Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The last day (pandodaily.com)
320 points by rpsubhub on Nov 20, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 158 comments

I find this story extremely tragic -- not because this man's company, his dreams, failed so tremendously, but that he allowed two fundamental aspects of his adult life to fail with it.

Is it the prevailing opinion in the startup community these days that building up personal debt and letting your relationships fail are worthwhile parts of starting a company, or is this, as I suspect, just a sad story about misaligned priorities?

I don't mean to attack any premise of the story; I'm honestly curious what startup founders think of this article. I personally have no goals of huge buy-outs nor IPOs, but I would like to start my own business some day. I can't imagine being willing to give up my significant other to focus on the business, and I would hope that about the time I start thinking about using personal credit cards to finance the company I also stop and realize that the company is dead already.

I sincerely don't know what I'm suppose to take from this article, but I have the feeling based on some of the comments in this thread that the parts I find important are not the same parts that others find important.

>Is it the prevailing opinion in the startup community these days that building up personal debt and letting your relationships fail are worthwhile parts of starting a company, or is this, as I suspect, just a sad story about misaligned priorities?

Ultimately, whether or not it was "worth it" will always be decided based on the final outcome of the company coupled with a large dose of hindsight bias. A startup founder who sacrificed relationships to build a successful company will be recognized as having made the correct decision amidst the company of those who couldn't understand his/her vision.

A startup founder who fails having sacrificed relationships and friendships will be recognized as foolish and overly ambitious.

If you want a story that aspiring founders responded positively to: "How credit card arbitrage funded my first company."[1] fared pretty well on Reddit/HN when it was first written. From the comfort of success it's easy to judge one's decisions as the correct decisions. It's just as easy to condemn the same decisions made by a failed founder.


Regardless of whether my business succeeds or fails, if my personal relationships with my wife and kids fail, I am a failure.

Personally, I don't care if everybody in the world thinks I succeeded, if those relationships fail, I am a failure. Priorities are important.

They are, they are also different for different people. There is no right answer to whether sacrificing person relationships for company success is worth it.

There is a right answer. As some other commenters are saying, there is an objective right and wrong. If someone trusts and commits to you as fully as they do when they marry you (or common law marry by prolonged cohabitation), there is absolutely no excuse to damage that trust and that love for a selfish satisfaction of running a successful startup.

When you enter that type of relationship with someone, you commit, at the very least implicitly, to make your SO the primary priority in your life. If you want to run a startup, you have to work it around your relationship and not vice-versa. The amount of pain that's inflicted on many different people when a relationship that has all the trappings of permanence, lacking only the discipline of the participants to enforce that permanence, is extreme, and far worse and farther reaching than having a company fail or losing a bunch of investor money.

I understand that over the last several decades, individual "fulfillment" (aka undisciplined selfishness) has become the primary attainment for people, regardless of any social structure or moral definition. Marriage has been nullified and diminished to the point where most youth don't even see a point in it anymore. People have been taught, essentially, to worship themselves -- to put temporary individual interests above permanent social cohesion and the good of the whole, and really, the long-term interests of the individual as well. But that doesn't make this correct, and it definitely doesn't make a valid excuse to betray the trust of those closest to you -- triple especially if children are involved. True familial love is worth more than all the money in the world could purchase, including the money your startup may or may not generate, and this is an objective reality.

That's somewhat dependent on the scope of the 'relationship' and the 'success'. Lose a good marriage with kids for a 5 million exit and plenty of people will say you made the wrong choice. Lose a girlfriend in the same situation and you may be the only one to regret it.

For me personal debt came simply because I wanted the startup to succeed. Doing whatever it takes was simply taken for granted (by me). Oh, money is needed? Sure, I'll just take out a loan I'm betting my life on this startup, what could possibly go wrong if I bet a tiny bit more?

The personal relatinoship part ... what personal relationship part? I had a serious girlfriend that I got to see one hour a week or less. And even then I was so distracted by the mountain of worry and stress from the startup that I barely even noticed she was there.

It took a year or two to properly bounce back from all that. But I think all in all I'm a better bloke for it. Much more able to make sure things happen in such a way they don't cause too much stress.

Actually, the biggest lesson was that working too much produces more extra work than it solves. These days I take plenty of breaks. I also make sure I stop working the moment I don't feel at 100% anymore ... people aren't paying me to work when I'm tired.

"Whatever it takes" is an pernicious phrase. I shuddered when I saw the trailer/commercial for that silicon valley startup contest show and it was sprinkled liberally throughout, sometimes shouted at a group of people.

At Startup Weekend events in LA it's popular to show Alec Baldwin's performance of the "Coffee is for Closers" speech from "Glengarry Glen Ross."

The intent is to try and rally the troops and build excitement. Really this is something I find sad and another example of missaligned priorities given the actual content of the movie and the plot that is actually unfolding.

Instead of seeing a sociopath that is driving people to commit fraud and crime, people see Jack Donaghy delivering the "truth" to some losers before heading outside to make love to Liz Lemon.

More to my point, there is this thread of unhealthy romanticized ideas about startups and perhaps work in general that some people, organizations, and publications like to promote. This is just another example. There isn't anything that says "don't be like this." It's a big fish story about the one that got away.

personal credit cards

All the business credit card applications I've seen have joint and several liability between the company and the individuals personally. Maybe there's a point at which a company can get credit cards that nobody is individually, personally responsible for, but AFAICT it's not at a startup.

At the startup I was at, we were unable to get a card even by putting up in cash the limit for which we were asking. In other words, even by securing $1,000 with the bank, we couldn't get a $1,000 limit card.

For the people start a startup then it has to be worth it, because you're putting everything on the line. To him the relationship obviously wasn't as important as the startup's success. And if it got in the way? It had to go. With startups, there are only binary outcomes: wild success or abysmal failure. If you're betting everything on wild success, then sometimes you have to make those choices.

(I'm using startup in the sense of "high-growth new business")

>> Is it the prevailing opinion in the startup community these days that building up personal debt and letting your relationships fail are worthwhile parts of starting a company, or is this, as I suspect, just a sad story about misaligned priorities?

I know someone whose startup didn't work, lost his GF and was in lot of debt. He was well aware of these risks. Someone who runs a startups gives his/her everything to make it work (if determined). Startup founders are optimistic by nature and they are always hopeful that things will work out if they don't give up and work hard. Unfortunately, the trade-off is personal life!

The trade off is only personal life if you let it be. I see a lot of wannabe founders around here (Auckland) who are trying to follow the work-all-the-time, sacrifice relationships thing. This works for a couple, but those people who it works for normally tend to exhibit sociopathic tendencies anyway and would most likely be horrible people to work for once they have employees.

It's up to the individual of course, but as most of us are trying to start businesses that scale, remember that part of having a business that scales is being involved with other people who don't share your work ethic by half.

While it isn't me now -- I learned this lesson while I was still working in other people's startups, before actually building my own -- this kind of heads-down, work is life, look up at the end and realize "wow, what was I thinking" is very familiar. I suspect a lot of people here have gone through the period of compulsive overwork that comes after learning skills but before gaining perspective.

It's quite easy to wind up putting personal finances into a company. The feeling is of being "right on the verge" and just needing enough cash to make it until that big deal goes through. It could even be as simple as founders not taking a salary and burning through their own savings on living expenses.

As far as abandoning all of your other relationships, though, I think that is entirely avoidable.

The amount of privilege built into this "painful failure" is disquieting. Here's a person whose biggest problem in life appears to be that he's in debt and, for the moment, unemployed. But: he was the CEO of a company funded to the tune of 8xFTE, and can thus almost certainly walk into hundreds of VP/Product Management or Business Development roles immediately, all of which will pay him more than any of his technical employees. Employees who are also, let's please face it, immensely privileged.

I wouldn't care, except that towards the end someone texts him and he angrily pouts that nobody can know his pain. Well, it's not for me to judge, right. But as someone who does in fact believe that people have an immortal soul, I would say that that whatever the universal spirit or cosmic order or divine intent that unites our existance is, it should probably not be taunted with statements like "you cannot know the pain of someone who was the CEO of a tech company shutting down his office for the last time before hunting for a job in the hottest sector of the entire economy", because that universal whatever might take the time to show you what it's like to be the 48-year-old employee of a midwest factory being shut down.

I had a neighbor who's kid --- a great kid, from what I can tell --- brought a pocketknife to school to show other kids. He was zero-tolerance expelled. My neighbor was doing OK for himself, but not OK to the extent of "could swing private school". From what I understand, that event killed it for them: they had to move, the mom and kids to one state (where the extended family lived and the school district would admit the boy) and the dad to a neighboring state to work and commute back on weekends. Do you know a lot of tech people that have had to do that? Then I'd like to suggest those people have standing to at least commiserate with the founder of a failed startup. And this is just something I saw personally; my inclination is, shit like this happens. Shit that is too boring to be the topic of a news story at the top of HN. Shit that happens to people who aren't lucky enough to be in the middle of the startup economy, and that happens approximately all the time.

Grand projects fail all the time. Open source projects die. Web communities die. Clubs wind down. Sporting teams disband. I write this so you can angrily tell me that I'm wrong: tell me what's so bad about a tech startup failing in 2012? (Let me preempt one obvious angry barb by saying that was a cofounder and investor in a VC-funded startup that failed in 2001, the "nuclear winter").

Please: I'm not saying that startup people are so lucky that they're not allowed to be unhappy when their companies fail. I am saying something else that is more subtle than that.

This is unfair.

If you draw out this line of thinking, pretty much all tragedy is whining. Shakespeare would go like this:

  ROMEO: That Juliet chick is hot!
  BENVOLIO: Dude, she's Capulet.  Find some other ho, plenty of fish in the sea.
  ROMEO: Good point.
Perspective is by definition subjective. Some people are thrilled to be the first member of their family to go to college. Others commit suicide when they don't get their first choice. Almost exactly one year ago one of the founders of Diaspora took his own life. Is your eulogy "he was an ingrate jerk who didn't appreciate how lucky he was?" Even if it's true, nobody deserves that.

This story is well-written narrative. It's something many of us have experienced to various degrees, and a cautionary tale for those still in the euphoric stage. Take it for what it is -- a reminder that not every startup story is a fairy tale.

Now get back to work.

Your version of Romeo & Juliet might have worked out a lot better for all people involved, though.

I think everyone has had that moment when they think "no one knows this pain." It's easy to lose perspective when everything - from a relative perspective - looks like it's collapsing.

One could similarly make the argument that a factory worker in the midwest should get some perspective and see how bad the kids with swollen stomachs and vultures overhead have it. Obviously that's not fair.

This is a person who committed a couple of years, a good chunk of capital, and a good relationship for an idea. And on top of that, they gambled their pride - to try so hard and still fail is a defeating feeling. Especially when people around you are succeeding at the same game.

Admittedly this is all presumptuous, but that's the point. For all we know this could be a work of fiction. Or the author might have struggled through all of this and then some. It seems similarly presumptuous too to conclude that the author has a privileged perspective.

I think you have a better bead on it that I can do; it's about perspective. And, obviously: all I have to go on is what's actually written in this post. I have a feeling that people are going to project their own experiences into that post and read my response accordingly. I have no idea what you've been through; I just know what this person says they've dealt with.

Please understand, though: it's not that someone is worse-off than this startup founder. There's always someone worse off. The unemployed factory worker is in a far better position than an impoverished rural Chinese farmer. It's that most people are worse-off than the startup founder. Even most Americans.

> it's about perspective

Is it fair to expect someone in his position to have perspective?

I think if you ask him about the failure six months or a year later, a resilient person would be able to put it in perspective, but not while it's happening.

I don't know, because we're not talking about a specific person. But the entity that I know only from reading this article, the one sitting on a desk picking at his company's vanity sticker and thinking that nobody in the world can know how he feels, I think he could use a little perspective.

It is exactly clear to me how unhappy this sentiment makes startup people on HN, and that's fine. I take no offense.

The point is that this line of reasoning can be applied to whatever painful event suffered by anybody who's better than "most people" and especially gasp "most Americans."

Where do you draw the line and why there and not elsewhere? What's "proper pain"?

To be honest, I'm somewhat on your side and tend to take the "shut up and grow up already" mentality regarding people whining (suffering) about painful life events, but that view does not answer the above question reasonably, it just ends up denouncing whatever you personally cannot withstand or are annoyed with.

It's fine to have pain, but to say "nobody can understand this pain" when huge numbers of people are almost certainly worse off is hyperbole.

True. "Nobody can understand this pain" is either self evidently false (at the very least other indebted, divorced start up founders understand it and likely many other people who are worse off) or a tautology (everybody suffers differently and thus nobody can understand the pain of anybody else.)

I personally don't get worked up about that kind of self commiserating sentences.

Failure is bad. Sadness is bad.

Trying to paint degrees of hopelessness on people and saying the privileged shouldn't complain is wrong. You are always the privileged to someone else.

Being happy is what everyone aspires to - and for many, it means success and doing stuff - as in creating, or as in having a job (much more important that having a salary at least to some people such as Ghandi)

The 48 yo unqualified factory worker right to happiness is just as important as your and mine - we haven't find a good way to say which persons happiness are to be prioritized.

Also, the right to happiness doesn't and shouldn't mean forced equality for everyone - some will fail, some will succeed.

But IMHO you're very wrong in your rant. You shouldn't say that what you consider "priviledged" should shut up - it almost read as if they should engage in some shadefreude, finding happiness while watching other people barely making a living. That's even worse.

You should celebrate instead that he had a chance, and wish him and every other human being to succeed in their endeavours - whatever they are.

I'm not sure which part of a story about a guy whose dream crashed, whose bank account is less than empty, and whose girlfriend left made you think "I am offended that he is upset."

I am not offended that he's upset.

I paraphrased. You are disquieted at the level of privilege displayed.

Whatever that means.

I think you know what "I'm not saying that startup people are so lucky that they're not allowed to be unhappy when their companies fail" means.

Indeed. But maybe it's too late, or maybe I've had one scotch too many... I'm not sure what you're getting at with "I am saying something else that is more subtle than that" though.

I salute you for posting while intoxicated. It works well for me too. It's not that the author of this post is unhappy that his startup failed. It's that he's lost perspective; that you could plausibly write a post thanking the universe for having been in a position to take a shot on the kind of company that makes vanity stickers for itself (note: founder of company w/ vanity stickers, posters, and refrigerator magnets), and for being able to do that with the kinds of employees who can surely leave their posts at that company for an even higher-paid job.

It's hard for me to unpack my comment more than that. I wrote what I thought after I read the post. I make no claim to that comment being unassailable; in fact, I made the opposite claim in the comment!

Maybe it's the question that's most important to me. Take a swipe at it? What's so bad about a tech startup failing in 2012?

Of course, when you post intoxicated, you can sometimes sound . . . hostile.

Fair enough. And I guess I don't actually disagree with you, not really... there is nothing tragic about a failed startup. But I'm sure it does suck plenty to have your hopes dashed like that.

It sucked when my startup failed in 2001, but in retrospect it isn't close to the worst suckages in my life. Girlfriend breakups were worse.

Thanks for listening to me, though. I obviously managed to lose you completely with my original comment. I'll think about how I managed to do that. I probably won't actually learn from it, but I'll take a shot. :)

Entirely my fault. Or scotch's.

"You are disquieted at the level of privilege displayed."

Spoken like a true data security professional.

You very much seem to be, while talking about how privileged he is and how much worse everyone else has it. Sometimes people who are offended genuinely don't realize it, and need to be told by dozens or hundreds of people saying "dude, you're lashing out, cool it."

If you're Thomas Ptacek the security person, I wonder if you realize that people are jealous of you, too. (Yes, even though you earned what you have.)

This will be a very difficult Thanksgiving for me, while I try to keep my startup alive.

I sympathize with the guy who just lost more money than I'm likely ever to have. Even though I have it worse than he does. I don't actually want someone telling him to keep it quiet on my behalf.

Maybe the next time you're on a down streak, you'll remember sympathy.

It's easy to forget that even with privilege, failure hurts and is scary.

Fuck you.

I daresay my problems are somewhat worse than those of the OP's CEO. He isn't in a divorce, doesn't have kids, does he? And yeah, even if my problems are worse, they're still distinctly First World. It isn't as if I have trouble finding potable water for my kids, or have to worry about teenager "soldiers" raping my daughter. So maybe I too am Entitled. And perhaps I too should just Shut Up.

But I don't think so. I can tell you for an absolutely fucking fact that my problems have hurt like hell. And I am pretty goddam sure that those of this guy hurt pretty damn hard too. This guy put his ass out there on the line, everything he had, and came up LOSER. That's going to sting for any one with an ounce of pride. Yes, yes, yes, he'll land some VP Biz Dev job and he'll be All Right but the dream of being his own man has kind of taken a turn for the worse, hasn't it? I daresay that he and I both would drop our crying towels and head for the recruiters' office if the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor tomorrow, and our current problems would seem pretty fucking silly when viewed atop some modern day Iwo Jima. Nevertheless we don't at this exact moment have the benefit of all that perspective and holy shit, this hurts.

I have SEEN with my own two eyes people with whom I would not trade places for a single second. I have seen the people with the serious wrist scars, the verticals-along-the-veins of the suicides who mean business. I have talked with men so schizophrenic I almost cried to see a human mind so shattered before me. I have slept with a woman for no other purpose than to hear her rise "to go to the bathroom" so I could follow her and ensure she wasn't going to the kitchen to do the serious wrist thing. I have heard a mother wailing at the death of her only child.

So I know what Pain looks like and I know I am damn sight removed from how fucking Bad It Can Get. Okay? And I still know that were I have been hurt like hell, and it made no sense to me. And the last goddam thing I needed was some asshole sneering about how much worse it could be. I mean, no shit, Sherlock.

See thing about perspective is, it's _rational_. It's detached from a moment and a circumstance. The thing about pain is, it is _not_ rational. It is emotional and is about you and your moment. And no one who ever cared enough about anything to accomplish something did it without emotion.

Someone put their ass out on the line. They Failed. It hurts. First World problem? Absolutely. Guess what, here in the first world, we're people too, and we hurt too. We will get over it, we will move on, we will acquire the perspective you so generously commend to us.

But hopefully we'll retain enough knowledge of the pain to have a little sympathy for those going through it.

Again: it's not that there are people in the world who are worse off. There are always people in the world that are worse off. Most people in the world are much worse off than most Americans.

It's that most Americans are worse off than this person.

This is startup exceptionalism. It is the intersection between nerd exceptionalism and the myth of the heroic entrepreneur, both of which are virulent memes in our culture right now. And how I think I know that is, I imagine the kinds of comments that would be on HN if we were writing about an investment banker's dashed dreams. They'd start with "fuck you", too, but they'd be aimed at the author of the article.

I'm sorry that the way I articulated this perspective offends you. I probably wrote it carelessly and offensively. But it is the right perspective.

> It's that most Americans are worse off than this person.

You're being surprisingly sensitive and insensitive at the same time. It doesn't matter that most Americans are worse off than the guy, he didn't write a report for the Census Bureau.

He saw something, had an idea, for him this idea was as good as real, and then it died. Along with everything he had invested in it which wasn't just money but probably also a good part of his self-image, reputation and ego.

The fear of failure is so powerful that most people never even try. And he had all their worst fears come true.

You know how people are terrified of public speaking? When you did that the first time, did "hey, it's no biggie" helped and assuaged your fears?

He's not a real "he", right? We're clear that we're talking about a fictitious startup, right?

I do not think less of actual startup founders who are unhappy when their companies fail. I just do not care for this particular fictitious character and would like to push back against the veneration of his fictitious feelings, which are (fictitiously) unreasonable.

I don't know how fictional this account is, or how realistic the story, nor would I defend the writing style, or hn-worthiness of the article, but the feelings associated with failure do ring true.

"I'm sorry that the way I articulated this perspective offends you. I probably wrote it carelessly and offensively. But it is the right perspective."

No. It isn't.

Please don't confuse your ennui with other people's need to actually communicate their pain when they're in pain.

Even if they're people you're jealous of.

It does not matter if other people are better or worse off. This isn't a race.

Nobody is helped by your foot-stomping here. This is ego salvation.

You know what? I'm not so sure that "most Americans" are worse off than this person. Certainly not in this moment of recent unemployment: even if they might envy his life at other times, most people would have the decency to look at this moment of this man's life and show some sympathy.

Your perspective -that the presence of pain you perceive to be "greater" invalidates what pain you perceive to be "lesser"- is warped beyond decency. Some might even define it as evil; I would not go that far, but such casual dismissal of pain as you demonstrate is Not OK.

> it is the right perspective.

Interesting that you offer a subjective moral value judgement, in the language of a universal truth.

Wow, I'm with chernevik on this one. Both perspectives were great to be brought up, but frankly, what's the difference with most Americans being worse off than this person and most of the people in the world being worse off? You are in fact saying the same thing - this guy has less right than he feels to be so sorry for himself.

Hacker News fosters a prominent startup community. Of course we're going to commiserate with this guy - we can identify with him. It's like posting an article about some dude going through a divorce on a marriage forum. People will commiserate with him. You wouldn't post about an investment banker there. If you posted about an investment banker on an investment banking forum however, I'm sure they would commiserate with him just as we are with this guy.

But that's another point entirely, because the investment banker's sorrow for his situation is just as valid as this failed entrepreneur's. Hell, I bet Hitler felt sorry for himself after losing WWII and killing millions of people, and that was just as valid. It is fully understandable for them to feel great pain at their condition, as they poured their hearts and lives into one thing or another, no matter how great or how small, how right or how wrong - they led their lives as they thought best, and it ended in failure or catastrophe - no matter how fleeting. You don't tell a grieving mother who just lost their child that it gets better, that they can just have a new one and really it's not as bad as it could have been, some poor mother just lost all three of her kids! And even though you're right - it does get better, and it could be worse, just as it is in this case, that mother will still grieve the loss of her child and this entrepreneur will still mourn the failure of his company. And deep down inside, I'm sure they know logically that it will get better, that it's not as bad as it could have been - but emotionally, right now, it still feels like the end of the world.

This story could easily end one of three ways that I see presently - one, he kills himself now in the height of his emotional sorrow, two, he gets back on the hill and starts another company that either succeeds or fails (in which case, repeat these three cases), or three, he takes a steady job giving a steady income for a stable life but never achieves the great dreams he hoped to (or he starts another company at a later date in which case repeat scenario 2).

However, regardless of which path he takes, his pain in the present moment is valid. It is not made any less valid by the fact that he is better off than most people in one of his resultant possible scenarios.

Moreover, is it valid for him to want more than his peers? What if he's really not satisfied by leading a stable life with a stable income? Is that okay? Or should we slap him in the face and tell him he's fucking lucky to be where he is and he needs to stop acting so privileged and ungrateful? And if the answer is no, it's not valid for him to want more, then it's equally invalid for us to want anything as well. Where do you draw the line? Are we ungrateful and overly privileged for wanting more than some bland minimally nutritious food and a roof over our heads? Are we ungrateful and overly privileged to want basic plumbing, a nice hot shower, a family that loves us, to be valued in our society and to be able to contribute to our society, anything at all? How is it up to us to judge what others want to accomplish with their lives and consequently impugn their sorrow and pain at failing to achieve what they had hoped to?

Another thought - are you going to slap a suicidal middle-class teenager in the face and tell them to grow the fuck up and realize how privileged they are, how most Americans and in fact almost all teenagers in the world are worse off than them? Why not?

It's because their pain is valid. Our emotions normalize to our situation - always, no matter how high or low we get in life, and they're just as valid regardless of where they're normalized to. Just because this guy isn't going to be broke for the rest of his life and have his family made homeless doesn't mean he doesn't feel pain, and that pain isn't valid. He poured his heart and soul into something, and it died on him - because of him.

The author isn't expressing implicit approval of this entrepreneur's reaction to that text - he's telling a story in its full color, as it so often plays out. This is a universally common response to some sort of suffering. It could easily have been written about a mother who's kid just died of cancer:

"She heard the ping of her phone, someone late hearing the news sending a text to offer their condolences. She knew they meant well, but their encouraging platitudes filled her with contempt. What did they know of her pain?"

It has nothing to do with his perceived privilege, him being better off than others, etc. If you accept his pain as valid, this is a valid response to that pain.

And if you don't accept his pain as valid, then none of us should ever have valid pains - or joys, for that matter, since our joy clearly cannot match the joy of a man given a morsel of bread after having starved for weeks on end, or any other emotion that someone else has experienced as a consequence of a more extreme causative factor.

Hell, I bet Hitler felt sorry for himself after losing WWII and killing millions of people, and that was just as valid.

So do we have a link to a Downfall parody for HN startups?

Haha I knew someone was going to latch on to the Hitler comment.

And also, that would be hilarious. Why hasn't that been done yet?

There's this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-mviqUn95s

Dude, that comment has seriously made my night.

So, to summarize what I've learned from this thread:

Next time I sleep with a schizophrenic woman who brought a pocketknife to her failed startup, when I hear her go to the bathroom at night I'll be like "Hey baby, no need to get all slashy-slashy doing the serious wrist thing, I mean, just look at Hitler, he had problems too."

The point is made. One will always find people with worse situation than us and who suffer more. Does this help ? Of course not.

Does it mean that if something hurt us we can't tell it, share it or complain about it ? It's not an easy question.

My impression is that saying that something hurts you provides some relief, especially if the people around you have some empathy or offer help. On the other hand, if the people you say it to, suffer as much or more, than it will hurt them. This is the short term effect.

On the long term, the real benefit of sharing such types of feeling is that other people get prepared for the hurting feeling in a similar situation. This generates an inhibition effect which is today best transmitted by films. This is not entertainment. We learn from it and get prepared and accustomed to it.

This doesn't address the question if the hurting situation is unfair, could be avoided and how. There are very hurting situations we can't avoid like cancer or an invalidating accident. But there are hurting situations we could have avoided and so sharing the experience has an education effect. You might not benefit from it, but there will always be one that will profit from the education effect.

Parenthetically, my own First World Nightmare scenario involves working with people like the ones who commented in that video. ("500 Startups does not want to be associated with Hitler... I know people whose families were murdered by the Nazis. I hope you decide to take this video down.")

Laughter in the face of evil is perhaps civilization's last, best strike against it. It's a shame the butthurt commenters didn't understand that. All they have to do is put themselves in Hitler's shoes and imagine his fury at these parodies... but that requires stepping outside their own worldview for a moment, and setting aside the indignation they've earned by being a vicarious victim.

I'm glad the submitter didn't actually take the video down a year ago, despite saying he was going to, and despite the fact that it evidently cost him some karma points among people he respected.

I wish you could make your point in fewer words.

Yeah..I'm always worried I'm not thoroughly elucidating how I feel. The words, they just keep coming!

> It's that most Americans are worse off than this person.

Why should anyone care more about Americans than people accidentally born somewhere else?

If I break your jaw -- funny how that's the example that springs to mind -- are you going to sit in the ambulance celebrating the outstanding First World medical care you're about to receive?

Or are you going to be saying Jesus Christ this fucking hurts? How effective an anesthetic will Perspective be?

You can be right and Wrong at the same time. Figure it out.

It is too late to edit the above. I was trying to convey irritation and even anger, but many seem to think I've gone over the edge to hostile or even threatening. I should written more carefully.

Posting while drunk is one thing. Posting angry while drunk is one thing. Veering near someone's personal space while drunk and angry, probably not such a good idea. I apologize for any alarm I caused.

You're frustrated. I'm frustrating to argue with. I totally get it, and I got it at the time. It was funny, so I joked about it a little, but for the record, if anybody cares: I didn't feel threatened. I won't presume you're apologizing to me, but for whatever it's worth, I wouldn't ask for an apology anyways.

It's an apology to the community. I wouldn't have written that, even if drunk, if I hadn't thought YOU would take it as I meant it. So I am glad I read that right, and thank you for saying so.

But many readers either didn't read it that way or thought it unhelpful to the tone of the board. And I think concerns about that are more than fair. Any "humor" touching on violence really must be clearly humor. This wasn't, at leas to the wider audience, and I'm sorry about that.

> But it is the right perspective.

How can a perspective, or a feeling for that matter, be 'right' or 'wrong'?

The only person who may feel pain is the person with the greatest problems in the world? Really? By whose measure? Where will we track this? How will we update the leaderboard?

I know: I'll buy theonlypersonintheworldallowedtofeelpaintoday.org and you set up the hosting. Deal?

maybe have a think about what a perspective is.

By its nature each person will have a different perspective because from where they are, it occurs differently.

It is the right perspective for you, but may not be for others. That is a moral side of the debate which is a different story

I'm not sure why people can't fit both perspectives in their brains at once.

It sucks, and it's not that bad.

Your problems hurt simply because you are so sorry for yourself. Get over yourself.

> Get over yourself.

I have a deadline and more important stuff to do right now, but seeing your answer and presuming (possibly wrong) that the parent has gone through some sort of "depression", I have to say that these "get over yourself" and "it's all in your head"-type of answers are mightily infuriating. They don't solve anything, they make it worse.

Otherwise, yes, this is a "first world problem".

I am actually a bit sorry, I guess I was in a foul mood. I just couldn't relate much to that feeling of entitlement. I don't necessarily think that guy is going through a depression, though.

He did something, it failed. It is normal to be sad about that for a while. No special intervention might be necessary.

How is that any different from any other emotional pain?

The difference to me is that one is the pain of realizing "hey, I am not the glorious human being I thought I am" and other pain is caused by real loss. Sorry if I can not sympathize in this case, to me there is just some aspect of humility missing. Of course it is a real pain, too, but it is not the end of the world. Shame about the girl-friend, though.

Interesting post, except the part about pain not being rational.

Both emotions and specifically pain can absolutely be rational. There's no inherent separation between the rational and the emotional.

Crying when your loved ones die is, for one example, a very rational thing for a person to do; that is a rational emotional response to pain.

Had I but votes enough and time

Thank you, Thomas, for saving me writing a much less eloquent comment along the same lines. As a startup founder way out in the wilderness, I'm often equally amused and saddened by SV tales of woe. We must all keep reminding ourselves of the '48-year-old employee of a midwest factory being shut down', and try to keep a proper perspective on values.

The original article was poetic, but struck me as hollow. Had the author really experienced this, or was this just a creative writing exercise? It didn't feel genuine to me - like this is the way a company ends in the movies, not in real life.

I think you underestimate the pain created due to expectations, Greater the expectation, greater the pain.

Startups are being promoted to every one all over the world as the way to create wealth after mentioning minimally that 90 to 95% startups will fail. If i am 48 year old guy working in a Manufacturing Factory in the US, i can definitely see from far off that i may loose my job. When i can predict my outcome, i can start taking evasive action and i am prepared for any eventuality and this lessens the pain even though it does not eliminate the pain.

Life itself is hard, but managing your expectations ensures that your journey is less pain full or may have more chances of joy.

You can do a small experiment to find the pain or pleasure created, Just promise somebody that you will do anything on a particular date and don't it or do it and you will find their pain is proportional to the expectation which they had on your ability to do the task.

Think of the comment thread that would ensure from someone writing an article about not making it into Harvard or Stanford, and instead having to go to the University of Michigan. That strikes me, literally, as a comparable disappointment.

The distinction is easy to identify, is it because of desire or expectation.

At heart every one knows their limitations and every one tries to hope that they can acquire more than their capability allows them to achieve naturally

Expectation is not the same as desire, every one can have unreasonable desire, but expectation is more subtle. If the guy has been groomed from the earliest school days based on his/her performance that he/she can easily go into Harvard by the community, teachers, parents, friends etc and because of some ill health, he flunks a exam which makes him not achieve it, it may even destroy his whole life, because he may feel he has disappointed his teachers, parents etc.

The startup world creates enormous expectations using desire as the fuel. Imagine the number of people thinking just getting selected by YC leads to success of their idea or the number of people who get funding assume they have already succeeded. These are starting points and mid points in their pursuit to success. These creates unreasonable expectations which increases the pain. Where as if you pursued these are part of your desire the pain will be less.

Expectation is assuming you have got it and latter found you have not really not got it, where as desire is aspiring for higher things perfectly knowing you may not get it.

Creating Unreasonable Expectations causes more pain than creating Unreasonable desires. It is the difference between applying for a lottery and finding the lottery ticket is a forgery.

I guess I just disagree that it's healthy for us to validate the pain of failing to achieve such high expectations. Investment bankers have high expectations too! But I'll think more about what you wrote, and thanks.

But there's a difference still. I think it'd be better to compare it with a guy who has only applied to a single university and got rejected. Not only has he lost a year, he's also lost his pride.

Next year, he needs to start all over again. It is at this point, where he sees his friends already start college and slowly feels excluded from the 'college social circle'. We, of course know it's all in the head. But does he?

There's a whole movie about not getting to the university one wanted: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1174732; the story presents life after this failure as almost ruined.

While I totally agree with your "failing as a startup founder hurts, but it's not the end of the world" stance, comparing this to not getting into university is not correct. Someone's life changes for worse dramatically and almost irreversibly when this happens. After a failed startup you just move on.

You know what, you're right on the money and the worst part is with people angrily denouncing you they've forgotten that one of the biggest trends in startups is 'fail fast'. It fails, it sucks, you tried. Either get back on the horse or transition out and go work for one of the myriad companies that'll be hiring.

Whenever I'm down or sad, I look up to this video: http://youtu.be/H8ZuKF3dxCY and suddenly I feel better and blessed.

I usually, in all seriousness, search for "Judge Judy" and "Jerry Springer" on youtube, surf through a few videos, and get some perspective.

dunno, why you get so much hostility from other posters, maybe they just really don't like being told "other people have it worse off".

anyway, one of your key points i think others on this thread are missing is that this guy has (even in failure) a huge amount of real-world experience that will land him 100k+ salaries if he chooses go to a corporate job.

You are correct that their is some privilege but depending on the situation the clean up / fallout of a failed company can really be quite bad.

Many times founders can be left with astronomical debt pretty much guaranteeing bankruptcy being the only way out. Additionally its not unheard for business loans to have a house on the line as collateral. This doesn't mean this is always the situation but is not as rare of a story as one may think.

It's disconcerting how many people didn't get the point of your comment.

I've had failed startups too. For my first one I ended up paying out of my own pocket, to tidy things up in an orderly fashion, and I and my cofounders all took up a (reasonably small) loan to pay back some other debts. It sucked. It hurt. I've certainly at times have felt like nobody could know my pain too.

But then the following week we went to work at our new employer, found for us by our original investors lawyer, at a salary 3 times what we'd been able to afford to pay ourselves at our startup.

Was my pain not real despite the obvious privilege of being in a position where I could call on people to find me a job making substantially above the national average before we'd even wound down, at the age of 22? Of course not.

But there's a vast difference between feeling like that for a bit vs descending into self pity and whining when one is in a situation where even a moments reflection about the position one is in would show that you're in a position vastly better than most, and that indeed there probably are billions out there that have known pain just as bad or worse.

I don't understand why so many reacts so strongly to this perspective.

The "hottest sector of the entire economy" might be true in certain areas of the US, but it certainly isnt true for the whole world. There are alot of places without a Facebook, Google, MSFT and where technical people dont per se earn six figure salaries... Who knows where this guy is from ?

This thread has turned me off HN for st least six months.

The dearth of empathy built into this "comment" is disquieting.

You make many assumptions here. Can you count them? What if you've got only half of them wrong?

No matter how good we have it, failure will disappoint us. I don't see a problem with that. Even if that failure is good for the universe, it will disappoint us in the moment. I think that's just human nature, no?

I don't understand it when someone tells me, "Don't feel so bad." Fuck you; I feel bad right now. Just because you wouldn't feel the same amount and kind of bad doesn't mean that I have to stop. If you want to judge me, feel free, then fuck off.

Stories like this highlight a particular application of Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everyone is crap.

The only failure this person has made is wallowing in self pity. Why is he just letting everything wind down? It's like this founder doesn't understand how his first company began, and so is unable to try try again.

When you've fired friends, feel like a failure, and are destitute, you might understand why it's so hard to look at spending several more years of your life trying again.

> Grand projects fail all the time. Open source projects die. Web communities die. Clubs wind down. Sporting teams disband. I write this so you can angrily tell me that I'm wrong: tell me what's so bad about a tech startup failing in 2012?

Nobody cares about startups themselves, because they are not people. This story is about a person who failed, not a intangible corporate entity. Have some empathy for a kindred spirit, at a bad point in their (fictional) life.

> The amount of privilege built into this "painful failure" is disquieting.

The word "privilege" is one of those politically correct Newspeak words that always stops me dead in my tracks. It's a shibboleth of a whole bunch of broken thinking, and worse than that, it's a term that tries to bake in conclusions to the assumptions of an argument, so that once one engages with the argument, unaware of the land mine that's been laid there, there's no way to win.

privilege - n - a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor

When someone uses the word "privilege" we're supposed to immediately agree that "They" - the great unspecified "they" - gave one person special keys to the system (and we're usually supposed to believe that these keys were handed over because someone lucked into the right skin color or gender).

So tptacek is baking into his argument the default assumption that someone HANDED chernevik the unearned right and power to start a company - a right and power that was denied to the vast majority of other people - because of the family he was born into or the color of his skin or something.

I find this argument deeply arrogant and condescending. ANYONE can start a company, whether their skin is white, brown, blue or green, and whether their genitals are male, female, mixed or missing, and whether their ancestry and culture is European, Indian, Zulu or Russian.

The deconstructionist / academic / relativist / social justice world view that travels with the word "privileged" wants us to believe that we should care less about any one individual who comes from the "privileged class", because this person was already "given" so much by dint of accident of birth.

Every heart break is unique. I care about the poor bastard unionized welder who made $70/hr for something that a robot now does. And I care about the entrepreneur who shuts down his business and loses his house. They're both human beings.

The word "privilege" and the world-view that generates the term is snark and arrogant and status posturing. If a white sorority girl breaks a nail and is upset, then the social critic who points and yells the p-word reveals himself to be so much BETTER. HE is the one who REALLY cares, who REALLY appreciates the moral subtley of the universe and has the deep vision to see the TRUE VICTIMS.

> Shit that is too boring to be the topic of a news story at the top of HN.

And yet, the actual inhabitants of HN thought quite a lot of it and voted it to the top position. So you're opinions are out of touch with what the people here think.

> Shit that happens to people who aren't lucky enough to be in the middle of the startup economy, and that happens approximately all the time.

Do you think you're the only one here who appreciates that it sucks to be born into a slum in South America, or to lose your house in a hurricane, or to be laid off from a manufacturing job at age 59?

We all get it.

Don't arrogate to yourself the belief that you're the only one here who has compassion - that we're all autistics.

> Please: I'm not saying that startup people are so lucky that they're not allowed to be unhappy when their companies fail. I am saying something else that is more subtle than that.

I'm not convinced of that.

This story mirrors my startup experience exactly, including the moment where I had to lay off my friends, took a last long look at "our place" before turning the lights off, remembering that this was what I had sacrificed my relationship for, including the ending where I thought of nothing but the crushing mountain of personal debt. In some ways, this is the archetypical founder's nightmare, and it's happening every day in a lot of places. If you're doing a startup, this should be the one scenario that haunts you and motivates you to do better.

What it should do is motivate founders to 1) read the 'sunk cost fallacy' article on Wikipedia, and 2) set clear lines well before 'mountain of personal debt' and 'ruined relationships', where you call it over.

I walked away from a startup when it ran out of money. The founders were floating a proposal to guarantee a business loan with their houses. That, to me, was a bridge too far, an inability to recognize too much sacrifice in the making.

Yes, there's such a thing as 'too much sacrifice'. Businesses are ultimately, as said in the linked article, run by the math, not the CEO. Overcoming the math with a foolhardy level of commitment is a mistake. It's gambling, not math. You'll learn the same lessons about commitment and failure before maxing out every credit card you can get your hands on.

I agree, but I do think there is more to it than a sunk cost fallacy at work, though that part certainly plays a large role. In my case, the first year doing the startup was absolutely miserable, it was indescribably bad from an economical standpoint. Then, things picked up and for the first time we got the feeling that we could actually accomplish our ambitious plans. We identified personally with our "specialness", behind it all was the idea that somehow we had the right stuff. After a period of good profits and rapid expansion, several huge projects suddenly fell through. If we had never been borderline successful (albeit for a short while) I wouldn't have had this manic pipe dream of a possible recovery in the first place. That hubris was fatal.

Of course, there is never just one reason for anything. Of course, there was a lot riding on making the startup work, not only in terms of financial commitments (that death spiral only appeared towards the end times) but also a large part of my personal reputation. Failing with a startup in rural Germany is simply different than, say, falling through an incubator in Silicon Valley. There is a lot of stigma involved and everyone knows your name. It's also a bitter experience when your own family and friends start seeing you personally as a disappointing failure.

The deeper lesson here I think is to watch out for this type of creeping overcommitment as well as keep a watchful eye on what it actually means to fail. The level of personal commitment I mistakenly applied to my startup was simply toxic, to the point where I couldn't do my job anymore. While maybe trivial for some, it's a huge and complex lesson for people like me who are too quick to put too much behind their ideas.

I absolutely agree that there's a swirling mess of emotions and impulses around giving up and walking away and declaring it over. I was, rationally, absolutely in the clear that it was time to walk away from my own experience. But I still deal with a certain emotional residue around doubts about my decision and worries about how the others think of me.

Ouch! Two questions:

1 - Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

2 - After you turn off the lights and walk out, what happens next? Have you managed to bounce back? I would imagine that the skills that enabled you to run a startup (even an unsuccessful one) would be highly in demand.

1 - Absolutely, there is a huge list of things I would have done differently - and there's a huge list of failure modes I now know how to look for. The most obvious thing: I would never again borrow money personally to invest in a failing business, that was just unspeakably arrogant and stupid. But there are also a lot of operational and technical details that I would never screw up like this again.

2 - I took a job pretty much immediately. I consolidated my debt into a more manageable package, I'm still paying it off though (it's really huge). The alternative would have been declaring personal bankruptcy, which in hindsight might have been a much better move, but at least I am taking responsibility this way.

I did bounce back in a sense that my life is in order and I'm financially sound again. I have a good job (yes, my crisis management experience paid off), I travel a lot on business, I have a nice car. But it's not the same as succeeding with your own company. On the other hand, my job has taught me several key things I should have known when I did the startup, so I'm really thankful for the opportunities I got.

I'm pretty sure I'll try this again, in a safer and saner environment. It will definitely involve less dreams and more math.

If this is in the general vicinity of "Worst. Day. Ever." for you, your life is pretty effing awesome now isn't it. One Thanksgiving a year seems inadequate under the circumstances.

(I respectfully suggest that anyone unable to put death of a startup in perspective invest some effort in rekindling ties with folks outside our little bubble. Again, it's Thanksgiving, so you've got a built-in excuse.)

That's a little callous, no (even if it is a fictional character)? Imagine if everything you worked for over the last 5 year dried up, and you had for some reason to go back to life as a salaryman. Not the end of the world probably, but you'd be pretty depressed.

The lack of empathy in this thread bothers me.

Now imagine everything dries up, and there is nothing to go back to. No possibility of a job to fall back on.

Now imagine they killed our families and razed our crops and burned our villages - leaving desolation and famine in their wake!

We can imagine any kind of nightmarish scenario we like, but that doesn't mean we should ignore all the people who are doing better. Imagine if our social policy was to only help people who had escaped war-torn famine, and tell everyone else to suck it up!

So the protagonist in the story could be in a much worse place, but it still sucks for him. You have to be pretty callous not to have some empathy for him.

I'm sorry for being negative but I must say this is pretty hard to take.

This narrative is cliche in both in form and content. It's painfully melodramatic and offers almost no insight whatsoever. Yes, major losses in any sphere of life can be poignant (in a way this text surely is not). So what? Where's the value?

The problem is not that you're negative, it's that you're unwilling to see the potential of learning from other people's mistakes. Just shutting yourself off from the prospect and consequences of failure does not automatically make you immune to those mistakes. Smart people fail every day, and sometimes those failures are personal disasters. It's a good idea to remind yourself what's at stake sometimes.

Winning the startup lottery is also a cliche, but I don't see anyone complaining when random successful people relate their accounts (some of which could not possibly translate to anyone else).

This isn't about anyone's mistakes, it's about the emotional scenery surrounding some generic failure. What is there to learn? That completely devoting one's self to a single project requires sacrifice? That betting your emotional life on that project means, uh, risking your emotional life? If the point of this is to remind me that catastrophic failure is catastrophic then it can easily be edited to a single sentence.

Your latter argument just doesn't make any sense. The fact that I haven't happened to read and respond similarly to a banal description of how it feels to succeed isn't evidence of anything.

It's not generic failure, it's very specific - it's an accurate description of a failure scenario that affects many startup founders. In a lot of cases, these sacrifices happen creepingly and gradually. The lesson in this case is recognizing the signs of overcommitment and a preview of what failure can look like. Apparently, you didn't need this lesson, and that's totally fine. I for my part would have considered myself very fortunate if somebody had given me this kind of preview before everything actually turned to shit.

You complain about banality, and maybe that's an accurate label. Anything that doesn't concern or engage you could be considered banal. Maybe life is largely banal, in hindsight at least.

>It's not generic failure, it's very specific - it's an accurate description of a failure scenario that affects many startup founders.

You just described "generic failure". If it happens to many startups, its generic to startups, which was the point. There's nothing here to learn except it sucks to fail. Which anyone that's ever done anything in life is already aware of.

"So what? Where's the value?"

What's the value in art?

Sure, from the above it sounds like you think it's silly to call this art, you certainly don't like it. But it's a small piece written by someone for a single purpose, to illicit an emotional response. Whether you consider it good or not it certainly doesn't mean it's not art.

And in the end I'm sure plenty of people identified with it and responded in the way the author intended. No, it doesn't provide any major insight but it probably provided some value to some people. And just because it didn't for you doesn't justify knocking it down as worthless, at least that's how I've come to view any art I don't necessarily enjoy.

So what? I enjoyed reading it, that's what.

It's always nice to know that you're not the only one who felt this way.

I thought the same regarding cliche. The themes are too obvious to me: head in hands, lost girlfriend, lingering last look. They're all listed in TV tropes somewhere.

That being said, I'm the guy who cringes when someone sings about their love being like the moon, stars and sun. There are many people out there who aren't as overly sensitive to cliched writing as me. I think it has value for anyone who felt something while reading it, and it looks like many people in the thread did.

I feel a faint shudder of foreboding while reading it, but I think it was the image at the top of the article that caused it. Very desolate.

Nicely written and invokes a bit of an emotional response from me. But just a bit...

And then I realize that this person (whoever s/he is, real or fictional) has suffered from the fundamental problem of all business: profit. For some reason, the IT industry as of late has dismissed profits and traditional business rules for the sake of fictional ideals like pageviews, user signups, and such. And while the latter things matter somewhat, there must be a directed line from those metrics to dollars and cents, because utility companies (electricity, Internet, water) like to be paid in dollars and cents, not promises and wishes.

Profit is every bit as fictional of an ideal as a pageview or user signup. Most business activity do not take into account the externalities (corn is "profitable" but heavily subsidized by the government and most manufactured goods end up in a landfill that's not paid for by the company) that are created but not accounted for in the "Profit and Loss Statement"

You can't pay your employees with page views. Profits (or revenue, to be a bit more precise), on the other hand, are directly exchangeable for rent, food, payroll, keeping the lights on, and other such necessities.

The dollars a farmer uses to make payroll are fungible. It doesn't matter if they came from a stupid government subsidy or a sale at a farmer's market.

You pay your employees with capital, which can come from customers, the government, banks, credit card companies or investors.

Most tech startups do not generate a lot of cash in their early stages, which is why they raise capital from investors who purchase equity stake in the company because they believe the company will be valuable down the road. Page views (and more so user signups/engagement) are one metric by which investors make the decision to invest capital.

Guys, this is what modern capitalism is all about.

Sure, and I bet you buy your food with stock options.

Unless you're one of the many Instagram-like startups that have higher burn than revenue and still get paid handsomely.

Or no revenue at all, in the case of Instagram.

Many technical people are uncomfortable with business because it's too organic. It would be really nice if X amount of effort guaranteed Y amount of dollars, but that's only somewhat predictable some of the time.

There's also that whole marketing thing (which I understand the need for, but will never understand the thing itself) that can drive tech people batshit.

there is a big difference between bootstrapping a business and going for VC as a start up.

It's great to be either but please dont ridicule one or the other because you prefer one type yourself.

ps. I have a bootstrapped business like you talked about so I know what you mean. It is weird to hear from my friends that work at funded start ups about the crazy money being spent. But we need to realise they have to build scale extremely fast.

I am a co-founder and when I bootstrapped my company we made a pact to make sure the startup had to support its own weight. It had to pay its own bills. It had to grow its own customer base. It was a person.

Everything we did, everything we made, everything we said, everything we coded, made the startup stand on its own feet. Granted, things change after series A but I say this because if you find yourself using your own credit cards, your own savings, then you need to think different.

Where did you get the money from to start it? No-one's going to buy anything from a startup that does nothing, and doing anything means at a minimum some labour (and usually buying some stuff as well). Unless you're very well-connected, if you're not investing yourself why would anyone else do so? If you happen to be wealthy already then great (I suspect most successful startups are founded by children of rich families), but if not your choices are either spend time acquiring money to put into it, or use the money/credit you have.

One of the best decisions I ever made was to admit failure early when I saw it coming. It wasn't ambiguous or one of those "if I try hard enough, I can turn this ship around" situations. It was clear that my idea, project, marketing efforts -- all of it -- was essentially going down the tubes. The cash in my savings account burnt off like fog on the Golden Gate. These are standard pressures, but there were some systemic things that keyed me off to how clearly it had failed.

For one, my heart wasn't in it. It was like I had spent months crafting an idea that I thought an audience of customers would receive happily - only to realize I wouldn't use it or care about it myself. It also had become a business proposition I couldn't succeed at myself. I needed more help than ever.

So I packed up my stuff and killed it. It was painful, but I am glad I had the ability to see the truth before getting so bad as to be like the scene painted in this post. That said, it's not always obvious like it was in my case; I have tremendous respect for folks that go through this and fight to the bitter end.

Had the same experience. Feel the same way.

If it's not working but there's a chance you could make it something valuable, give it another go.

If it's not going to work and you know it's not going to work, it's time to shut it down and move on.

(edited for clarity)

"It was over now. Two years of work and dreams replaced by a landing page."

Two years...that's it?

Developing tech products is an exercise in walking away. The vast majority of code written is a total https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_mandala no longer in regular use by anyone within a few years. It used to be said that most software projects were canceled due to overruns before completion.

"Even the t-shirts had been given away."

Serious question...what else was anyone going to do with them?

"8 IKEA desks = $1,200, 8 Aeron chairs (used) = $4,000"

I don't think I've ever written a line of code while sitting at a $150 desk in a $500 (used) chair.

"Nobody ever told him the hockey stick of user growth might look more like a baseball bat laying in an empty field."

B. S.

This piece is weird. I don't get it.

It's interesting to think about what can happen after the collapse of a startup, particularly when we tend to give so much of ourselves to the process. I think it's inherently a regenerative process, though. A company may disappear but the lessons stick with you. I'd guess it's not easier but perhaps more familiar the next go around. That's comforting.

One lesson that can be learned is to give less of yourself to a startup until they prove their worth, and that they're worth it.

The argument could be made that giving as much of yourself as possible is a crucial ingredient to making the startup worth it. After all if you are holding back the product and business isn't building itself.

Of course it probably isn't healthy to make a business the center of your life, but people who do will likely have a higher chance of success in that business because they are willing to put forth a lot more effort to keep it going than someone who isn't as committed, and therefore not as concerned if the business fails.

Of course it probably isn't healthy to make a business the center of your life

If you don't, though, you will likely be outcompeted by those who do.

It's a simple, obvious truth, not a value judgement.

Are you really being outcompeted if the startup winds up going basically nowhere and you've put a year or two of huge time and opportunity costs into a failure? What if startups weren't worth it unless they were well-run enough to require very few hours over 40 from its employees?

What if startups weren't worth it unless they were well-run enough to require very few hours over 40 from its employees

Are we talking about employees, or founders?

I'm talking about well-run startups.

Oh, OK. I guess I haven't known any of those.

It's a falsehood that appears intuitively obvious. Working stupid hours destroys not only your productivity and personal life but also your judgment, to the extent that you lose the ability to judge your degree of cognitive impairment. It's like coming into work blind drunk: not only are you a liability to yourself and others but you don't realize how much of a liability you are. You may well end up being outcompeted by someone who put in forty hours a week of smart, correctly applied work.

I didn't say anything about "working stupid hours," did I? However:

You may well end up being outcompeted by someone who put in forty hours a week of smart, correctly applied work.

Let me know when that actually happens.

I guarantee you that people who avoid working hard at their startups will never have any success that tempts them to work harder.

It depends. There's working 'hard' (maximum hours, maximum effort, maximum stress, etc.) and there's working smart.

There's no point working hard if you're not working smart; if your priorities are wrong, you're trying to do too much, or ultimately, you're pouring your heart and soul into a business that just isn't viable.

By "hard," do you mean 80hrs a week for half-price?

A company may disappear but the lessons stick with you.

That's what I think a lot of people miss. Most young professionals lose tens of thousands of dollars and spend several of the most productive years of their lives learning these lessons. Except they refer to the experience as "college," not "entrepreneurship."

Either way, education costs money, and the only question we all have to ask ourselves is, how much do we want to learn? We go to "school," then we graduate and move on.

Hopefully this is a fictional account of at least the emotions felt by the subject, Mr. "CEO."

If you're going to be in business, I suggest throw out your hockey sticks, pivots, titles, and other nomenclature associated with any romantic fiction you think you're embarking upon. All business is about profit - the "math." Most often that means selling something that costs you less to acquire/produce. Sometimes for a savvy few, that means the business itself is the product.

If you generate substantial profit, you'll be a hero who can do no wrong, with admirers in proportion. If instead you run out of money, you quietly close up shop and start over or take a real job for a while.

If you're really cut out for business you have to be thick-skinned and rational. Any emotional attachment you have to the business will likely just impair your judgement and cause you to miss opportunity or worse take you down with it someday.

I've experienced my own version of this once before, where I lost a girlfriend (and distanced myself from friends and family) but ultimately it didn't work out.

My advice is to remember that it's a marathon, not a sprint. Unless you nurture and protect the important relationships around you you will burn out and the recovery from failure if it comes will be that much longer. If you are 22 or 23 a girlfriend may be less important, but remember to invest time in seeing your friends (non-company!) and family. Prioritize time as a concrete thing that will keep you refreshed and energized over the long haul.

This is EXACTLY how I felt with my first start-up Free.TV It took me years to get over the failure and actually learn from it. But while I am more wise now in my new startups, it makes me realize maybe they may not be as a "big Idea" or that perhaps I am now too cautious and so may not be as successful. Thank you for putting my feelings in such a clear story.

The comments criticizing the protagonist are somewhat churlish. If someone shares painful emotions with the a comment like "how could they know my pain," he is demonstrating that he has some awareness that his emotions include self pity, that his feelings are subjective. Generally, in the the US anyway, people know that sharing such feelings is not cool. (People start with snarky comments along the lines of "call the waaahbmulance")

The author is trying to buck the huge social pressure against admitting such feelings. Therefore, to ridicule such a person is re-enforcing the paradigms which drive the feelings in the first place.

On a personal note, I have never been comforted in times of unhappiness to have it pointed out that many people have it far worse. I guess if you are someone who derives a sense of well being based on how well you are doing relative to others, being reminded of how much better off you than the hordes of wretched who walk this earth could give you some happiness.

>> When he started the company, he had a girlfriend. She was a sweet girl, who actually got his Isaac Asimov references.

What have you done!?

The ending is wrong. The former CEO should not just sulk in darkness. He should be consumed with terror and overwhelming anxiety as he sinks with his gutted office into to the sulphurous underworld, while low-level demon-bureaucrats from Hades emerge from the pit to jab at him with their pitchforks.

Haha geeze, the crowd here is brutal. I don't think the writer is saying that he has the objectively worst life, and everyone should feel bad for him. It's just a microcosm of the human experience. This article is showing that, even in our prosperous country, a relatively successful person can feel the same pain of failure and rejection that everyone feels at some point. The rich and poor all struggle to find out who they are and what their place in life is.

This isn't a contest of who suffered the most. Even though dying is common, it doesn't mean a death is trivial. Personal experiences should be able to be shared without marginalization.

While this story is sad I think it is super important for YC. This page is usually crowded with stories and posts of people telling you how they made it and what you can do to be super successful yourself. Stories like this one serve the important purpose of unskewing our views on how easy it is to start a company and get rich. There are reasons why people like 9-5 jobs at big companies (first and foremost probably safety) and it is important not to lose track of them reading all those "you just need to write everything on pink flashcards and your startup is going to make millions next week" stories. :)

Boo hoo. This is emo nonsense. Life is a brutal war for survival you are going to get severely beaten down a few dozen times before you ever make it to the top. 1% of 1% have an easy route to the top. The rest take it on the chin a few times, spit out their teeth, and keep throwing punches.

You seriously can't let that much negativity into your own life. Your business failed? Cool. That same day, 30,000 kids starved to death in Africa. You learned a lot about running a business and discovered that your specific idea didn't work out.

Move on and find a new adventure. Live in the windshield, not the rear view mirror.

I am not an entrepreneur in the HN-sense, so i may just be naive but... Why do you have to shut down you web company once you run out of money? I mesn, can't you just lay off the employees, close the office, take the servers to your basement, get a 'real' job and turn your startup into a hobby?

I mean, the only really necessary expense there is to running a wep-app or whatever, is the electrical bill, right? I assume you've build something in those two years, why flush it away?

Honest question, hope to learn more about the nuances of being a founder!

Two bizarre comments on that page. One is (paraphrasing) "we don't do maudlin stuff like this -- that's for people across the pond" and the other "here in the US we don't go to debtors' prison".

From this end of the pond, I would've guessed that Europeans were the jaded cynical ones and USians the heart-on-sleeve maudlin primary-colour-emotions ones. If I had to choose, that is. And startup founders don't go to prison here either.

There's a way to read this piece that's neither "suffering entrepreneur" nor "first world privilege".

Pouring all one's hopes and years of effort into a startup is certainly an emotional rollercoaster. If you are the last one out to turn out the lights, it's going to be a poignant moment.

If that happened to me, I'd probably consider writing a blog post about it too. But we don't have to react to it as if it means anything deeper than that.

A sad story, but if you start by getting 4000$ of chairs you are doing something wrong, no wonder your expenses were bigger than the revenues.

The cost of buying eight chairs is negligible compared to the other costs associated with hiring eight people. It may be that the company's expenses were too high, but if so, they needed to be cut by hiring fewer people. Buying cheaper chairs is a piss-poor way to save money.

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." ~ Socrates

This reminds me strongly of the original dot-com boom/bust around 2000. Working at a venture-funded startup with flashy launch parties, huge payroll and sprawling office space on Park Avenue. We knew it wouldn't last, so we enjoyed the moment while we could.

> Someone with dreams untainted by failure.

This sentiment is frustrating to hear because of it's misconception about what success is.

Those who have never faced failure are not good, they are just lucky. Replicable success requires contact with failure.

Great piece. What is important to know is that it is not over. I hope there will be a part 2 somewhere in the future - telling of the comeback!

Loved this piece, I haven't been in that position, but I could feel the pain.

First World Problems...

nowhere to go but up.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact