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It’s unusual for a founder to write a long thoughtful post on the failure of his company. Roger Ehrenberg – the co-founder of Monitor110 – which shut down earlier this week, did just that on his outstanding post titled Monitor110: A Post Mortem. The post is oriented around Roger’s "seven deadly sins":
- The lack of a single, "the buck stops here" leader until too late in the game
- No separation between the technology organization and the product organization
- Too much PR, too early
- Too much money
- Not close enough to the customer
- Slow to adapt to market reality
- Disagreement on strategy both within the Company and with the Board
Every person in every company that I’m involved with should read this post carefully. Every entrepreneur should also. Failure is part of the entrepreneur experience – Roger has done us all a great service by being willing to be deeply introspective and share his thoughts on what went wrong at Monitor110 in such a direct way.
A reader (thanks Austin) sent me two great failure links today. The first is from BoingBoing and is titled J.K. Rowling on the power of failure. It’s an excellent short segment from her excellent Harvard Commencement Address titled The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.
The next is a sign made entirely out of push pins that says "Fail Harder".
I spent the afternoon at TechStars meeting with five of the ten teams. They are all dynamite, although some of them will fail at their current incarnation. Just remember – fail hard, fast, and then get up and try again.
Great, inspiring video on failure.
I just finished reading Bounce!: Failure, Resiliency, and Confidence to Achieve Your Next Great Success by Barry Moltz. I think Barry was originally introduced to me by Matt McCall, one of my co-investors in FeedBurner and a Chicagoan like Barry.
There are very few good business books about failure. Most of the ones I’ve encountered in the past use failure as an early part of the "rags to riches" process of the classic Horatio Alger parable. Dull.
Barry takes a different approach – he uses failure as a theme throughout the book and describes it as an integral part of a long term business experience. Just like the cliche "you haven’t really been in business until you’ve been sued", I think the cliche "you haven’t really become an entrepreneur until you’ve failed at least one" applies. Barry does a good job of weaving a variety of individual stories (including his) around his philosophy and theorizing.
Like most business books, it is about 50% too long. Long ago I concluded that "editors" believe the hardcover business book needs to be around 200 pages. As a reader, I think there should be a 100 page limit – that would force the writer (and editor) to get to the point and be less redundant. While this doesn’t detract from the book too much, there are a few sections that are skimmers.
If you are an entrepreneur – especially one early in your career – this is a very worthwhile book to read.
On the failure theme, Andrew Hyde has a post up titled Startups Fail that includes news about a handful of recent Boulder failures: Nau, Organica and Falling Fruit. Andrew reminds us that failure is an integral part of entrepreneurship.
Rejection isn’t failure. I’ve been back from vacation for five days (including the weekend) and I’ve send out around
100 50 (if felt like 100, but I went back and counted and it was slightly more than 50) rejection emails to deals that came into my inbox while I was on vacation. It’s part of my job – and I try to always at least give a little context as to why something isn’t interesting to me. But 50 in five days (really 10 days including the vacation) starts to be a little discouraging.
I remembered a great email from a close friend recently in response to one of my previous posts on rejecting plans. My friend is a writer and has completed several as yet unpublished books. Following is her riff on rejection.
"Your post made me smile a little because it could so easily have been a post by a literary agent. One big parallel is that literary agents are inundated with people wanting their services (probably a lot more than you are – believe it or not!). A good agent, and there are a lot of them, receive an average of 1,000 unsolicited query letters a month. Surely, some get much more. These queries are equivalent to the pitches or emails you get. Like you, agents often won’t take on more than 6-8 new clients a year – if that. So, there are a lot of people (like me!) who receive a lot of rejections. It doesn’t necessarily mean the product is "bad", but as you say… if it doesn’t fit with the agent is working on, interested in, thinks the industry/market can carry at this particular time, it’s a "ding" a.k.a. "rejection." I’ve received hundreds of rejections that are postcards or sometimes, literally, a thin two inch strip of paper that has clearly been copied until it’s almost unreadable saying something like: "Thank you for your submission. Due to the number of submissions, we cannot reply specifically to everyone, but your writing is not right for us. The publishing industry is a very subjective one, and you should not take this to mean that it might not be right for someone else. Best of luck." -"blah blah agent name here" Sometimes, not too infrequently, if an agent allows electronic submissions, their website indicates: "we’ll only reply if we’re interested." That always seemed a little rude to me, that they couldn’t even find the time to send a form email. But, it is what it is… sometimes you’ve just gotta let these things go.
You’ve known me through this entire writing/publishing quest/process, and I have grown through it. After years and years of these rejections and hearing agents say that "it’s not personal," I actually "get" it. (This only happened a couple of years ago.) It really isn’t personal. Just as I am looking for an agent and publisher, these folks are truly looking, searching, and hoping for the next successful writer. They *want* to find something they love. They *want* to make that call to tell a writer that they’ve sold their book at auction… Unless I am incorrect, you are looking for "the next big thing" within your world, too. Something that will be successful for everyone, on many levels.
I know you asked "entrepreneurs" how they’ve felt, being passed on, I thought I’d chime in anyway, since I am quite familiar with this type of rejection, I believe. I think the perception varies depending on where the person is in life. Are they confident? Do they understand that it is, in fact, NOT personal? It took me years and years and years to understand that it’s not personal. I tried to understand before, but didn’t. I’d cry sometimes, for sure, and feel sad and gloomy under the sheer weight of these rejections. Then, I started not allowing the "weight" of these rejections to be so big. Remember that I am still unagented and unpublished and still trying to get successfully over those hurdles. But, my reaction to these rejections now is "oh well. I’ll just keep going."
I have also learned to listen when I get feedback…or when someone likes my writing, but doesn’t think they can sell a particular book….they are telling me something. Sometimes I get explicit invitations to "please send us a query of anything else you write" and sometimes it is more subtle, but I am reminded that there are things for me to learn from these "rejections." I’m sure the same is true – sometimes at least – from people you decide not to go with.
Maybe you like the people, think they’re great, but if they had a different idea, you’d love to work with them. There are always possibilities to create something new."