I've long been interested in finding quantifiable data that determines whether a technology startup will succeed or not. There's certainly a wealth of subjective information and opinion out there, but remarkably little when it comes to hard core data. Yes, much of that opinion is well founded, based on personal experience and duly-earned battle scars. But I'm interested in real data beyond simple demographics and backward-looking financials. Can you actually predict success? Well, about a year ago, the Startup Genome Project was launched to attempt to turn the tide here. 

The Startup Genome Project has as its stated mission "to increase the success rate of startups and accelerate the pace of innovation globally." The Startup Genome Project is a collaboration of a group of entrepreneurs and academics from UC Berkeley and Stanford University. They have developed a tool called the Startup Genome Compass. It is a benchmarking tool with a web-based interface that allows you to complete a fairly detailed survey about numerous aspects of your business and product. This information then feeds into their database, they crunch the numbers using some unique methodologies, and provide a set of benchmark metrics. These metrics are compared with other entries in their database and you can see where you stand against other startups. 

In May of 2011, the Startup Genome Project released its first report summarizing their findings from more than 3200 internet-based startups. In August of 2011, they followed that report up with one about Premature Scaling, which is a primary failure mechanism for internet startups. When you go to their website, you can request a copy of these free reports. They then email you a link to the requested report. Very cool and full of good insights.

The folks at the Startup Genome Project recognize that entrepreneurship is at least as much art as science, especially in the internet startup game. However, because of the huge number of internet startups, most with exceptionally fast
life/death cycles, it provides a great opportunity to detect patterns that can be verified.  The business equivalent of a fruit fly. 

I tried entering sample information to test drive their Startup Compass tool. As noted, the questions are pretty detailed and certainly biased strongly toward internet/software-only companies. However, the questions asked in the tool and the trends gleaned from the reports provide some great insights. If you don't have time to read the reports themselves, their blog has some concise summaries and also provides indications of what the folks at the Startup Genome Project are doing next. 

As we near their first anniversary, thanks to the team at the Startup Genome Project for some compelling and valuable work!