiron Health hopes to make such information more readily available and accessible for research of breakthrough cancer treatments.

The Need for Change

Flatiron Health was founded in 2012 by Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg shortly after they sold their first company to Google. The need for Flatiron Health became apparent when Nat’s seven-year old cousin was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.

After witnessing firsthand how few hospitals, clinics, and universities were sharing their data with one another, Nat and Zach realized there was an important opportunity to bring all of this information under one single system in order to assist in the discovery of new and improved breakthrough cancer treatments.

Flatiron Health Goes Beyond Mere Treatment

And the need is vast. Beyond merely assisting with the development of new cancer treatments, Flatiron Health also assists with a full range of patient needs. Along with health data, Flatiron Health's shared technology platform assists with visualizing patient populations, determining resource utilization, identifying treatment patterns, overseeing network management, and even allowing health care professionals to match patients with clinical trials among many other beneficial aspects. Coupled with this the company’s ability to streamline the insurance process and manage and make available electronic health records for academic medical centers and hospitals, and you can begin to see just some of the roles Flatiron Health is able to serve.

The Company is Constantly Improving

As an organizational tool for managing the total care of patients, Flatiron Health is unparalleled. According to Flatiron Health's website, currently more than 2.1 million patient records have been entered into their system. Add to this the fact that all 15 of the top therapeutic companies work with Flatiron Health, and over 280 community oncology practices, and seven major academic research centers partner with Flatiron Health as well. The company also sees more than 2,500 clinician users on its OncoEMR service, as well as 55 community oncology practices using its OCM network.

Major Funding and an Enormous Acquisition

Investors have taken notice as well. As of this writing, Flatiron Health has already raised more than $313 million after three rounds of funding. Most recently, Flatiron Health closed a $175 million round of Series C funding in 2016 led by Roche, a Swiss-based company which focuses on bringing targeted cancer treatments to patients. Then, two years later in February of 2018, Roche acquired Flatiron for $1.9 billion.

Today, Flatiron Health and Roche are combining to pioneer a new way to both managing and treating cancer patients. Both companies look to improve the care of patients for many years to come.