Four Zombie Startups & How to Resuscitate Them

I’ve run a few startups and meet with many more through speaking events and community work related to my book. This post is about avoiding and (where needed) fixing the failure modes I see most.

Zombies are still popular, so I went with a zombie heuristic to summarize these failure modes. If you self-identify with any of these:

  1. Don’t feel bad- we all carry these tendencies to a degree.
  2. You can resuscitate these zombies using the simple incantations below.


The Hobby Hacker Zombie

Scientist Zombie Four Zombie Startups & How to Resuscitate ThemHe loves to build things and he loves the things he builds. That’s great as a creative outlet but he also wants to make it a business. Unfortunately, the business is stuck because he always has a few other things he wants to do before presenting to the customer or asking for money. This incantation will help the Hobby Hacker Zombie productize his invention:

The hypothesis I want to prove,
Is the whether I can make the dial on customers move.

The Nice Guy Zombie

Nice Guy Zombie Four Zombie Startups & How to Resuscitate ThemHe’s excited about working with customers- that’s what the venture is all about. He’s psyched that they have a few customers willing to work with them and he’s hesitant to rock the boat by asking for money. The problem is that his startup is now a plaything for pre-customers that don’t have the authority or budget to spend money. This incantation will help him probe those pockets:

To pay is the way customers say your business won’t go astray.

The Traffic Fan Zombie

Traffic Fan Zombie Four Zombie Startups & How to Resuscitate ThemThe site’s got traffic! And users are signing up! Stuff’s working; the problem is that no one’s paying. The site’s got a few things that users will occasionally use for free but they’re not converting to revenue. He needs to abandon the vanity metrics in favor of revenue-generating conversions that support their business model. This incantation will help him separate the wheat from the chaff:

A visitor lands
Doesn’t do a damn thing here
No money for us

The Internal Tools Zombie

Internal Tools Zombie Four Zombie Startups & How to Resuscitate ThemTheir tool works great internally and she wants to see if it will work for the world at large. Why not? Good question- but she should start from the beginning and look for a product/market fit with an MVP (minimum viable product) version of the tool. This incantation will help her drive the decision to productize or let the tool rest in peace internally:

If there is a rule
To productize a tool
It’s to see if buyers think it’s cool


1. Decide
If you want the project to be a business, make sure you have a solid understanding of the buyer, a set of assumptions, and then shepherd a minimal viable product into the wild with a watchful eye.
2. Timebox
If you’re having trouble moving forward, one way to scoot things forward is to set specific timeframes for design, creation of the MVP, etc. Like anything in this inexact science, this isn’t a universally correct decision- sometimes you do need more time in planning and design. But if you think you’re taking too long you probably are.
3. Get Paid or Get Pivoting
Driving to revenue is the best way to shake off the cobwebs and figure out if things are going to work. I’ll be doing a full post on this next week.