The Art of Doing

This is What FAILURE Looks Like

My Startup Has 30 Days to Live, a raw, uncensored look at a startup going down told by a guy who takes responsibility for everything that’s gone wrong.

failure the art of doing

A raw, uncensored look at a startup, going down, told by a guy who takes responsibility for everything that went wrong.

In the research for our book the superacheivers we spoke to told of us past failures. What set them apart was their honesty about how they had contributed to their own failures. Because they challenged their beliefs, they were able to reinvent themselves and find entirely new ways of approaching their work. (Which we wrote about here.)

On the Tumblr blog, My Startup Has 30 Days to Live by an anonymous author about an unknown company, we are witnesses to a moment of real-time failure. What strikes us is the author’s brutal honesty about what has gone wrong. He is in the throes of defeat so he doesn’t yet have any answers about how to reconfigure his strategies—but based on how important we found that self-assesment is to success we would guess that he has a good shot at eventually sorting out what went wrong and figuring out how to do it differently the next time.

Subtitled “In 30 Days My Startup Will Be Dead,” the fascinating blog post recounts the rise and fall of a startup. It begins as most startups do.

Almost 2 years ago today, I quit my day job and started building something. After months of customer development, discussions with my wife about my plans, savings and sleepless nights, I finally decided to take the plunge.

At first things went well.

We had a business…bootstrapped, lean and already providing (in a small way at least) for the needs of my family and that of my co-founder, [our startup] hit the top of TechCrunch, hired employees and become a rising star in the technology world.

And then it seemed that the company was poised to take off.

Glowing in our newfound success and ramen-riches, we got an offer that seemed to be the key to making it huge. We were offered a spot in a very well known accelerator.

At this point the author describes his first mistake: not trusting himself, but instead listening to others because, “They were proven entrepreneurs that had made millions (sometimes nefariously…).”

Over the next 3 months, our initial desire to not raise a seed round was dismissed and we were thoroughly convinced that we had to continue on the VC rocketship in order to matter to anyone. My reluctance to do this was met by scoffs and dismissals from many others in the accelerator cohort (most of which have since gone on to fail hard) as well as by the mentors and investors who had offered their time, network and resources to help us succeed. This is where we made the first in a series of many mistakes.

This young company was told to.

  • “Make feature X free”
  • “Stop focussing on revenue, someone else will pay the bills”
  • “Grow $VANITY_METRIC so you can show a hockey stick at demo day and look good”
  • “Cut out that pesky client that generates 80% of your revenue, they’re a distraction on the road to executing $OUR_BIG_VISION”

And the author “drank the KoolAid and went all in.” By Demo Day, checks were written and they were getting great press but…

I had this nagging feeling eating away at me. That nagging feeling was disbelief. I didn’t believe the shit I was selling investors. This was not the company I put my life on the line to build.

More mistakes were admitted. Now that they were in the “VC rocketship” their products that were finding traction, were not getting the “million-user strong kind of traction that would make us matter.” His team was still motivated but he found himself “sitting at my desk, afraid, alone and overwhelmed.” He had taken on too much himself, Biz Dev, Product Management, Support, Accounting, PR, Ad Copy and Development Lead, which left him, “overwhelmed, stretched so thin and unable to do a really good job at any of my duties.” He also realized that his team was built with “quality-minded perfectionists who build beautiful things,” instead of generalists, “who could jump into any area of the business and get shit done.”

Instead of blaming others for the business fiasco, he wrote,

When my startup fails, I can clearly say that I failed since behind the scenes I’m responsible for much of what the world sees and how the gears of this (albeit tiny) organization turn.

What follows is so emotionally honest that we can only hope this fellow, who has the courage to look his failure in the eye, can apply the lessons learned to his next project:

I made the decision to start this blog in the middle of the night last night while lying in bed next to my sleeping wife. Just one of the many people I will have disappointed due to this failure. (However, undoubtedly one of the few that will still love and support me afterward). This week, I need to speak to the other founder and fire our first employee before he leaves on a planned vacation. He’s a good developer, but I won’t fucking make payroll next week if I don’t clear him and his severance out of the company.

I’m scared.

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