The “Failing Fast” controversy
Mark Suster wrote a provocative post about a common phrase in the entrepreneurial community called “Failing Fast.” He says:
Failing fast “is so self centered it winds me up. Tell that to the person who wrote you the $50,000 of their hard earned money and entrusted you to try your best. Fail fast? How does your brother-in-law feel about that?
Fail fast = quit and give up easy = spaghetti against the wall = no clear strategy going into your business = no ability / willingness to try and pivot as market conditions change = easy way out…”
First, his tirade smacks of hypocrisy. Does Mark re-up on all his portfolio companies when they are having trouble getting traction, or does he triage his portfolio and let the losers fail? No, each company in his VC portfolio is like strand of spaghetti and his strategy is to have one or two of them stick. Like all successful VCs, he plays the gorilla game and makes all of his profits by doubling down on a few winners and folding quickly on the losers.
Second, he misconstrues the point. His second paragraph is way off base. Failing fast = learning and pivoting. Think Odeo + Twitter. Were the initial investors of Odeo happy or unhappy that Jack Dorsey’s decision? Failing fast has nothing to do with abandoning your fiduciary duties to your investors. This is a serious and false accusation to make of entrepreneurs who talk about “failing fast.”
Third, I’ll admit that “failing fast” sounds bad. But that is on purpose, to be intentionally provocative. When we look at successful startups like Amazon, Google, Ebay, etc., their success looks obvious and easy. Revisionist history makes the rise to glory appear like smooth sailing. To combat this myth, “failing fast” focuses on the risks and, more importantly, the learning that startups and entrepreneurs must do. The unit of output for a startup is validated learning. You have a general theory, based on a set of hypotheses. You test them in order to reduce your risk as quickly possible, and pivot as necessary.
Mark’s idea about “fast” is wrong too. It isn’t about folding the company quickly; it’s about failing (and then pivoting) from smaller tests way before the whole thing is doomed.
Fundamentally, Mark misses the point. Of course, you can learn from success and that is preferred route. It is just very rare. Failures large and small are a reality, but the real question is how you deal with them. The real point is this: the opposite of success isn’t failure, it’s mediocrity.
So what do I tell “my brother-in-law who invested $50,000″? I share my hypotheses and the results of my experiments with him. And hopefully SocialFeet is more like a Twitter and not like an Odeo, but in either event, we’re along for the ride together.