I'm Schuyler, an MBA student at Columbia Business School, Associate Intern at High Peaks Venture Partners, and Chief Failure at Founders @Fail. My name is unpronounceable and I dig people with big ideas and the cojones to go get 'er done. If you do too, come say hi.
When I was a kid, I was a total pain in the butt. Weeks before Christmas, I had already secreted out every carefully hidden present, delicately unwrapped, and then re-wrapped them because I could not stand the anticipation. I hate surprises and spent most of my free time watching McGuyver, so go figure…so, with that, I’ll give you a teaser for what’s in store tonight-
Get to GA early tonight. Tonight’s about YOU, our members. Before we kick off tonight’s interview with Ted Morgan, I’m giving you the mike. This is your chance to share your own stories. Our members are in the trenches every day struggling to build their startups and deserve to be heard…
A little incentive to come up with your best story: winners will receive all-access passes to MIT’s T=0 Conference. Come hear Brad Feld, Mitch Kapor, and oh yeah, Founders@Fail discussing best practices.
People always think babies are cuter than they really are, especially their own. They overlook the farting and crying while everyone else feigns interest in little Johny’s latest earth shattering progress.
Well my baby, Founders@Fail, just celebrated it’s first birthday and I’ll be damned if it isn’t the cutest thing since cherry pie. To celebrate, we’ve got a few surprises up our sleeves.
Oh, you thought I was going to tell you about them? Why would I call them surprises if I were going to do that…
To find out come to next Monday’s Founders@Fail with Ted Morgan of Skyhook Wireless.
When Google called Skyhook “a hungry startup [whose] accuracy is better than ours” Ted earned the sort of praise most startups can only dream of. And then he suffered the consequences…Under extreme pressure, Motorola yanked Skyhook’s contract to power geo-location services for its handsets and Skyhook became embroiled in a complicated anti-trust suit with the very folks whose praise he just enjoyed. Ted’s been through the wringer and then some. He has more war stories than a Robert Ludlum novel and he’ll be sharing a few of them with us…
This ladies and gentlemen is exactly what the hell I’ve been talking about for the past year. If you can pick yourself up, bear down, and refuse to give up, you will find a way to accomplish your goals and live your dream. And if you dismiss this as some cliche, please go find a different blog to read.
Brad was preaching to the choir last night when he shared how he evaluates entrepreneurs’ past failures. He made a key distinction between the fact of failure and its underlying causes. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist was: if you failed because you couldn’t build a credible product or made weak hiring choices, investors will judge you accordingly. However, if you executed well, but just never found the right market, there is no stigma from investors.
I’d like to add one more layer- even if you dropped the ball, made poor hiring choices, etc…anything short of obvious malfeasance or just plain stupidity is recoverable. If you are honest about the mistakes you made and thoughtful about the lessons learned, this is the country of Rocky, the Alamo, and David Hasselhoff. We give second, third, and fourth chances out like party favors…
So let’s hear your stories. Take a minute to write a paragraph about one of your failures and share them with fellow members by sending them to: foundersatfail[a t] gmail [d ot) com
The most compelling lesson learned will win TWO free tickets to our next meetup with James Altucher on June 13th.
REMINDER our next meetup is with: James Altucher (founder of Reset & StockPickr)
In case you too survived Saturday’s Rapture, I thought I’d run a little contest…funniest missed calls in technology history. One lucky winner gets 3 FREE tickets to next week’s interview with Brad Burnham, founding partner of Union Square Ventures.
Submissions will undergo a rigorous analysis including snarf-induce-ability, milliseconds before retweeting, and my own bad judgement…
Here’s a little inspiration to get your creative juices flowing:
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” – HM Warner, Founder of Warner Bros, 1927
“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” — Dr Dionysys Larder (1793-1859), professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College London
INSTRUCTIONS FOR SUBMISSION:
Tweet to: foundersatfail using hashtag: #failstradamus
Scott Gerber of Sizzle It! mentions in this article that “setbacks, though painful, will teach you more about business than any textbook, lecture, or mentor ever could” and he’s spot on. The stories and advice you hear at Founders @Fail are signposts. They act as warning signs to help you anticipate issues that will likely arise as your company emerges through growing pains. They aren’t however, the answer. There is, sadly, no right answer and there may not even be “right” questions to ask. The situations you’ll face and the approaches you develop to compensate are absolutely unique. These failures will be deeply personal and can’t be replicated or avoided entirely because you came to Founders @Fail or read an article on the topic. What we do is remind you that you’re not alone. Folks suffered messier, more humiliating failures than you, no matter how bad it feels. You’ll survive, even if your business won’t. That fact, in a strange way, can sometimes be incredibly cathartic and if you fight like hell, you’ll learn more about yourself through the process than you could have ever imagined. And that is worth it’s weight in gold…
I have not one, but two upcoming Founders @Fail that I’m pretty stoked to announce…
JUNE 1st: Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures.
Brad is the real deal, a veteran VC who built one of the most respected firms in the business. He’s seen the rise of Silicon Alley from the very beginning, survived the hype of bubbles and backed some of the most innovative companies this town has seen.
James caught my attention with one of the most brutally honest blog posts I’ve ever read (http://bit.ly/hBqDKi). He didn’t sugarcoat a thing. That’s a refreshing reminder that failure isn’t something you can wrap a pretty pink bow on and hand out like pearls of wisdom.
Surviving failure without resorting to rants and grudges is rare enough. It’s even more rare to survive with enough perspective and self-discipline to reflect on your mistakes and leverage the experience to start from scratch and claw your way back to success. James has that in spades. He is a serial entrepreneur, founding Reset and StockPickr. In his spare free time, he is also an author. How does he have time to juggle both careers? Well, the answer is in his latest book, How To Be The Luckiest Person Alive:
“You have no more free time. In your free time you are thinking of new ideas for customers, new ideas for services to offer, new products.”
James is offering a free PDF version to any attendees to this event. To get your copy, sign in at the event!
Last night was awesome. Jon (Betterment) and John (ADstruc) dropped some serious knowledge on Founders @Fail. These guys deserve a lot of credit for not shying away from uncomfortable questions. They’re what make this community worthwhile.
Following up a thread we began last night- how do you know the difference between when it’s time to iterate and when it’s time to just pull the plug? Dharmesh Shah answers that question in a recent post:
“How do you know whether you’re stuck in a quagmire? Isn’t startup success often about persistence and focus? What if that break-out success is just around the corner. Those are good questions. The simple answer is: There are no simple answers. If it were me, the question I would ponder is this: If 90% of everything started going “right” with your startup, what will it become? (I’ll call this the “wave the magic wand”, best-case scenario). If the answer does not please you, and you’ve been at your current idea a reasonably long time, I’d ponder a change. “
He’s spot on- there are no hard and fast rules or easy answers. That’s what makes these challenges worthwhile. That being said, however, I think it’s important to balance the macro with the micro. Yes, you have to ponder the best case scenario. If you execute flawlessly and all the stars are aligned, but that still doesn’t rock your world, it’s time to move on. However, in the particular case, it’s also important to have the appropriate evaluation criteria. That starts by understanding what metrics are critical to defining success. That doesn’t have to be a traditional measurement such as time on site, click through, or revenue. It could be the number of comment responses or “likes.” Just make sure that whatever metric you measure is the right metric to understand if you are failing or succeeding. The history of business is littered with failures that succeeded wildly in measuring all the wrong things.
In the mean time, an article by inventor, James Dyson reminded me of why we’re here. This is a man who managed to make vacuum cleaners sexy, a feat I almost consider more impressive than making a billion dollars along the way. In Wired, he describes the process, and let me tell you, there’s nothing trite or sexy about it. Hard work doesn’t begin to describe it. 15 years of constantly scraping by in the face of constant frustration and failure:
“It took 5,127 prototypes and 15 years to get it right. And, even then there was more work to be done. There are countless times an inventor can give up on an idea. By the time I made my 15th prototype, my third child was born. By 2,627, my wife and I were really counting our pennies. By 3,727, my wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. These were tough times, but each failure brought me closer to solving the problem. It wasn’t the final prototype that made the struggle worth it. The process bore the fruit. I just kept at it…No one is going to get it right the first time. Instead of being punished for mistakes along the way, learn from them.”
Most of us don’t have the fortitude or self confidence to survive that sort of challenge. 15 years is half my life. I barely spend 15 minutes on something before I start to get antsy. It’s a humbling reminder of what it really takes to succeed. It’s also an important reminder that we must define our own success. Counting pennies isn’t the sort of thing our society typically praises. We like big cars and flashy watches. We like titans of industries and fancy degrees from famous schools. There was a time when America even begrudgingly respected good ol’ fashioned hard work, but that message has been drowned out by the constant hype of super charged startups, Wall St excess, and self help books from the likes of Donald Trump. If James Dyson had derived his self respect from how society defines success, I doubt we’d be reading his article in Wired magazine this month. His motivation came from someplace else. Where’s yours come from?