Failure: Understanding and Accepting the Risk

By May 15, 2015Blog Posts

We all fear failure; it’s natural for human beings. We all want to win, be the successful guy on the cover of the magazine, get to the top without any bruises or scars. But nobody wants to fail. This is why people hate to make decisions, because they might lead to failure. Not to mention risks: risks are the prophecy of failure, a detailed description of how things might go wrong and how illusions might crumble while trying to get a greater reward. No one likes to make decisions, no one likes to take risks… except for entrepreneurs!

Entrepreneurs know their chances of failing are greater than those of succeeding, but still they try and risk their time and money. We’ve all heard the encouraging phrases from Hollywood, like, “if you build it they will come” or “all you need is a good idea and money will roll in,” but unfortunately that is not the truth. Real entrepreneurs work hard, and fail. They have lost the ball many times, but have learned how to “pivot” and adapt to change. We are used to hiding our failures, because we think we should be ashamed of them. Kids hide their exams when they get an F. People try not to talk about their ex-lovers during dates. But entrepreneurs are different. They like to talk about their failures and share their experiences with others, and considering myself an entrepreneur, I am going to tell you about my biggest startup failure…

Back in 2006 when social networks were starting to become popular, a friend of mine and I created a social network oriented to fashion hunters (Fashionism). It basically relied on users uploading pictures of other people they saw on the street who were nicely dressed, which were then liked and commented on by others. Users could even customize their profiles in a sort of MySpace way by selecting their palettes and background images. The monetization model consisted of letting brands have special accounts that could post videos, have tailored styles for their profiles, and charge them for advertising as well.

Unfortunately technologies were a little bit behind us at that time. Smartphones did not even exist yet, digital cameras were not as accessible as today, and even those who had them would not go out on the street and start deliberately taking pictures of people. Social networks did not have open APIs either, so we could not make use of their existing social graphs to share the app and reach other people. Users could only invite their friends by sending emails to them! (It was one year before this).

On the other hand, we were young and had no experience, and we were self-centered. We just worried about the code and underestimated the need for advertising, marketing and PR. People did not follow the site’s premise and instead uploaded pictures of themselves on holidays, at birthday parties or doing any other thing. We were angry with them because they had gotten it wrong, but we were the ones who got it wrong.

We waited to launch our product until we felt it was ready (this was more than six months), but we never spent any time asking the users what they wanted, because we thought we knew what they wanted. “Lean development” did not ring a bell to us yet. “Virality” was the hype term instead, and we just thought that “if we built it, they would come”. We did not have a coach or mentor who told us what steps to take, what to do and what not do, so we had to learn by hitting the wall. It was a very sad moment for us when we decided to turn off the lights.

Fashionism was a complete failure. Still, we are proud of it. We gave our best and learned a lot. We could take more punches after that. We are not afraid of failing anymore because we know it is not the end of the world. It is just a stage we needed to go through before we could become adults in the world of entrepreneurship.

Agustin Baretto ’15 (MS)

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