Major Causes of Startups Failure

by Atiq ur Rehman

The world has experienced a wave of startups in many countries, in recent years, in a bid to unlock the trapped potential of youth, create employment opportunities, promote innovations, enhance productivity, improve the livelihood of the people and boost economic development.

What is a startup? The Investopedia, an online business dictionary, defines a startup as “a company that is in the first stage of its operations”. Generally, a startup company is equated with a new information technology (IT) company and rightly so; the world of startups is dominated by tech-companies. However, it is not necessary that all startups are tech companies. They may have non-tech products, too. A startup management is just like launching and managing a new small enterprise.

Governments of many countries are investing considerable effort to promote the culture of startups. This culture refers to support services and the facilitative environment provided by the different actors (especially the government agencies and the academia) to help new idea owners in refining and implementing their business ideas to solve any social or economic problem.

Startups aim at solving specific problems or boosting the efficiency of the existing services; hence, in a way, they are actually intended to catalyze the process of outcome management through striving to achieve higher levels of productivity and efficiency powered with technology.

The bad news is that high mortality rates of startups are reported from different parts of the world. It is increasingly becoming a serious concern that only a small percentage of startups manages to survive and grow.

Startup owners are usually inexperienced business persons. In a highly competitive environment, they face serious challenges in accessing financial resources, controlling development and operational costs and marketing their services. Many of them also do not have access to mentoring or coaching support.

Failure is also bad because it discourages other aspiring people to venture. These issues are deeply rooted in the weak or poorly developed ecosystems for the startups.

Hence, there is an urgent need for governments to intervene to strengthen the creation and development of a startup culture. Before we discuss the elements of such a culture, let us briefly talk about the symptoms of weak startups culture and causes of their failure.

Major symptoms of weak startups ecosystems are:

  • A high failure rate. (Henry, 2017). Patel (2015) says 90% of startups fail.
  • low entrepreneurial intention (EI) among students with professional degrees  (such as business administration, information communication technology, engineering etc.). Intention is defined as, “the psychological “process, state, or act of conscious willing in the present to make some experience be true, realized, manifested, or created in the future” (Bird, 2015). Hence, EI refers to the motivation of an individual to launch or acquire and manage a business.
  • Low scoring on ease of doing business.

The underlying causes are:

  • Inefficient and ineffective market information system– Valid, reliable and timely information empowers those who hold it. New startups face immense difficulties in finding valid and reliable market information. More worrisome is that in many cases, many startup owners are not aware of the type of information that is required for making sound business decisions. At times, they are overwhelmed with the business idea to such an extent that they totally overlook the need to conduct market research. They believe that their assumptions about the market conditions are accurate and realistic, while in reality they are not.
  • Restrictions and barriers on new entrants into a specific industry. In some cases, some of the powerful existing businesses manage to control supply chains to gain a clear competitive advantage of the market. On the other hand, new entrants find it so hard to develop viable supply chains that their entire business ideas turn out to be totally non-feasible. For example, Uber, Grab and Cream faced such resistance from local can owners in many markets. However, if strategic alignment between a startup’s idea and the market needs is string, then it will not be hard for the startup to get entry.
  • Ineffective networking forums: Capacity constraints always impede the way of startup owners. However, effective social and business networking can help in bridging this gap. A study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) conducted in 2016 found that “informal entrepreneur communities are instrumental to start-up success in several world cities that are known for their nurturing of innovation”.Networking provides necessary resources (knowledge, skills, technology, finances, etc.) needed to create and execute business plans.
  • Cultural issues:Nassar & Sori (2017) have highlighted that collectivist culture is an impediment to innovation. What is a collectivist culture? According to Hofstede (1984) “Collectivism stands for a preference for a tightly knit social framework in which individuals can expect their relatives, clan, or other in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty….I relates to people’s self-concept: ‘I’ or ‘we.’ ”. All eastern countries (especially low-income countries)  generally have a collectivist culture while all western countries (especially high income countries) have individualistic culture on overall basis. Individualistic culture is opposite to the collectivist culture. Collectivist culture is considered to be an impediment because in such cultures individuals heavily rely on family and other supports. Besides, it is also likely that other cultural dimensions such as Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) and Long Term Orientation Index (LOI) may also have a profound effect on EI. High UAI and low LOI values might impede the startup culture development. Laura, Dale & Speece (1993) state that UAI is a measure of “society’s tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty”. Successful entrepreneurs are usually risk takers. UAI culture suppresses risk-taking attitudes and abilities of the individuals. In high LOI cultures, people tend to save more money for more secure future. Hence, in such cultures, startup owners face fewer difficulties in mobilizing financial resources.

The good news is that some countries have demonstrated success in developing a good startup culture. Malaysia is one of them. It has managed to develop an effective business ecosystem for startups. The Malaysian experience offers valuable insights for other countries to learn.

What I have experienced in Malaysia!

by Dr. Syed Masroor H. Shah

Passing a smile upon interacting with anyone is indicative of a healthy and a happy nation. It shows that the people have bigger heart to accommodate anyone visiting Malaysia. In case one asks from a Malaysian to guide to a certain location, it is she or he, will take you to the right point. Living happily with a sense of peace is a blessing one enjoys in Malaysia.

Multiculturalism is found in its truest sense in Malaysia. Vision of their leaders to create a progressive Malaysia to welcome people from all over the world, is continuously gaining ground. I have met with the people from different countries. Everyone is appreciative of the local people’s open mindedness. Each society has both positive and negative aspects, but positive side is heavier in case of Malaysia.

People from this progressive nation are not unnecessarily curious about anyone. They talk and converse if the other person is ready and comfortable. Women are free to work at any hours of the day. Everyone is busy to carve a career and build a better life. One can see contentment and simplicity as a salient attribute of the Malaysian society. This does not mean they are complacent, a strong urge to develop more through consistent thinking and hardwork is visible in their day to day progress. People with different cultural and religious backgrounds live together. They show complete respect and care for each others’ values.

Difference of opinion is shared and respected but with no hue and cry. Speak gently is a common norm. Listen and solve the problem is normal in the public and private offices. Getting things done is easier if one follows the process and completes the required formalities. Business environment is conducive. Those with a vision and clear plans coupled with commitment have ample chance to succeed.

When I decided to move to Malaysia with my family, I had two-fold vision. One, my children will educate and grow in a multicultural and value driven society. Second, we as a family will learn and carve a better tomorrow for us. I am glad that I made the right decision.

Beginning my entrepreneurial journey is a dream that has become true in Malaysia. I found role models like Syed Mokhtar Albukhary and Syed Azmin who have made their success through their vision, dedication, sincerity of purpose and sheer hard work. Their experience and personal mentorship are the richest sources of learning for me to start and run a business. Importantly, their care for the fellow beings through social and philanthropic work under the umbrella of Albukhary Foundation is a greater inspiration. There are other examples to enlighten me to become a better entrepreneur and work for bettering the lives of the fellow beings.

It is just a beginning of my journey. I am confident that I will achieve the milestones that I have visualized and set for me, my family and my team who are an important part of this journey.

A good learning throughout this process is that faith in God and then faith in yourself is the key to realize what you dream.

Writer is the CEO of People Talent Tech Sdn. Bhd. His email:


Application of 360 Degree Performance Appraisal Method

by Dr. Atiq ur Rehman, Asif Ahmed and Dr. Syed Masroor Shah

What are the merits and demerits of 360 degree performance appraisal method? What are the necessary conditions for its success? This article attempts to answer these questions.

What is the process of 360 degree method?

Two streams of performance measurements run parallel, however, with a varying degree of frequency: one carried out by supervisor (more frequent, regular and periodic assessment); and second by all other concerned (administered only once or twice a year). HR Department prepares separate forms for the two streams of performance measurement. Data of performance rating from both streams reaches the HR Department, with strict confidentiality. The department prepares a report based on the two data streams. The supervisor and the employee are required to maintain  incidental diaries. The supervisor provides formal constructive feedback. Formal review sessions are also conducted by the supervisor as and when felt necessary.


CEO constitutes three to four talent councils (depending upon the size of the organization): one for management positions, one for the mid level positions and one for rest of the hierarchy. Talent councils review scores of all employees. Supervisors are asked to defend the ratings given by them. In case of considerable variation between the rating given by supervisor and that given by rest of the organization, the case is selected for detailed scrutiny. A talent council can overrule a rating and may give a new performance rating to an individual whose performance rating is under review.

Green view of 360 degree method

Positives of the 360 degree performance appraisal are:

  • It promotes transparency and fairness in performance ratings. Supervisors will have less room for manipulating performance scores of their supervisees. In one organization, when a talent council was holding a session, it spotted a stark difference between rating of an employee given by his supervisor and that given by his colleagues and other members of the organization. It asked the supervisor to justify his ratings, which he could not. Eventually, the talent council revised his performance score upwardly.
  • It improves objective measurement and reporting of performance. The supervisors have to collect credible evidence to give and defend their ratings. Raters also learn, over a period of time, how to be objective in assessing performance of an individual.
  • It offers more opportunities for improvement (individual development). It provides anonymous positive and constructive feedback to the employees. Individuals mirror themselves in the performance reports and get opportunity to find areas for improvement.
  • Performance measurement can bring a positive change in the organization culture. Initially, application of this technique is likely to produce frictions in the organization. However, soon such frictions tend to diminish as everyone learns.

Dark side of the story

The 360 degree performance appraisal does have some negatives too, which include:

  • Organization politics may prevail especially in case of a highly polarized culture and in small organizations
  • A culture of blame game may sprout, giving a boost to internal rivalries.
  • It is cumbersome and too much time consuming.

Prerequisites for the success

Following are the prerequisites for the success of the 360 degree performance appraisal:

  • Organization must have formal measurable and performance driven KRAs (with clearly phased targets) for each individual
  • Cultural transformation is necessary before introducing this method. There is need to promote positive and learning culture in the organization. Frequent and regular training sessions on the application and benefits of the method are recommended especially in the initial years of its introduction.
  • Supervisors must maintain incidental diary to record positive and negative performance incidents so as to provide evidence to their performance assessments.
  • Supervisors must hold performance review sessions with the individuals.
  • All system must be automated and integrated, leaving a little room for manipulation. For example, HRTrack can be a good option for automating and integrating HR processes.

Practical tips for the job interviews

by Dr. Syed Masroor Hussain Shah

I have appeared in a number of interviews during my 22+ years professional life. As HR lead, I took interviews of hundreds of job candidates in the banks, telecom companies (Bangladesh and Pakistan) and United Nations. Following are the important takes derived from my personal experience as an interviewer:

Few experience-based tips for the job candidates:

Elevator speech: Prepare 2-3 minutes of initial response or brief talk. It should cover your strengths, main skills, degree/education and how these are relevant and beneficial for the company. Before drafting this speech, you must review business of the organization and the job description (JD), so that you can ensure that the speech is relevant. There is no need to mention about your name, university name, or any general information that is available in your resume/CV. A brief, to the point and focused intro will create a positive impact.

Know about the employer: The candidate should know and understand in advance the company’s business. It will help relate such information to your answers. Potential sources are the company’s website, professional blogs, linked-in, Facebook or personal referrals.

Understand the role, functions, responsibilities: JD is a main source information about your expected role, functions and responsibilities in the organization. As a candidate, you must read the JD carefully, draw a minimum of 10 potential questions and prepare the answers. Practicing the answers will help the candidate in the interviews.

Use of data, figures and references: To make the answers powerful and convincing, use of data, figures and references from your experience and achievements is strongly recommended. Data and references will make your credible and impactful. This substantiates your answers and reflects your keen and focused approach with your job and profession.

Do not use fillers in your responses: Most of the candidates use catch phrases or extra sentences to fill the gaps to ensure continuity of communication. The interviewers can easily detect such redundancies and can infer that  the candidate is having no substantive information. Speak simple, to the point and in a slow and steady manner.

Dress for the interview: Neat, clean and presentable dress is important for any interview. Private or corporate sector prefers use of more formal dress whereas development or not for profit organizations are not much conscious about it. My advice is to work on this aspect before you go to an interview.

Face to face, positive communication: When answering a question, talk face to face with the interviewer and maintain positive posture. Any gesture indicating over confidence or use of language reflecting self-boasting will generate negative impact. Listen very carefully each and every word of question and/or comment. Don’t interrupt the interviewer at any stage. Keep a smile and do not get offended for any question that you don’t like. Manage your emotions and feelings while responding to the interview questions.

Do not discuss salary or benefits: Normally salary or benefits are not discussed in the interviews. Do not discuss it pro-actively unless it is asked by the interviewer.

Display your passion: While responding to the interview questions, though in a natural way, you should show your passion with what you have done or you are doing. It will generate positive energy and elevate interest of the interviewer.

Connect to the interviewer’s conversation: Listen to the conversation of the interviewer carefully and relate your discussion to the interviewer’s interest. This will be helpful in making your interview more interactive and interesting.

Say thank you: Saying thank you to the interview panel in a couple of sentences before leaving the room will create positive effect.

Overstress is a Killer: Coping Strategies

by Dr. Atiq ur Rehman and Asif Ahmed

A few days back, Mahboob a 37-year-old employee, died of heart attack in a company in Bangladesh. His colleagues suggest that he was suffering from acute level of stress. We hear such news more frequently these days.

Corporate world of today is becoming increasingly more complex and more stressful. Millions of people are suffering from this problem around the world. Many continue living in hell. Many don’t find energy and stamina to live in such situation – some of them get into a trap of physical and psychological complexities, and some even commit suicide. In a way, workplaces in many organizations are becoming lethal for employees. Continue reading “Overstress is a Killer: Coping Strategies”