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The founders of Diaspora were in a really unenviable position. They started off with a wave of national press as well as solid financial support from grassroot users. As time went on, it became increasingly clear that they would not be able to accomplish the goal they originally set out to do. They had failed. Publicly. This can be very devastating psychologically to someone who has always 'succeeded' in life.

I'm not saying this was the case for Ilya, or had any part in his death, but I know for me it would have been hard to swallow. There are many silent founders out there that gave up everything for an unrealized dream in the path to startup success and it has a real toll on psyches.

Best wishes to his family & friends.

EDIT: This appears to be a very controversial comment. The vote count seems to be oscillating up and down very rapidly. I don't want to make this out to be a discussion about Diaspora, so I won't comment further on that point. But the mental health of founders is a real issue and rarely discussed. Maybe there should be a more open discussion about this issue.

Very important comment. The biggest risk in doing a startup is not the financial risk per se.

It's the psychological risk of knowing you really, really tried -- and still failed. That is the hard part, because everyone goes in with Dilbert/mass media notions of how easy it is to be a CEO or (just as bad) Social Network illusions of how easy it is to grow meteorically while fighting off lawsuits.

The truth is that it's not easy, that it takes a special and lucky person. If you fail it's really hard to realize you aren't that special. The possibly healthier (?) way of dealing is to convince yourself that it was bad luck, or the other guy cheated. Then it's not as much of a hit to the ego, to the sense of your own capabilities. But it's hard.

It doesn't take a special person, so much as it's simply the case that no matter who you are, your startup is likely to fail.

When I was much younger and starting my first (fundably doomed) startup, one of my cofounders liked to say, "yeah, most businesses fail, but those statistics include companies trying to sell soft drinks to Eskimos and combination Chinese food/pizza restaurants". Then we'd all chuckle, knowing that the statistics most certainly didn't capture dynamic new technology firms like ours.

No. Most companies fail. Look at the list of dead YC companies. Those were screened by a team that has specialized in doing nothing but screening founding teams and then attempting to give them every advantage their considerable and growing infrastructure and connections can give them. And they still fail.

Because that is what startups do. They fail.

The best, most talented, most experienced founders in the world would presumably be among the first to tell you that you can't read anything about your self from the simple fact that your company failed. Learn what you can, but don't ever let it grind on you.

(Some people just shouldn't be in this game, for whatever it's worth, like Matt Damon said about the no-limit players in Rounders; not because they can't, but because it's not healthy for them.)

Actually I will take that further, as a small business owner.

EVERY business fails. Every single one. Some businesses somehow manage to stay in business when they run out of money and keep going on until they succeed. However, that's what businesses are up against. I think going into that armed and aware is one thing that makes success more likely.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't YC focussing on relatively high-risk ventures in the hope of hitting it big? If they picked a roster of less ambitious projects, but with the same quality of personnel, then surely the failure rate would drop.

I'm not making a comment about YC.

But you were using YC as an example to support a point about startups in general.

It's probably just vocabulary. We think startups as tech-related, but there's probably just as many new companies created in the restaurant sector as ours -- and they have their own restaurant investment companies.

I believe there is a reason something succeeds and there is a reason something fails.

Jobs did fail, at Next, and that's STEVE FUCKING JOBS.

Arguably he failed at Apple too (the first time around).

Another lesson to take from Steve's experience: the bigger the impact your startup is likely to make, the greater the chance it will fail. That might seem quite counterintuitive at first. Certainly, if there's a market and the demand is there, then success should be forthcoming, right?

Except if the problem is unsolved, it's probably unsolved for a reason. I'm reminded of something I read (I believe it was from "Germs, Guns, and Steel", but I don't have it to reference): invention is the mother of necessity! Safe startups give people something they already want. Great startups give people something they didn't even know they needed.

But humans are dumb animals. The first three times you show them something better, they'll turn their backs. So the more important your work is, the more likely you are to fail, and fail, and fail again. It's not you, it's just human nature.

And he got kicked out of Apple, and his Lisa failed, and the term "Personal Computer" - the thing Apple created - came to mean their competitor.

That's why he's so inspiring. He's a protagonist you can identify with, who triumphed over setbacks and flaws.

I'd love to someday have a failure as awesome as NeXT.

>>The possibly healthier (?) way of dealing is to convince yourself that it was bad luck, or the other guy cheated

I think it would be healthier to accept that failure is normal and to rather enjoy the road to Ithaca [1]. Life without challenges/failures would be too boring.


This is not part of the american cultural narrative and thus will be harder to accept even to your own psyche.

Its important to understand how the difference between your own thinking and society's thinking can and will affect your own happiness (usually in a negative way). Its not something many people think about but has very real consequences.

Failure is a stage on the path to success.

'What I'm getting at is maybe it wasn't "failure" that disturbed this man but simply the pressure to succeed.'

I don;t think we will ever know, but I will say that pressure to succeed and not fail is fundamentally unhealthy.

I just bought the book "reWork" by the guys at 37signals and so now my opinion on every business bei doomed to fail is different. But I think we're missing the point. What if this isn't about failure at all? What if Diaspora was widely thought to be a big success?

What I'm getting at is maybe it wasn't "failure" that disturbed this man but simply the pressure to succeed. I'm someone who is succeeding in business so far but I still get bad bouts of depression and feel like a failure anyway. It's not just me either, it can be anyone.

I don't know enough about this man and Diaspora to have insight into his thoughts or to know about the success or failure of the company but I haven't seen any indications from anyone here that he was distressed over failure. It could've just been the pressure of it all. Whether you've made it big or you're still the little guy in a garage that pressure is the same. It's all relative. The little guy worried about payng rent and the big guy sweats over the down payment on the mansion. Same pressure, different context.


He died of cancer of the larynx.

it depends on the type of person you are. Sometimes we delude ouselves to protect against the downfall from believing the opposite

As s startup owner I feel like I am a sinking man and each floating wood chip around is a hope - Learning to float between moving from one wood chip to other is the key to me.

I guess I will fail that day when I will conclude that I am too tired of trying (not really, really tried -- and still failed).

I don't believe "The truth is ... that it takes a special and lucky person". The truth is we need one or two hands on our shoulder and someone to stand during the darkest hours and say "darkest hours are always before the sun comes". ..sad to read about Ilya Zhitomirskiy.

>> It's the psychological risk of knowing you really, really tried -- and still failed.

As a successful developer who spent years thinking "with enough time, I can solve any problem" and was just caught back by reality (efforts do not always imply success), this comment stuck a chord with me.

It also takes a lot of support, and circular support as even if you are feeling down, your partner may be too, and its both your jobs to keep the other happy. Its very stressful being in the limbo state with everyone trying to kill you, you are trying to build something, you want to get money to continue working, nobody thinks its a good idea till you prove it which takes time, etc.

It definitely takes a mental fortitude and a dash of ignorance to do this stuff.

> If you fail it's really hard to realize you aren't that special.

All of the most special people in history endured many failures. So while failure can teach us many things, "you're not special" is absolutely not one of them.

Not just the aspect of "failing". But also mix in the tough, gruesome aspect of working 12 hours a day with little to no time for social life. And the inability for most people to understand what you're going through. And if you don't got a significant other, it makes it feels like you're all alone in this battle.

Not saying this is the case for him, but in the end, we're just cells.. and if we don't receive certain stimuli, science dictates we go crazy.

I imagine it's a difficult situation for the remaining founders, especially for those (if any) that encouraged Ilya to initially participate in their Diaspora team (it would be for me if I were in their shoes). I think it's important to remember in a context like this that failure is part of the plan: entrepreneurs are risk-seekers by definition, and the harder you fail, the more you learn, to such an extent that you could pass with flying colors a regular contributor role at a big software company. In the context of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Kan , I'd just like people to keep their perspective and not to take the assumed risk for granted by thinking they're a failure.

Wow, this strikes me as a really tone-deaf response to this news, especially considering that Diaspora is alive, kicking, and growing.

I'm interested to know how they have been perceived as failure. I think this is all very relative, and failure is a strong word. Github still have 1 day old commit and the community is apparently still active.

As far as failures come, the only thing I have heard about diaspora are the following things:

* Source-code full of freshman's mistakes and security exploits. Basically not-to-be-trusted quality code, released to the public for deployment.

* All money invested in the project wasted without anything to show for.

* I know absolutely nobody using diaspora, expect one person.

* This person attempted to invite me, and diaspora failed to send me the invite email. Now he cannot invite me again.

It's a laughing stock. For the parts of the internet which has even heard about it. Which is the minority of the internet. As a social network this is a failure on absolutely every aspect I can find measures for.

The goals were admirable, but goals alone wont win you any credit. You have to get there as well. Diaspora didn't and most likely wont.

Failure in this context likely means "is not attracting large swathes of Facebook users" though frankly I think that's but one measure of the success of a social networking website.

Well, a social network that is used by only a small fraction of one's friends and potential friends is not very useful.

Not necessarily. If you can make a federated social network that can interoperate with the networks people already use, people can migrate to it incrementally.

I suppose it is when the narrative is the next Facebook killer which the media fostered and perpetuated creating some unreasonable expectation for their team.

Actually I don't believe that Diaspora failed. The fact that I'm using it on a daily basis, and not using Facebook, is pretty much a win as far as I'm concerned. Diaspora still has some way to go, but it's usable.

I have a hard time seeing Diaspora overtaking Facebook or G+ for that matter, especially with the former becoming more entrenched with site authentication.

Certainly, success is subjective but I think the expectations for Diaspora was to be a legit alternative to Facebook and now G+. And while it is an alternative, it's not popular enough for most people to switch over. Furthermore, Diaspora got widely criticized with regards to their funding and subsequent releases... specifically people expecting much more for the amount of investment.

It doesn't have to overtake either to be a success.

And in fact; given that both G+ and FB now have features (particularly privacy features) inspired by Diaspora suggests success to their original goals.

What are you saying, the stress of the Diaspora project killed him? Did you hear this from a close source or are you just guessing it?

I'd assume he is implicating suicide

Not necessarily, stress is a risk factor in many, many problems, from illnesses to accidents.

Yes, the mental health of founders is something that should be discussed more. I do see a fair amount of articles that approach the subject but maybe not intensely enough.

Burnout is one thing but serious depression is another altogether. The pressure of starting a small local business is enough to drive a person mad. Just think about the guys being covered in TC, the widely known ones, the "stars" of the tech startup world. We all like to think they're superhuman and can conquer anything. We all like to think they're living large and wish we had what they have but really it's all relative.

This lime of work (starting a business, startup, whatever you want to call it) is the furthest thing from easy and glamorous as you can get. It's important to have a support network and to take care of yourself especially well when venturing on an endeavor like that. I am insignificant but I can relate. And you know, I bet a many others would echo that sentiment.

It's so damn terrible to see someone so young go like that. To imagine what he could've accomplished in the future and how his family, friends, and coworkers are now robbed of a terrific person is so sad it's beyond words. And make no mistake, we don't have to know someone to know they're great people. We're all great people. If you have just one relationship with a single person in your life then you're special and wonderful in someone else's eyes and you qualify as being great. I didn't know the guy, barely knew of him, but it sucks to see such a great person go.

1. If at first you don't succeed, redefine success.

2. Success is measured in many ways, and one of those ways is dollars. There are many different ways to get dollars.

3. Failure leads to success.

4. Diaspora got GREAT and HIGHLY SUPPORTIVE press about 2 months ago from Free Software Magazine.

5. Diaspora had substantial cash flow shortly after launching the foundation. In fact they got SO MUCH MONEY that PayPal froze their account, probably because they thought it was fraud (fraud detection is REALLY hard and false positives are cheaper than false negatives...this is IMHO the most likely interpretation).

On the contrary, Ilya was in a GREAT position. LOTS of people would have given their left testicle to be him. Now, if he couldn't handle the stress, or he had one too many shots of Vodka, that is tragic, but don't try to bring Diaspora down with him. The facts are not on your side.

tl;dr It is WAAAAY too early to be declaring Diaspora a failure.

"3. Failure leads to success."

This is one of the great overlooked points.

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