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5 Warning Signs a Startup Is a Bad Investment

It's hard to pick winning investments but there are often clear signs of a losing investment.
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A company that’s not growing is dying. This is an unpleasant reality that comes with the capitalist system, and it’s especially harsh for smaller or newer companies. Between concerns over debt, resource acquisition and client maintenance, plenty can go horrifically wrong. It’s no wonder that 80 percent of small businesses fail.

The prudent investor must watch for these five warning signs.

1. Lackluster products. A common challenge for any new business is separating themselves from the crowd. A company unable to provide a quality or niche product will likely get steam rolled by others already established in their field.

Look through their product catalog to determine if the company has carved out a niche. If nothing stands out as unique to either the area or the market in general, rest assured someone else is already providing it. You should avoid investing in companies like that because, more often than not, you are disappointed in the end.

Related: Getting Started With Angel Investing

2. Lack of vision. To survive, a company needs a solid business plan stating the targeted markets, as well as a vision statement stating how the market will be penetrated.

One of the major issues small companies encounter is their inability to reach out, grasp the public’s attention and convince them to utilize their services or products. Ask to see the company’s planning documents. If they don’t have a one, that is your sign to pass.

3. Lack of growth. A young company needs rapid, yet scalable growth to survive. The reason  is simple. There is no guarantee their faithful customers will be there tomorrow. It’s vital to find new ones as often as possible.

Ask to see the company’s purchasing history and compare it with their list of clients. The company probably doesn’t have a very bright future if they only have one or two major clients and no active plans for expansion. Save your money for a brand that understands the importance of a diverse client base.

Related: What Investors Look For in a Plan

4. Crowded marketplace. A market with dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors will prove much more difficult for a new company with limited resources for marketing itself and its services.

Look for companies that start in smaller areas, or have a niche product patented or trademarked. If in doubt, check to see if the company has spread. A startup is much more likely to succeed if it exists in more than one market, especially when competition already exists.

5. No research and development budget. Markets change frequently, thanks to the changes in public demand and the pace of technological innovation. To succeed, a company will need to nimbly recognize changes as they come, adapt and take advantage ahead of their competition. 

Check the company’s financial report. Back away from any firm that does not dedicate a decent chunk of their profits towards preparing for the future. A hefty research and development budget is vital.

VC investing offers no guarantee you’ll make a profit or even get your money back, so pay attention to the warning signs of predictable startup failure. Obtain the necessary documents and consult with a financial analyst if you have the time. Otherwise, stick with more established companies and avoid the 80 percent failure rate.

Related: 10 Top Reasons Why First-Time Entrepreneurs Fail