If you’re like me – – you’ve seen a lot about how entrepreneurs can improve their odds of success. You’ve read the “what it takes” and “do you make the cut?” types of articles, hoping to see if you’ve “got the stuff.” Then of course, you’ve read the “common pitfalls” and “top mistakes” – – because you wanna make sure you’re prepared to avoid these. Or, if you’ve already launched – – you wanna see if you’re doomed, right?

No one talks about the #1 culprit. Few refer to the #1 reason most start-ups fail. Not many writers, consultants or experts commit to a single reason for utter floppage – – but instead provide lists of possibilities, in “no particular order.”

I liken this to doing a search on if you’re experiencing the symptoms for a heart attack. Yes, I’ve been to the ER for indigestion and I have plenty of friends who have too (in spite of having a life-long friend who’s a renowned cardiologist).

My point is – – as a startup, you’ll always have one or more of these so-called symptoms of failure and probably one or more indicators of success as well. Maybe the lists are helpful because we get to see what we want to see (or need to see). Should we prod forward in spite of the pain when everyone.. and everything else says – – “end the misery..?” Fact is, whether you have that “awful feeling” or that “awesome feeling” – – you may well be on your way to success by mere virtue of the fact that you started.

And by stark contrast – – there’s only ONE definite reason you’re currently on your way to failure. . . if you haven’t started.

So that’s what I’m saying. . . the #1 reason most startups fail – – the entrepreneur never takes action, never actually STARTS. We’ve all been there or know someone… talking about their ideas; thinking about their ideas; researching office space, getting quotes – – but never starting.

I know what you’re thinking…. “oh, it’s not a startup if they never start.”

Okay well, let’s not be petty or elitist.  Truth is – – it’s easy to avoid failure by never starting; but I submit the premise that failing to start is, in and of itself, a failure (hence the failure of a startup). Plenty of business plans are written for companies never formed. LLC’s are formed that never try to get a customer. How many people have printed business cards and toiled for months on ideas that achieve no more than a logo?

I’m guilty as well. I’m on my second startup after a plethora of ideas. My first achieved a modicum of success but we had to move on. My second, many years later is based on what I know best, love most and have spent my career doing: managing teams that build and launch strategic software applications.

Still, I’ve often found myself thinking too much, acting too slowly, experiencing procrastination or even out-right fear… but we have several startups as clients now and I’ve discovered a role as “coach” for many who call seeking advice and the occasional pep talk. I’ve come to realize that when I’m talking to them – – I’m sometimes saying what I need to hear too.

So by now you can tell I’ve been building technology and managing development teams a long time. To optimize project success, we began applying Agile methodologies and I also became a proponent for lean practices. Applied properly (which I don’t think happens often), these combined principles can vastly improve project results with lower risk, in better time-frames, at lower costs.

In practice, I describe “lean practices” as creating a series of tiny milestones to which you apply a pass/fail test where each must PASS for you to proceed. While most web/mobile development companies quote out costs for full projects (as requested and expected), in applying lean practices – – my company presents a path comprised of independently priced milestones that ultimately achieve the full goal – – yet allows clients to conduct this pass/ fail testing along the way.

While we love winning the ‘big app project,’ we’d rather see clients start with a Visual Prototype (which can be built very quickly, at a fraction of the cost) – – so they can confirm that what they hope to build makes sense. If it doesn’t, they can stop before spending big bucks for a big disappointment. Sometimes things just need to be rethought a bit, tweaked. So by applying Agile iteration to refine at each phase (beginning with ui design), clients save tons of time and money when we get to the coding phase – – largely because programmers have a clear blueprint to work from.

Pulling this full circle – – sometimes ‘starting’ is just taking real steps (pass/fail milestones) toward something that can be sold – – whether to end-customers, your boss or a business concept for potential investors. Once you have something that can be sold, few can deny – – you’ve started.

Here’s a quote I’ve heard (although not sure who coined it) but obviously think it warrants thought.

The biggest failure you can have in life is making the mistake of never trying at all.

James Hasan is managing partner for StackRelease, a Chicago-based company comprised of technology professionals who lead teams through technology projects and establish efficiencies to reduce time loss, strengthen budgetary controls and alleviate points of project tension. Contact James to learn more about getting your digital project to its next milestone.