Taking Inspiration From Failed Projects
It’s easy to dismiss ideas after the first attempt fails, but I don’t think we should do that. Instead we should learn from what worked and what didn’t.
I saw the news that the Mayweather fight was watched on Periscope by many people and thought “that was the same thing that used to happen on Justin.tv.” Justin.tv failed, or actually pivoted into a big success, but Justin.tv did not work as a business. I’m not saying Periscope or YouNow (our bet in that sector) will be successful but if they have learned from what worked at Justin.tv and what did not, they will have a better chance of success.
I’m reading Nathaniel Popper‘s excellent history of Bitcoin called Digital Gold (out May 19, available for pre-order) and he goes all the way back to the mid 90s to tell the story of the development of Bitcoin. In 1997, Adam Back invented Hashcash as an early attempt to create a digital currency. It failed as a digital currency in its own right, but later emerged as the proof of work algorithm in Bitcoin.
It’s easy to look at Bitcoin and say “that came out of nowhere”, but the truth is Bitcoin emerged from several decades of work in cryptography, peer to peer networks, and digital currencies. Satoshi had some breakthrough ideas in his white paper, but much of it was inspired by earlier work done by others.
That’s the way it always is. In tech, in literature, in the arts, and in most everything.
“You don’t have to be first, you just have to be last”.I remember the Instacart talk (at the YC Startup School in NYC). The founder described the investors “negging him” by saying they had the webvan etc. pitch decks.
I haven’t seen that book yet, but if you want to include other attempts at “digital money”, during the late 90’s, we need to remember DigiCash, CyberCash, Mondex, Milicent, etc.. [all failed]. Daniel Lynch and David Chaum as pioneers come to mind.
All of them are discussed in the bookMy current mantra for blogging are posts you can read with an espresso at the bar
Hmmm – Shame I cant download the espresso – the blog itself doesn’t need fixing
or a cortado…with full fat milk 🙂
Less than 300 words and Google won’t file it away with much seriousness, I’ve heard.
Justin.TV went on to become Twitch which was acquired by Amazon for $970 million.It’s always the case with first principle inventions: they take decades before they even get to first adopters — much less $ billion successes.
Coincidentally, this image of Brian Acton of WhatsApp was in my LinkedIn feed yesterday. It shows us a lot about how to deal with “failure”.Kipling also has a great take on it in his poem ‘If’:If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;If you can meet with triumph and disasterAnd treat those two imposters just the same;If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spokenTwisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;If you can make one heap of all your winningsAnd risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,And lose, and start again at your beginningsAnd never breath a word about your loss;If you can force your heart and nerve and sinewTo serve your turn long after they are gone,And so hold on when there is nothing in youExcept the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;
Failure is what you make it. Truly. And I am grateful for the lessons learned. The opportunities uncovered. I was at a Girls in Tech conference last weekend and during a workshop the person leading it asked how many of us were doing the thing we are doing now as the result of an opportunity created by failure. A lot of hands went up.Although I still hate it.
Yesterday I was at London Business School’s first-ever hackathon — yes, it’s taken UK elite institutes longer than in NY and SF to understand that hackathons are valuable and fun testing grounds for idea generation and execution!In any case, the winning hack was a sort of “Reddit/Quora for failures” where people share their experiences of when they failed and how they fixed it.
How cool… the Hackathon and the winning hack.
Winning team had an advantage over the others: they had a working prototype live on browser and showed traction (89 people using it plus it was #2 on Hackernews thread within a few hours of launch).Mind you…their Tech Lead (non-LBS) had 15 years experience as a dev so had practical experiences the MBAs didn’t.The other teams showed Prezi slides full of theoretical models about revenues. A few even showed wireframes from circa 2000!I found out too late about the hackathon to help the MBAs in product and dev.It’s interesting to compare what gets built at hackathons in SF-NY with ones in LDN.
Brilliant HBS grad seeks code monkey :)Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint: “When valuing a startup, add $500k for every engineer, and subtract $250k for every MBA.”Peter Thiel, famous dude: “Never ever hire an MBA; they will ruin your company.”
There are talented devs in SF who struggle and fail to recruit other devs, despite going to lots of hackathons and being known in the dev community.So, unfortunately, “brilliant HBS grad” may struggle even more — unless they have that $500K to incentivize the engineer with and/or their vision+execution and ability to raise money track record is phenomenal.In SF, I just put together a new team comprising:* PhD in AI, a Chief Scientist* MSc in Comp Sci, engineer at Yahoo* BSc in Comp Sci, data scientist at UnityNeedless to say, it’s extremely rare for male engineers to agree to join a new platform adventure where there’s currently $0 capital and even rarer for male engineers to be compelled by the vision+execution and ability to raise capital of………a woman.Yet that’s what we’re doing.A lot of failures and lessons learned got me to this point.
Impressive! Good job. Failure brings its own rewards. But the wait is painful 🙂
Have you met anyone who likes failure?
I think some of us hate it more than others.And some of us more readily admit it.
much easier to learn from failure than from success.
.Strong, very strong. Stronger than an acre of garlic.Extra points for Kipling poem — low hanging fruit notwithstanding.Well played.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…
Haha, JLM. I’m going to borrow “stronger than an acre of garlic” and cite it liberally.
Twain Twain beat me to it (though I saw it earlier today), but I’m also going to borrow “Stronger than an acre of garlic” and use it. Great one.
Hmm… I have sometimes wondered if there was a way we could crowdfund to get Turntable.fm back.
The better approach would be for an entrepreneur to dissect what we did right and what we did wrong and come up with a variant that works
Well, yeah…Of course that would need to be part of the process.
Fred, I remember turntable.fm and thinking at the time that although cute, I could see its built in long term limitations. Finding an enduring solution for ‘music/social/discovery’ requires stepping out of existing paradigms and going with a re-set ‘Skype-like’ strategy to change the basis of competition. Recognizing that there is now a gargantuan global market of music creators (the Middling Majority) that a) are not being heard, b) own the rights to their music, and c) will drive adoption of a genuine attempt at a solution. (similar to what we have been quietly building at Bittunes: https://www.youtube.com/wat…
is bittunes available in the market yet?
Fred, Its been in open Beta in a Google+ Community for a long while, (too long in retrospect).. BUT… we will be pushing LIVE to Google Play this evening (GMT). Will send you a notification. Sometimes, obviously, being highly available is more important than being highly ‘perfect’.. ;)(I have been focused on the next stage, planning integration with a ‘federated peg’ solution on a sidechain to nail a three level blockchain solution: a) transactions b) flexible rights/royalty allocations c) with a P2P recommendation layer on top. ~ Bridging between the current (quite solid) MVP state of the app and the blockchain based platform has been the big strategic, funding and operational challenge)
Thanks. I will look for it
We are Live…
In the iOS app store or somewhere else?
oh, its an Android App.. When we started to develop Apple was not allowing any Bitcoin apps, and lately they have been pulling music apps. We have always felt the MVP would be safer on Android. (So Google Play Store)
The app has a deposit account and an earnings account.. We currently use Coinbase to handle our BTC float account. Users can make a deposit via Coinbase interface (in app) to avoid fees, or via an external wallet.
Great!!! I’m on Android. What’s the name again?
Bittunes ..search with Capital B
Not finding it. Do you have a url I can use to get to it ?
this web URL works for me, https://play.google.com/sto… but you’ll need to access it through your dedicated Android device ~ It appeared here in UK within the last few hours… not sure if it takes time to propagate across to US or not?
the app store says “your device is not compatible with this version”i am using a Nexus6 running stock Android 5.1
Thanks Fred.. checking with my lead developer, I’ll get back to you and let you know what is going on.
Seems to be a screen resolution issue, with the newer Nexus 6 models.. My CTO Adrien will make the necessary adjustments and upload a fix later today (GMT). Will let you know when that’s done. (thanks for your patience)
Hi Fred, we have updated the application to support the Nexus 6 higher resolution screens, so it should be fine now. Let me know if you have any more problems.
New #Bittunes update 1.0.2 integrates #Crashlytics by #Fabric, (fantastic application, will help us a lot) + default display of all 3 classes of users now ‘sorts by date’ #Android(more updates soon)
This is what Bittunes is about, #Music & #Bitcoin community, (dispersed all around the world) riffing off each other, and discovering Music & Bitcoin. (outside restrictive legacy rights and payment paradigms nonsense)
I’m reminded of @dens and foursquare, how it was a second coming of the earlier Dodgeball, and with much greater success.This is an unusual path. More often, the earlier movers fail and get dismayed. Then others later re-attack an issue, armed w/ hindsight, better matured tech environment, a different economy, and fresh energy.
Interesting thing is it cuts both ways.Things that worked multiple times in the past won’t work now.
“We’re building on shoulders of giants.”.This is the exact reason why it’s important that we keep our ecosystems open, because that mean new people can come in and attack old problems with a combination of our own failures and their own new intuitions.
Not learning is the real failure.But failing honestly from an entrepreneurial perspective still carries a lot of pain with it.Straight talk on winning and losing http://awe.sm/r96EZ
Wrong sucks if you are a person who takes pride in solving problems.Getting it right heals.
Corollary, this might sound weird but I enjoy being humbled. It’s good information, and I’m of the opinion that we’re always capable of amazing and stupid things (and I really believe that…you, me, Fred, anyone here, no matter how successful we are we can and do make dumb mistakes).
That’s a great post Arnold. I’d rather learn fast than fail fast any day. Especially when it comes to startup growth I find that people rarely examine in a tough way what’s working. The all or nothing mentality dominates, when in fact there’s a lot of medium ground you have to test out.
In most startups, you neither learn fast nor fail fast.It’s extreme highs on a platform of hard work.Takes so so much effort to get to anywhere that this idea of fast is honesty not how the market responds in all but the very rare instance.And in many instances the data you have is invariably hard to figure out what is working. Usually it turns a corner or it doesn’t.Stumbling forward is something you are lucky to discover.
True….have been thinking for a while about how quickly you end up with an ecosystem. If you don’t understand that and find ways to deal with it then you’ll be at the mercy of whichever way looks strongest at a given moment, whether it is or not.
Yes it does.
Now this is the story about true inspiration. Truly impressed.
If this is a good comment – It is because I am standing on the shoulders of giants!Or even …from Judeo-Christian thinkingWhat has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Eccliesiastes 1:9
I’m far from a conservative, but I think one of the things that many conservatives get right is to be concerned about the “everybody wins” type approach to things like youth sports. Losing and failure suck, but boy are they valuable learning experiences.
Losing and failure can also build desire, IMO.
Amen. This feels vividly true in my industry – clean energy and energy efficiency and sustainability. Various labels aside, it feels like a space that is ripe for many, including VCs, to learn from the lessons of various failed projects. I can tell you that there are many entrepreneurs continuing to be actively focused and excited about the space.
The opening line in our founders background blurb says: ‘ the founders have 10 years experience in a market that does not exist (yet). ‘ The blurb then goes on to detail our work in a failed startup.Early = wrong but wrong /= worthless.” Its not that I am so smart, its just that I stay with problems longer. ” – A. Einstein
+ think about them differently, that was a great Einstein trait. And Feynman really got that as well. Reminds me of one of my favorite poptech videos ft. Benjamin Zander, it’s about music & creativity not startups exactly but well worth the 30 minutes of quiet time to watch: https://vimeo.com/18625943
Timing+Emergence of needed Tech+Adjacent PossibleH/T to my man crush SJ.
Right. Like mobile might be tbr thing for Justin>younow
It’s not about the platform, it’s about the human nature…what’s the real *why* behind people using the service?Justin.tv wasn’t a hit because people could watch live streams of lives…the real *why* behind it was prob. more because people could have a shared experience around niche content/events…the tech made it doable/interesting, but wasn’t the real *why* behind any of it (IMHO).
All due respect Kirk, that’s a very bottom up, producty answer – and in a weird way, it is limiting.Tod Francis @ Shasta Ventures has this nailed:” There are large companies to be built by offering new, innovative and superior customer experiences to large markets, regardless of how competitive the sector already is or how successful the founders have been before. “And that’s the fact, Jack! ;-)https://medium.com/@todfran…
Truth is it takes a lot of action, energy, and time to build serendipity.Failure hurts, but that is the only way muscles are really built. I’m sore each and every day, but it’s a good kinda sore…
To fail and hit rock bottom is the most difficult time to learn from one’s mistakes. It can be a time of financial insolvency and stressed personal and professional relationships. This pressure cooker recipe usually means those involved are focused on rebuilding… for many, that means just finding stable work. It’s been my experience that only later – months, years – did I realize how I should have done it differently.
I think something that goes along nicely with this is, it’s never to early to work on the little things. Especially with ethics and emotional well being. It’s hard to add those things on later and having a warped framework is dangerous.
Yeah, “company culture”. It’s a soft metric – hard to measure…harder to get right.
Isn’t that the truth
Hmm, this puts the finger on why chirpy, public rehashings immediately after apparently very destructive experiences sometimes ring hollow. Not declaring how everyone should recover from negative events, but if the experience was that bad, then how is the person so chirpy? Is it that the experience wasn’t that harrowing and the person is just exaggerating/indulging in some pity party? And as you’ve intimated, the real lessons learned don’t sink in until much later, so the person just doesn’t have all the insight to give yet at that point in time.
I think society trains us to “put on a happy face”, to spin it and be as upbeat as possible. Many of the blog posts announcing the winding down of a startup all use similar and vague wording about lessons learned and the strong team – no doubt…just light on the details.
.’Most of it is T-ball bullshit.If you can’t feel real pain, if you can’t surrender to its authenticity — how can you really feel pleasure? Satisfaction? Triumph?If it doesn’t hurt, what did you really risk?We are breeding emotion out of our lives like hot house tomatoes that taste like red cardboard.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…
Emotions are complicated.
hiding them, more so
Yeah, hate that insistence on spin. It’s OK to just give the facts (or at least just change in status) and fall out of circulation for a while.
That’s an interesting question. I think there’s a different psychological space for gathering information, letting it settle, and parsing out what’s important. Haven’t in my lifetime witnessed anyone do those 3 things well, concurrently.
But they likely don’t occur concurrently. Gathering and absorbing the info might happen together but parsing usually comes later, with the time gap before parsing varying with context.
Yup, certainly agree with you there
.One doesn’t really get many of the lessons of life until you have put time, distance and perspective between that instant in time and the present.Things look different a few years later.I was in business for 33 years and, in retrospect, if I had taken off every Friday for my entire business career, guess what?The results would have been exactly the same.It took too long to learn that lesson.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…
Things do look different with time and there’s often nothing one can do to hasten the change in perspective. It’d be great if 4-day work week became a common thing though.
I hedged with a 9 day fortnight. Bloody good for the soul!
.Cam, you realize that nobody in the US even knows what a “fortnight” is let alone the significance of and proper usage of “bloody”, no?Well played.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…
yup. The process of learning is what happens in the rebuilding process
Being late has it’s benefits and always timing. Certainly worked for Apple
Or maybe it’s redefining. Apple figured out a better way to share music on its own device creating an ecosystem. Record companies liked it (which was key).
I wonder, how many people in the community has started something and failed and restarted it.Failure defined: Shuttering something that you either went at full time and/or raised capital against.Can’t decide whether soft landings, mercy sellings count.
OhHeyWorld.com was shuttered (even though it’s still live). Restarted over a year later on the same journey with Horizonapp.co 🙂
“Following the trail of events from some point in the past to a piece of modern technology is rather like a detective story, with you as the detective, knowing only as much as the people in the past do, and like them having to guess at what was likely to happen next.”―James Burke
Fred being promoed on CNBC. They’re fired up he’s coming on
Another interesting historical drop on the origin of money is from the work of William Jevons http://en.wikipedia.org/wik… who wrote in 1874 “Money and the Mechanism of Exchange” where he explains it as a “Store of Value”, coincidentally a term that’s being used a lot today in the Bitcoin and crypto-tech circles. http://oll.libertyfund.org/…
.It takes years to become an overnight success.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…
I’ve built at least 3 apps over the past 4 years that were either too early or too off base at that time, and then someone else came along a year or two later and made it work — after I had already put it aside.Ironically, my mother just reminded me last night that there are no such things as mistakes. Only lessons. Lets hope I’ve learned.
In the 80’s I had an idea to put together a book of Apartments that were available in Philly. At the time I had a customer that managed a large group of apartment buildings. She told me the idea would never work because in Philly (and I guess she was speaking for herself obviously in retrospect) because they didn’t want (for lack of a better way to put it) “the wrong type of people in the buildings” and she made it seem that that was a pretty ubiquitous thought with the entire local industry. So I dropped the idea. (Was not super serious, just one of many ideas I came up with at the time.) Obviously years later those books were all over the place and have worked very well. The point of the story wasn’t that I had an idea that could have worked (ideas mean nothing) the point is I asked and listened to one person who turned out to be wrong. And perhaps in that decade maybe the time wasn’t right “to early” as you are saying. I could have revisited the idea years or done further research but I didn’t. Later it obviously turned out to be something that not only works in Philly but in practically every city. These books are all over.This was pre-internet of course. In the Internet age it would have been trivial to do research and see that the idea was being done most likely in another city even at the same time. Or send emails or place phone calls to others.  But back in the day we didn’t have those resources easily available (and this fits in with how easy it is to pre-vet and iterate and fork today vs. in the past where everything was a chore.).When I started a business in the early 90’s and needed certain machinery I had to get in a plane to visit either where the machines were made or companies who were using the same machines. Took several months just to do that part of the project. Today all of that detail is available on youtube. (I took my own videos when I was on the road so I could remember how the equipment operated.) In the past you’d have to go to the library and pull up phone books from other cities as only one example.
Story of my life my friend…story of my life 😉
You have a good mom
.The thing about “failure” is that is not really failure, it is just a way station on the road to success.One of the best things you can ever do in life is to undertake things that have a real risk of failure. I remember going to a very elite course of instruction in the military from which historically only half of the entrants graduated. It was incredibly tough training.Before you started they gave you a psych evaluation to make sure you had a chance of making it. They threw out about 10% as a result of the psych evaluation.The doc was the most unlikely person to administer such an interview. But he said something that has stuck with me:”You will find out who you are by the end of this course.”I was not as cocksure as I seemed to be, not as confident as one might have thought. By the end of the course, I knew my limits — they tapped into your soul and tested you like an animal until you literally hit the wall — and I surprised myself.I was not surprised by how tough I was but by how little it took not to fail.All it took was a complete refusal to quit. Nothing more. Just refusing to quit was enough.When completely tapped out, when I had not a jot of energy all I had to do was to say: “I refuse to quit.”The first requirement for success is a refusal to quit, a refusal to let failure overwhelm you.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…
Great line about tapping into your soul. Think about that every day. A person who isn’t growing / learning and getting more resilient at that level is going to have a hard time creating anything bigger than oneself.
Did Periscope learn from what worked at Justin.TV? It doesn’t look like it. Periscope fell into exactly the same hole that Justin did this weekend. They were no more prepared for solving that (incredibly predictable) problem than JustinTV was.What was the Justin TV lesson that Periscope learned?We at BitTorrent who are working on live video streaming DID learn a lot from JustinTV (so I agree with the premise but not the example).
check out our portfolio company younow. i think they have built something that has real use cases, natively in the service, with a native monetization offering too. they’ve learned a lot
I think YouNow is far more impressive and has a far less ephemeral understanding of what their roadmap looks like than Periscope has.
Thats quite a compliment Erik
Go Fred! Nice interview on CNBC!
I wished they had asked about Net Neutrality. Great interview
All we do is two things:1. selecting – from existing stuff (failed included)2. linking – putting togetherMost of the time we fail to put together something good… but our “products” add to the stuff other people can select from.
Just like my mentor constantly says: “Any sudden success took about 10 years to get there”….a combination of failing fast, specializing and pivoting.
I had an interview last week and the guy said you have done a lot of stuff since 2012. I said yes. I’m in the business of stuff failing 90% of the time. You work through the process, learn and move on to something that will.You could hear the look of horror through the phone.Maybe he is not used to be honest about his failures.
“As the births of living creatures at first are ill-shapen, so are all innovations, which are births of time” — Francis Bacon
YouNow seems to be a pretty good broadcasting tool !! Check it out. And achieving success comprises an equivalent of what to do and what not to do (the latter part is experience)..isn’t it folks??
There is only one thing that should ever be described as a “failure”: not learning. If you make a mistake, and learn from it, you haven’t failed, you’ve made progress. If you repeat the same mistakes, again and again, then that is failure.We have too high a social cost, especially in a traditional business context, attached to making a single mistake and labeling it as failure. I believe society as a whole would progress much faster if we stopped penalizing people so severely for mistakes, and rather asked on each attempt to solve a problem what new thing was learned. It would be a good way to approach school, the justice system, social interactions and work life.I guess you could also call an attempt that results in death as failure, since you don’t get a second chance, but those are rare and usually involve extreme stupidity (e.g. driving excessively fast on icy roads).
Interestingly enough, we, as a society, absolutely don’t penalize US Presidents’ mistakes – like going into unnecessary wars, for example – resulting in huge numbers of deaths… Or, big corp CEOs’ mistakes – resulting in huge numbers of people losing their jobs and life savings… not to mention their health or even lives.I don’t say we necessarily should (no one would want to become a CEO)… but still… just saying in reply to your comment.
There is a big difference between mistakes and fraud or other forms of deliberate dishonest behavior. It’s a ‘mistake’ to equate them, but perhaps that’s the problem. We’re too willing to forgive the character flaw of dishonesty as a “mistake”, but unwilling to forgive the minor costs of learning.
I really meant honest mistakes… because they happen too. Fraud is another category – https://twitter.com/charles…
I’m not sure that it’s possible for an honest mistake to be that costly, even at the CEO level. There is something too close about the dealings at the board level that protects incompetence when this happens, and while perhaps not outright fraud, it’s certainly a failure of fiduciary duty. Although board members and CEOs are rarely called to account for breach of fiduciary responsibility, it’s clearly a violation of the law.
Only way to grow up is to fail :/ and to learn from it !
vhs / beta
Great startups are exponential, but utilize linear thinking of the past to figure it out.
I disagree w/you both = )Life and startups look like an XY graph. But it’s really about parsing the ecosystem to see where the strongest growth tracks are (as a company, as a culture, as an individual). That’s a totally non linear process in my experience.
you mean – get lucky?
Ha! Touche….yes there is a lot of that. But there’s plenty of skill & listening / interpreting opportunities too.