The Truth About “Legacy Issues”

I spent quite a bit of time on Autopsy HQ.  The more I read, the more I understood something was happening. Everyone blamed legacy issues.

  • They started without enough money/burn rate too high.
  • The customer acquisition cost was too high.
  • They started with some systemic disadvantage that they couldn’t overcome. (Legacy isuses)

And they’ll write 10,000 words around this. Hemming and hawing and making excuses and bullshitting themselves. They didn’t know why they failed, not really.

Later on, my friend Len Markidan mentioned the same issue here as part of a conversation with  Laura Roeder and Ryan Delk:

Ryan and Laura were tweeting back and forth:

What we see here is really the Dunning-Kruger effect.  From Wikipedia:

 a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.

More specifically, when you’re bad at a skill  you’ll be in a position where you won’t know how to measure aptitude. So you’ll rate yourself as better than you are.

Do We Even Know Why We’re Failing?

As I read through Autopsy.IO it became obvious: most of the founders have no earthly idea why they failed. The reasons that they cite are bedtime stories, not data driven analysis.  A lot of them were feel good excuses. It seemed – from the outside – that the were blaming one thing for another. They had reasons that they mentioned for sure, but they weren’t generally the same as why they failed.

Most of the reasons were  “outside of their control,” and you only had to be there to understand why that they failed.

But as you read these stories, the repetition becomes boring.

What If *You’re* The Clueless One?

I’ve blamed legacy issues for everything that ails my business. I made some mistakes which led me to say – over and over again:

If not for the legacy issues, we’d be rolling right now. 

That’s what I’ve told myself and that’s what I tell myself. But that’s an excuse, right? It’s nice to believe that the problems are confined to our past and that recently we’re on the right track. It’s also a delusion.

The mistakes are not in the past. We’ve made big mistakes and we failed to solve them. By that failure, that means our past mistakes persist to the present.

To construct a metaphor.

Let’s say you’re driving at 70 MPH down the highway. And let’s say you’re headed from New York to LA. But around Chicago, for whatever reason, you turned around and started heading east again.  And you continue to drive east saying “Yes, I made a mistake but that’s in the past, things are going great now.”

As long as you’re in the wrong direction, you’re still making the mistake. As long as the issue remains uncorrected, the mistake is sill killing you.  Going faster won’t help when you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Fixing It:

So it falls to us to fix it.

First, have a tool that assesses where you are. What direction are you heading?

If you’re working to overcome a mistake, let’s be sure we’re working in the right direction. Are we? How do we know?

Finally, make a sunset date for all the legacy issues to no longer be an excuse. Because as long as they are the mistake is still being made.

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.

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