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Autopsy: Lessons from Failed Startups (autopsy.io)
493 points by tilt on June 5, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 186 comments



Startup success is mostly random. I'm reminded of a quote from SMBC [1] that I've always liked:

"Doubt kills more dreams than failure...but Random Chance is like, Grim Reaper for dreams."

Success in startups (and life in general) is not the linear function that most of us want it to be. It isn't related in direct proportion to the amount of effort, intelligence, work, time, love, energy, etc that's invested. It's more of a logarithmic function. There is a minimum amount of effort and those other things that must be put in to have any chance of success. But after that the returns diminish rapidly. It's comforting to think that if we just try harder or smarter we can triumph in the end. But the fickle winds of fate have the ultimate say, and any sense of control is probably an illusion.

Saying that a company failed due to lack of product-market fit is like saying that a sports team lost due to not scoring enough points. It's always a true statement, but it doesn't illuminate the cause of the failure in a way that would be instructive to others. Most startups that were successful enough to be included on this list probably did 80% of things "right". Some times "it just didn't work out" is all that you'll be able to say.

Despite all that, I think there is a lot of value in these autopsies. Being able to learn something, anything, from the experience of others is very valuable. Knowing more about what causes failure won't guarantee success, but it sure as hell beats knowing nothing.

[1] http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3506


It may be true that "startup" success is mostly random in the YC/modern Valley-VC culture of throwing a fistful of darts at the board and hoping that at least a few stick.

Business success, however, is not mostly random.


This is why when you only have one life that you should put all your efforts into what the VCs disparagingly call a "life-style" business rather than be one of their random darts. It doesn't matter to them if you end up as one of the darts on the floor, but it will matter greatly to you.


Can you please explain the difference between business success and start up success?


"Startup" implies venture capital, which means the founders' early understanding of the business is going to be amplified by an infusion of cash, with the expectation of rapid growth.

Business success can occur slowly, perhaps growing 5-10% every year (or maybe not even growing at all, and just remaining profitable).

I think of it like golf: bootstrapped businesses are like trying to use a putter to get the ball from the tee all the way to the hole. It's probably going to take you a long time, but if you pay attention you have a good chance of eventually succeeding. VC is like a big driver club, so you can get the ball to the hole faster but if you make a bad shot then you're screwed.


Possibly it's that business success means building a profitable business, while startup success means positive exit.


I covered my thoughts on the difference between startup founders and entrepreneurs in this article, if you're curious... http://swombat.com/2013/6/4/startup-founders-vs-entrepreneur...


This.


One thought on this...

If startup success is mostly random then how can someone like Elon Musk create startup-after-startup shooting for a goal against-all-odds, but always come out on top?

Does he define the "mostly" in the argument?


The thing is, once you've had a success, you now have enough money to buy your way over certain hurdles or attack industries that can't be tackled with $5 VPS and a MacBook Air. Plus VCs are 10x more likely to give you their money.

Could Elon have started Tesla if he didn't previously make $165M from PayPal? I say "unlikely". Could he have started X.com/PayPal if he didn't make $22M from Zip2? I don't know. Was Zip2's success partly due to luck? I don't know but I'm sure it played a part.


He didn't start Tesla.


Sure he did. He just wasn't CEO when he (and the four other founders) started it.


Elon Musk wasn't involved with the founding of Tesla. From http://marketbusinessnews.com/tesla-motors/12064:

In July, 2003, Tesla Motors was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning (who both initially financed the company).

A year later Elon Musk invested in the company and became Chairman. Musk made Tesla’s long-term vision to produce affordable electric vehicles available for the public.


IIRC there was quite a fight between Martin and Elon for control of the company, it wasn't pretty

Which brings me to a point regarding this article: I don't want to be a dick but most startup postmortems don't tell the truth. Besides that most founders fail to realize exactly where they failed the fact is that the startup environment itself isn't transparent at all.

On that last point: a year ago I was talking to a friend who just closed his startup and he gave the typical "not enough traction/not enough funding" explanation they should be selling as hallmark cards already. Last month I bump into him after a meetup and the story was quite different: his startup was unfortunately used as filler along many others by a group of investors who needed to put a show because they were using government funds to finance these companies. All the participant startups got some seed money but at the end of the day all the full amount of funding was given to one single company with no employees a half-baked product that failed to launch and founded by none other than the younger brother of one of the investors who then moved his entire operation to singapore, and then nothing.

There are tons of stories like that, and founders can't say anything because when something like this happens and in the heat of the moment its most likely they would look like sore losers and the last thing they need at that point is to scare away other potential investors by looking like a rogue founder.

My point is that we rarely if ever get the whole story.


I'm surprised the GAO doesn't have a whistleblower program for that kind of dramatic misuse of funds.


Flip a coin enough times and you'll get a run of all heads that is arbitrarily long. Doesn't change the fact that nothing but randomness is at work.

Musk works hard, no doubt. But that is a necessary, not a sufficent, condition for success. Many people have worked just as hard as Musk and failed. Furthermore, successful people who start second businesses tend to fail slightly more often than first-timers, which is hard to understand if you believe business success is a learnable skill.

So I don't think Musk is a counter-example to the OP's point, but rather a predictable consequence. In a world were 95% of startups fail and tens of thousands of people start companies, you'd expect the odd one to have multiple successes.

Again: this does not mean that Musk isn't incredibly smart, hard-working and most of all courageous. It means he's all of that, and lucky as well.

Every successful entrepreneur is going to be hard working etc, but that says nothing about all the hard working entrepreneurs who aren't successful (I'm belabouring this point because in this kind of discussion one often sees "All the successful people I know are hard-working" as if that had anything at all to do with the claim "All hardworking people are successful."


This implies that all work is equal. If two entrepreneurs both work 80-hours weeks and only one is successful, I don't chalk up his success to luck, I ask what did he do during those 80-hours that the other entrepreneur did not.


if 100 people do random things, and 99 fail while 1 succeeds through sheer luck, do you repeat the same random things they did?

Survivor bias is a huge problem in learning from case studies. A particular tactic may work well through a particular combination of market, environment, team and timing. That doesn't mean it's a good tactic for your particular situation.

You absolutely have to study and learn from the failures as well as the successes.


Elon was nearly illiquid for moments when spaceX and tesla were struggling. I think the fact that both companies were at the brink suggests that the struggles are very real to him as well.


was he really? is there any third party data to back up his assertion?

He may have been extended, but that doesn't mean he was almost in the poorhouse.

Billionaires getting ruined doesn't happen any more.


It's actually pretty well documented that if the companies failed (and both almost did, by almost I mean within weeks of failing), Elon would have been ruined. At the point where he invested in Tesla and SpaceX, he wasn't actually billionaire, and his companies certainly were not liquid. The one out Elon had was having Google buy Tesla (which almost did happen). A few sources:

1. http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2010/06/22/sorkin-elon-musk-of-p...

2. http://www.carbonated.tv/technology/spacex-founder-and-tesla...


"In the meantime, at SpaceX, Musk and top executives had spent most of December in a state of fear, but on Dec. 23, 2008, SpaceX received a wonderful shock. The company won a $1.6 billion contract for 12 NASA resupply flights to the space station. Then the Tesla deal ended up closing successfully, on Christmas Eve, hours before Tesla would have gone bankrupt. Musk had just a few hundred thousand dollars left and could not have made payroll the next day."



Start-up success is likely a random, but not independent, event. If you had success with your first start-up, I'd be willing to bet that the capital you now have plus the contacts you made will increase your likelihood of being successful in your second one, etc.


In a random environment, there will be repeat winners produced merely by chance. See http://www.amazon.com/Fooled-Randomness-Hidden-Markets-Incer...


If you look at a sample of people who started companies and find a few repeat winners, you probably will have found repeat winners produced by chance. But if you look at a repeat winner who keeps producing wins after you've started watching them, the same argument doesn't apply -- odds are overwhelmingly against the hypothesis that they continue winning randomly.


> But if you look at a repeat winner who keeps producing wins after you've started watching them, the same argument doesn't apply.

I don't follow - would you elaborate?


If X happens to 1 in 100 people, then there's a very high chance (~1) that X happens to 1 of the 100 people, but a much smaller (~1/100) chance that it will happen to person #56, for example.

The parent post is saying that "starting to watch someone" constitutes naming the #56.


His first one zip2 was mostly luck. After that, he had massive amounts of capital and connections which greatly enhanced his chances for future success. The snowball effect.


First time work, intelligence, instinct ... and of course luck.

Second time replace luck with publicity. Same reason why Paris Hilton has success selling parfume.


A lot of what Musk is doing now is deeply dependent on government support. And if you look at all the tech giants you'll see a kernel of government subsidy from the outset. Oracle. Sun. Google. Many others got their start with a government "in". It's the open secret of capitalism: states create markets. Markets require states.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/10/tesla-motors-fre...


This is almost a non-sensical statement as the state injects itself into every market and is by definition unavoidable. You could argue that the state subsidized Uber by handing a monopoly to the taxi industry, who's complacency created an opportunity for improvement. Doesn't mean government support is by any means required or necessary.


States are required in markets (as we understand them) fundamentally for protection over the transaction. History shows if you remove the state you end up with inter tribal economies where arbitrary homicide is a "valid" outcome of exchange (organized crime is a good predictor here). Not sure what you're advocating exactly though, so you could be right on different terms.


>A lot of what Musk is doing now is deeply dependent on government support.

That's in the nature of car manufacturing. If one government starts subsidizing a high capex industry, others have to follow suit or throw up trade barriers or their industries will drop off a cliff.

This has been going on since at least the 50s when Japan threw monumental sums of cash at its (at the time), pathetic and failing car industry.

Aerospace is similar. Best of luck trying to create a competitor to Boeing or Airbus unless you have the backing of the Chinese state. No amount of magic pixie startup fairy dust is going to get you there.


For consumer, yes luck is important, for enterprise not as much. Generally in enterprise if you work hard, are deeply talented, and know your particular vertical / market really well you'll at the very least get an acquisition / acquihire.


Not that I necessarily disagree - but conversely it's just as comforting to think effort past a certain threshold is not worth it.


The human angle behind these stories transcends way beyond the business one. Its uncanny how these two founders articulated about the pain in almost the same way as each other:

99Dresses - Nikki Durkin:

Many startup folk say that failure should be celebrated. “Fail fast, fail early, fail often!” they all chant, trying to put a positive spin on the most excruciating pain any founder could experience..Let me tell you — failure fucking sucks..I travelled to my parent’s place in the countryside of Australia, locked myself away in my room and cried for what seemed like an entire week.

Critica - Jason Huertas:

You’ll hear the phrase “Fail fast” or “It’s good to fail”. Which is true. You can’t learn without failing. But what they don’t tell you is just how utterly devastating failure actually is for an entrepreneur. To sacrifice your personal relationships, finances, and health to the dream, and to still come up short. How could this happen to me? It was a very frustrating and dark place to be in.

The case of 99Dresses was an eye opener. I would beg to differ with the general sentiment in the comment section here about how co-founders lacked sense of product market fit etc.

Nikki Durkin had oodles of determination, immense grit, was a YCombinator alumni, had great product-market fit, managed decent seed funding, had good traction which many startup can only aspire to in the initial days, a team who were behind her most of the time, still..

All things being equal (actually the case showed even if they are not) fate, right-time-right-place is a factor which nobody can control, and which has decisive play in the scheme of things.

I can only wish good luck to Nikki Durkin, and I’m 100% sure that she would come out with something amazing in future.


Two things:

1) Learn to live with failure. Most of these folks sound pretty privileged, as if they never got smacked in the face with reality or had to deal with failure. Sometimes that's what happens when one is a young superstar, the odds were in their favor until it wasn't. The rest of us just learned to deal with disappointment and overcoming.

2) The real secret about success is that it's random. It's not even about luck or hard work, success is simply random. Luck is just a lottery scratcher and hard work lets you get more tickets to scratch but hard work, product fit, traction blah blah don't guarantee success. Because again, success is random. Thinking otherwise will drive you crazy trying to analyze why bad things happen to good people and good things happens to bad people. Determination is the only trait that finds success, because you just keep trying until you die. Which then calls back to my first point: learn to live with failure. It's good for you. Each subsequent time you need to cry less.


It can be. You can be lucky to meet the right co-founders. You can be lucky to have the right idea at the right time. You can be lucky in the sense that working on your current mediocre startup allowed you to luckily come upon a problem or idea that is even bigger. There is and always will be an element of luck to success. What it comes down to though is nurturing an environment where that luck is more likely to happen than not.


Learn to live with failure. Most of these folks sound pretty privileged, as if they never got smacked in the face with reality or had to deal with failure. Sometimes that's what happens when one is a young superstar, the odds were in their favor until it wasn't.

I disagree. Never learn to live with failure. Failure should be painful, and should be proportional to what you put into trying to succeed. Doing a startup should be toward the top of the list of things you should feel really bad about failing at (after failing as a parent, spouse, child). You should pour everything you have into the startup. If you do anything less then you probably deserve to fail (although you may still succeed).

If you can do a startup, fail, and then say, "no biggie, on to the next", then you're probably not someone that I would bet on.

That said, after a week of crying (and probably months prior to that of anxiety), you should be able to bounce back. Incorporate all that you learned into your next try.


Using pain as a motivation is what a monk does behind closed doors whipping himself to get to god. I offer satisfaction as the better non-masochistic alternative.

And in your scenario only a child plays that game. Because they don't know any better and at that stage it's entirely based only randomness. Today's Disney super star is tomorrow's old news.

There's also some kind of weird perversion of only wanting to place bets on those so intense that they tilt to suicide from the anxiety and shame.

Adults know better and as it turns out after adulting for awhile and living in reality only then does entrepreneurship really take shape.


It's not based on randomness. You can't field a random group of 12 men and win the NBA Championship or 53 for the Super Bowl. As composed as Russell Wilson was, he didn't immediately forget about the game.

That's the difference between those that make it and those that don't.

I'd be curious if there are virtually any successful founders (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Jerry Yang, etc) who would have been completely indifferent if they failed. I suspect that is not highly correlated with those that succeed.

And I think Floyd Mayweather would offer that failure is bad for you. You can learn as many lessons from winning/succeeding as losing/failing. Or as an ex-coach used to say, "losing teaches a lot of lessons -- most importantly, that you need to figure out how to win"


Business success is nothing like winning a sporting championship. Sports are specifically constructed to let talent and skill shine through and impress the audience. Business is practically the opposite of that.

You don't know all the skills you need in advance.

You don't have thousands of hours of live and taped competition directly between the best in the world to study.

Progress towards those skills and a championship/success isn't directly measurable.

The ground may shift out from under you overnight (few pro sports rule changes have caused players or teams to go bust or lose all hope of winning... compare that to any widely-felt economic event).

The environment facing an entrepreneur is far, far more chaotic, which is why a first-time founder without deep personal reserves is going to be far more at the mercy of luck than Lebron James or Russell Wilson.

(And even then, there are fierce debates over the role of luck when it comes to individual's career accomplishments. Drop Lebron onto MJ's Bulls, and how many titles does he win? Drop MJ onto the mid-2000's Cavs, and how many does he win?)

(Edit for fixing inconsistency between which directions I was making the comparison in.)


While I understand your point that business is fraught with unknowns, and sports is a regimented as it may be I wouldn't say the Duke of Wellington was all wrong about the playing fields of Eton. We watch professional sports as entertainment. We embrace and participate in competitive sports at all levels because they act as a microcosm of the real world, an artificial conflict in which we practice our virtues.


Your model of "randomness" is unrelated to the argument that is being made here. No one--absolutely no one--is saying anything to suggest that a random selection of people could win an NBA championship. They are saying that randomness has an important role to play in the creation of a winning team, along with talent and hard work.

Given that the world is full of talented people who are working hard--and it is--the difference between those who make it and those who don't is very often due to luck. Persistence and courage are two things that really do make a difference because they give luck the most time and largest field on which to operate, but nothing can eliminate luck entirely.

Almost everyone who succeeds is talented and works hard. That is completely unrelated to the claim that everyone who is talented and works hard succeeds. The belief that winners and losers are separated primarily by talent and effort is not very plausible, given the number of "near misses" in the world: people who make it most of the way to success and get derailed by one bad choice (which was not an obviously bad choice at the time) or some other piece of bad luck.


The real secret about success is that it's random. It's not even about luck or hard work, success is simply random.

That's the line I was responding to. This seems directly opposed to what you said, "They are saying that randomness has an important role to play in the creation of a winning team, along with talent and hard work."

I will grant you that randomness plays a role. But success in NOT "simply random".


Someone right now paid one ticket and won the lotto.

Someone right now said hello once and met their significant other they're marrying.

Someone right now submitted their resume once and got the job of their dreams.

Someone right now has interviewed ten times and only got one rejection letter.

Someone right now had paid for a hundred thousand tickets and never won a thing.

Someone right now has said hello a million times and still hasn't found their romantic love.

You and I are somewhere in between those two extremes.

It is random and chaotic.

There are times good things happen to bad people and sometimes bad things happen to good people.

This isn't to say you shouldn't go full nihilistic, don't work hard, don't be kind, don't be compassionate, but the unwavering belief that hard work and fearing failure is the only salvation will drive you crazy pointlessly when you still don't get what you want.

Expecting results and not getting it in spite of your hard work will make you bitter, jealous and negative.

The pursuit for success will make you a monster and in turn distance you from others.

And in the end you might just get hit by a bus randomly walking down a street.


"Fortune favors the prepared mind."

It's the middle way between everything being planning and everything being luck.


Someone right now paid one ticket and won the lotto.

That's mostly randomness.

Someone right now said hello once and met their significant other they're marrying.

Someone right now submitted their resume once and got the job of their dreams.

Someone right now has interviewed ten times and only got one rejection letter.

These probably mostly are not random.

Someone right now had paid for a hundred thousand tickets and never won a thing.

Mostly random.

Someone right now has said hello a million times and still hasn't found their romantic love.

Mostly not.

There are times good things happen to bad people and sometimes bad things happen to good people.

This implies things are mostly non-random. Unless you're saying that good/bad things happen with equal randomness to all people.

This isn't to say you shouldn't go full nihilistic, don't work hard, don't be kind, don't be compassionate

I think you are saying that doing all of that won't impact if you're a success though.

but the unwavering belief that hard work is the only salvation

No one said that.

Expecting results and not getting it in spite of your hard work will make you bitter, jealous and negative.

Why do the work if you don't expect an increased likelihood of the result? Why try to dig a hole if I believe that it's just as likely that the hole randomly appears in the spot that I want? Of course, I have a feeling that the hard work of digging the hole increases the odds of there being a hole in the ground. But that's just me in my crazy world where not everything is simply random.

The pursuit for success will make you a monster and in turn distance you from others.

Really? It seems like I've seen the exact opposite in my life. Friends I know who have given up on any ambition at all have distanced themselves from others (and largely fallen heavily onto drugs).

And in the end you might just get hit by a bus randomly walking down a street.

I think I'm more likely to get hit by a bus if I don't try to watch where I'm going. That is, succeeding in crossing the street is something I try to do. Failing to do so and getting hit by a bus may cause me to cry and feel pain. Obviously for you failing in this manner is no big deal.


The problem with this view is that fear of failure is a strong demotivator for many people. Want to avoid failure? Never do anything interesting.

It's a mistake to think that fear of failure is the only or even the best motivator, and I would be extremely leary of betting on anyone who was primarily motivated by fear of failure. I want to back someone who desires success above all else, not who fears failure. They are quite different things.


I never said you should be motivated by fear. In fact I'd argue that being motivated to succeed leads to exactly the same thing I describe -- failure being painful.

It's not about being motivated by fear. It's about not being indifferent to success or failure. If you show me someone who doesn't care if they succeed or fail, I'll show you someone who probably will fail a million times or more -- then die.


> The real secret about success is that it's random Really? Why do corporations pay top dollar for good CEO's? Are they foolish to?

Would you claim that hunting and fishing are also pure luck? Doesn't the hunter's skill and knowledge come into play?


It does require luck, but I don't agree that it is random. A sports analogy make work here. Is it random that the Cavs and Warriors made it to the NBA finals? No! Did they both require some luck to get there? Absolutely!


Sure, the two teams played out a tournament to get to the finals. That required lots of skills, talent, hard work.

But are you saying that the teams that didn't make it the finals just didn't want it bad enough? Worked hard enough? Were talented enough? Or lucky enough?

Maybe you can look at it as it's pretty random how the players on the respective teams ended up there compared to hundreds of thousands of potentials drawn from the NCAA.

Because one wrong twist of your ankle, one indulgence of a pizza from a commercial entity, one bad grade, and you could easily be on a different path.


Maybe once you get to the top 4 teams you could argue it's random, but the Knicks for example did not have enough talent this year to even make the playoffs. Random would imply that any team could win, but that's simply not true. The 7 game format also helps to remove luck from the equation. Luck still matters, but getting lucky over and over to win 4/7 games means better talent likely won.


> Luck is just a lottery scratcher and hard work lets you get more tickets to scratch

I couldn't agree more and I tell a less elegant version of it to people myself.


I reason that the hard part was failing in spite of all those great things that she had managed to accomplish. That is super tough. She overcame many obstacles that, in her understanding, would bring her closer to the goal. In the end, the core of the business was not sound. Is it her fault? I don't think so. Its nobody's fault. A business is more of an experiment than anything. She may have felt that way because it was a very public failure and she was the face of the business. Which is a mistake in my opinion. Don't become the face of your business. Let the product take center stage. You should be the person behind the curtains making things happen, but never in the spotlight. If the product fails, all you have to do is find another product. No shame to deal with.

I learned this from my first business failure. I was being the center of attention and loving it. But when it failed, I was crushed. Took me a while to understand that a business is merely a system that works around selling a product. Its not me. This has allowed me to build and sell products that fail without feeling shame or pain. Its just a product. It failed. Let's move on to the next.


I understand your position, I have been the face and failed. Failure sucks. Also when your name is on the business, you can't say "I have to check with the boss" as every customers knows that you are that boss.

I think though that Virgin group of companies would be less successful and well known if Richard Branson was not such a face for all the companies. Steve Jobs persona was a factor in Apple, as is Elon Musk's persona is helpful to Tesla and SpaceX.

At best it is a double edge sword, good and bad all in one. I am sure Nikki Durkin will rise again.


Well put. It's not black or white, but a sea of grey. I will be emailing you to talk about automation. We share the same interest. :)


"Fail young" would be better way to phrase it. You can learn a lot and bounce back if you fail in your 20s.


Can we vote on which ones accurately assess their failings and which ones still harbor serious delusions about them?


I am 100% serious, by the way. People have the most ridiculous ideas about why things failed and how it will totally work next time. If they just follow these ego-comforting steps that don't even begin to address the problem.

My top at-a-glance eye-roller says "technical co-founder quit & pulled the code out from under me".

So completely neglectful of basic business structuring that the tech co-founder could just walk away with the code, to which you don't have copyright claim? If a non-technical co-founder can't even bring responsible management to the table, why are they at the table?

Article goes on to suggest that if the non-technical co-founder had learned to code so as to not feel so helpless, things would have gone better. Just wow.


At a startup (before traction, employees, etc.), you are pretty much doomed if your technical cofounder quits even if you've structured the company with vesting, ownership of IP, etc. All the domain knowledge, architectural knowledge, etc. goes out the window when the person who wrote all the code leaves. It's very hard to drop someone else into an unfamiliar codebase and have them pick up where the original person left off, and you probably would've made many different decisions (about product, platform, languages, architecture) with a different team.

The real fail there is poor relationship management. Why did the cofounder quit? What was running through their head? Did they not really want to commit to a startup in the first place, in which case the business founder should've vetted them more thoroughly before starting the company? Or did they lose trust in the business founder's leadership, market knowledge, and integrity? Were their incentives never aligned to begin with?


Maybe the tech cofounder quit because you're a clueless asshole? Blaming your failure on the guy you drove away, I think that's what he's complaining about as delusional.


> It's very hard to drop someone else into an unfamiliar codebase and have them pick up where the original person left off,

Eh, this is what every new employee at an established company does.

And when a startup has a "technical cofounder", that usually means the "tech" is a CRUD website, as opposed to a novel invention being productized (in which case it would be a technical founder or technical founder pair.


I've been involved in a start-up where the technical co-founder did some pretty bad stuff and ended up leaving the company. They survived, but it wasn't pretty.


Heh, yeah I would advise if you're the "find funding" type of serial entrepreneur to think long and hard about what you write there. It may come back to bite you.


It is also true of those who do have well reasoned arguments as to why they failed. They could be totally wrong, there are just so many internal and external factors that influence a business.


Yeah, but is a vote-system going to be better?


agreed


Since the list of self-performed autopsies is short, it might be nice if you could invert the premise — allow a community to choose from preset tags why a startup failed (even if inexact, would make it handy to look for examples of the kind of failure you want to study), and add discussion. That might provide a hook to invite the founders to write their story, then.


If we make such a list, it would help us overcome the Survivorship Bias.


We could make such a list, but I think the list all by itself will cause many people aware of the list and attempting to do a start-up a kind of 'All I have to do is avoid these 300 things and I'll be fine' checklist.

When in fact the real reasons why start-ups fail are often complex interplays between the various factors rather than just one single factor, and only a few of those are under direct control of the founders.


Sure, but it's a seed for discussion. Add a few tags for discoverability and loose correlation, then let the nuance come out in a conversation. We discuss Apple, Google, Microsoft's moves ad nauseum — it'd be great to apply some of that energy to companies operating at a scale closer to ourselves.


This is a great idea. It may also be good to provide others the ability to chime in with reasons not explored in the "full story".


Agreed. This is the start of something brilliant. Voting on utility of story would be great.


I have this intentionally mixed metaphore: hindsight is 50/50.


really like this idea, we'll take a look at implementing this.


Phrased that way, it sounds more like kicking people while they're down than constructive critique. Maybe a more constructive way of putting it might be to discuss the appropriate lessons to learn from each case?


Looking through the list, it seems to me like a good 90% of these (if not more) can be summarised as "lack of product-market fit", meaning that they blew their money on building something that nobody wants.

Anyone notice anything else standing out?


I've been working on my own version of this, "a business guy's take on 100 startup postmortems". The results (thus far) fall in line with what you're picking up. As I told a programmer friend recently, you don't see too many failed startups saying they just couldn't get the code right so they had to shut down. More often than not it's about product/market fit, growth/traction, and sales. (Another reason why aggressively code-focused startups typically irk me...while also presenting a great opportunity for guys like to me to make some money.)


I think Friendster was a case of the company failing because they couldn't get the code right. Same goes for all the search companies that lost out to Google.


I'm a bit tired of seeing "product-market fit" over simplified in posts such as yours. In reality, product market fit isn't black and white. Even when you build something that people want, you might not have product market fit. Even when you've built something that nobody wants right now, you may have still product market fit. And then there are a billion shades in between.

We should talk about nuances of why startups failed. Otherwise, "lack of product market fit" is just jargon for "we failed." Of course, we already know they failed. And since they are startups, they probably didn't fail with millions in revenue.


I think though that it's a good general term that distinguishes from the failure modes of: The technology never worked, founders/personal issues, priced incorrectly, ran out of money etc...

It tells you that they might have had a great team and great technology but had no clue how to sell it. Selling being something that the technology crowd loves to hate (myself included) it really drives home that marketing really does matter.


I think though that it's a good general term that distinguishes from the failure modes of: [...] priced incorrectly, ran out of money etc...

I'm not sure it makes sense to separate a concept like product-market fit from a concept like "correct" pricing. Changing the price point significantly may dramatically affect the market you're aiming at and the expectations of that market. Your product might have mass appeal but only as a casual/impulse purchase (typical mobile app). Your product might have only niche appeal but to the right market of people who appreciate it, it could be worth a fortune (original works by famous artists sometimes sell for more money than most of us will earn in a lifetime). To make things more challenging, it can also be relatively difficult to test different pricing levels.


Had the iPhone failed it would have fit perfectly in that category. In an alternate universe nobody wanted a huge display with no physical keyboard.

When you introduce new products or services the market may or may not buy them, it's very difficult to predict beforehand. If your product is disruptive enough the market won't even exist, so you'll have to create it. If you fail it will be easy to blame it on "lack of product-market fit" but that will just be obvious. What else did fail? Why weren't these products able to create market demand?


Its not that hard to predict though, and if you can't... either the idea might not be developed enough or you may need to grow slow until you get real feedback/sales

IMHO comparing some of these ideas to the iPhone is a copout. As a kid I watched Inspector Gadget and saw Penny's "computer book" and wanted one instantly. When I was older I watched Star Trek and they all had PADD (sp?) devices that were a large screen with no keyboard. iPhone wasn't a revolutionary new idea for which there was no demand... its just that Apple knew that the time was right and that they could technically pull it off. They certainly didn't just engineer the iPhone on a wing and a prayer hoping that they might figure out a business plan one day.


>iPhone wasn't a revolutionary new idea for which there was no demand... its just that Apple knew that the time was right and that they could technically pull it off. They certainly didn't just engineer the iPhone on a wing and a prayer hoping that they might figure out a business plan one day.

This also applies to Blackberry and Nokia, but they failed miserably. The reason why we don't see them on this list it's because they were well established companies, and they could afford failure. That's the main difference with a startup, you pull off a Maemo, a Newton or a Virtual Boy and that's it, you are done. And let's not forget about the ROKR E1. You make it look like the iPhone's success was a very predictable and obvious thing, but just take a look at the reviews from 2007.


Don't forget the HP IPAQ series and early Windows tablets. At the time the iPhone was released tablet anything was seen as dead by everyone except Bill Gates, who used a tablet at Microsoft, and Steve Jobs, who dreamed the idevices.


If Garmin had made the iPhone, I predict it would have failed. Anyone who has ever tried to enter an address into a Garmin GPS knows what I'm talking about. The iPhone keyboard actually worked well (as did the screen, browser, etc).


that's because the Garmin screen was resistive, not capacitive, and it was years before autocomplete tech.


> "focused on engineering first & customers second"

Not so much on this list, but one I've heard repeatedly for Bay Area startups.


I'm an engineer and I'm incredibly frustrated by this. There are so many companies for whom "running lean" means "be ready to pivot at any moment" instead of "find paying customers and build the thing they want how they want it".

I know there's a lot of grumbling on here when sales teams promise products that aren't built yet, but I'd rather build a product with an actual end-user case than a product with a hypothetical customer that no one may ever end up using. (It's also the reason I hate "stealth" startups -- your idea isn't unique, and if you think your competitive advantage is the element of surprise instead of implementation then you're in for a bad time.)

Any other engineers in the same boat?


sort of, except there's still a problem of building things people ask for vs building things paying customers ask for. And until you've got paying customers, everyone is a potential paying customer, and trying to discern what specifics to build to get the payments coming in... it's difficult. Not impossible, certainly, but it also gets very easy for people to dismiss good input from potential customers by saying it's not part of the "vision". There's a tough balance to strike there, and it's been compounded (imo) by half the founders out there thinking they're steve jobs, and focusing on their own vision of things above all else.

I'm heartened by this autopsy.io site, hoping it grows, as it can be a place where failure can be reviewed and lessons can be learned, directly from the horses' mouths, so to speak. Failure gets swept under the rug too much, and I think we're seeing a bit of shifting in that area, to start acknowledging it publicly.

I have met 2 of the founders in this list personally, and was a bit surprised by the stories - not entirely, there's nothing earth-shattering in the details - but still surprised to see the shutdowns.


I think that, boiled down, it down it's part of the same problem.

Lack of traction comes from poor focus on customers — whether that's marketing, feedback, or strategy. Without that pure focus on your paying customers you can't iterate and create a great product.


I see a few "we weren't in love with the idea or market", which I feel is bullshit.

You can hate lemonade, but can still make money selling it.


Yes you can, if your primary motivation is making money and having a successful 'business' (business type or market is irrelevant to people with that motivation). You can definitely be successful with that strategy. But for many, loving the idea, or 'passion', is requisite for the amount of time and hard work it will take to succeed.


You don't have to be in love with the idea or the market, but you have to be in love with something. Otherwise, you might as well just get a day job.


That is code for "wow, this is way more work than I thought it was going to be."


But why would you want to?

(FYI: I'm one of those listed as "we weren't in love with the idea/market")


To make money.


Some (most?) people care about other things than money.


That's a complete lie.

Most people spend most of their time working for somebody else, and most of them at the jobs they don't care for.

That's why when people win a lottery, the first thing they do is quit and do something they actually like - eat, travel, party, drive a nice car, sail, whatever. Almost none of them stay at their shitty job.


Hm. That argument seems to support the original line: they care about many things more than money. Once they have enough money, they turn to the things they care about. Before then, they were struggling to earn enough to accomplish any of the important things.


You're confusing the results of work with the results of spending the money that you make by work. Most people don't give a shit about their work and would stop working there the first chance they got. And of course people like the shit they can buy with the money.


So why do a risky thing like startup if you hate it?

I can understand that many people working for McDonalds hate their job, but it's no risky task, just quick money.


Absolutely, but your not going to put more than 8 hours a day into it. If that.


I've seen this all too often with co-founders I've had in the past (which didn't work out). They first love the idea and work on it with lots of passion.

As soon as they need to do the boring work (IE: 90% of the hard work involved in any business), interest is lost and they want to quit.

I call these people employees because they aren't willing to do what it takes to build and maintain a business.


they are researchers, not employees. Employees are the people you need to do drudge work in a professional manner.


As the saying goes... every company ever are in one stage or the other: before product-market fit and after product-market fit.


the term "product-market (mis)fit" means that the product failed to find its market, not that the product has no market. The term for that is "shitty product".


So, traction is a huge indicator of likely success.


I'd say if you really do have solid, sustained traction then you've basically already made it. The only question left is how successful you'll be.

However, it's the thousand little details that go into gaining that traction in the face of diverse challenges that are probably more interesting if we're looking at this as a learning exercise. Why did a business that could have gained enough traction to succeed actually fail before that point? What could the leadership of that business have known earlier or done differently to change their fate?


It's interesting that so many startups listed lack of product-market fit as the reason for failure, even though another startup with an adjacent idea has been able to get traction.

For example, the first was a "same day ingredient delivery service" that "simply didn't have legs", but both Blue Apron and Instacart could be considered same-day ingredient delivery and both are growing fast.

I wonder if we can "unpack" product-market fit into a checklist of smaller goals?


"Fit" is a checklist of subtle details and features that together make up the product. I like to think of it as "When the sum total of nice touches and problems solved that make you love the product is greater than the sum total of annoyances, missing features, and usability snafus that make you fear and loathe the product." Most of these are invisible to someone reading a 1-sentence summary, but you very much notice them as a user.

That's why MP3 players and smart phones failed to get widespread consumer adoption before Apple, why Instagram succeeded where Picwing failed, why Facebook has taken over the world while Xanga is relegated to the dustbin of history, and why Google makes billions while Lycos, Infoseek, Altavista, etc. failed. Same product category, but the product itself was much better.


That's product quality, not market fit. Market fit is reaching the people who would buy your product, and meeting their needs, before you are famous enough for them to find you.


I think it would be valuable to do so.

Product-market fit has more nuance than the words suggest. Maybe the product wasn't right for the market they tried (Caviar for rural Kentucky I'd imagine), or the market as a whole never wanted the product (drive thru dog grooming), and then there's the matter of timing, maybe it was right, just not at that moment. It would be interesting to explore those deeper assessments of lack of product-market fit (as assessed by the founders and outsiders) and see which one is most common. I'm sure we'd find some fun surprises.


Two days ago I've met this friend of mine, who's been working on a project for the last 1.5 years. He's been living off savings and he's got a couple of months of money left. The project is not ready yet and even if it were there's the huge question of how it can ever make money, being open source and all. He's been working day and night and he's so obsessed with it and the myriad of complicated technical issues that plague the project. He will not take a weekend off. He doesn't want to rest because he has a lot of work to do.

From the looks of it, he'll not make it, but how can I possibly tell him that ? How can I possibly take his dreams and hopes and break them into pieces and hope to still be a friend after that.

Sometimes failure is unavoidable, no matter how much people will warn you about it. Failure is something so personal and private that the only way to understand it is to live through it.


I have a friend like that too. I'm really happy I stfu when I was tempted to point this out to him because he actually did make it - against all odds - and is a fairly wealthy fellow nowadays. Good for him, and a good lesson for me. In the past I've seen a couple of those 'impossible' stories take off despite my misgivings and I've learned to temper my impulse to tell others what they can't do. Just like I really don't like it when people tell me what I can or can not do.

Here's another angle: try to help your friend succeed.


> From the looks of it, he'll not make it, but how can I possibly tell him that ?

Don't tell him. Ask questions that get him to think.


> Don't tell him. Ask questions that get him to think.

That is also not easy. Poster's friend might get annoyed\offended when he will not have answers


Your friend knew that failure was likely when he started on his project, and he went ahead anyway. So it isn't helpful to remind him that the odds are stacked against him, or to tell him "I told you so" after.

Many people don't have the heart to even really try. Many people don't have the heart to keep going for years when at times it looks hopeless. Your friend does, and that's admirable. If he's a good programmer he's not going to put his future in jeopardy. There's no need for well-intentioned -- but ultimately patronizing -- concern here.

So don't volunteer your opinion. If he's a friend, just be there for him (emotionally).


Agreed. I've been in that position multiple times and I know that each time I tried to give it all that I could. But it wasn't enough. So I can only speak from my experience. Looking back, it was good technology, with a bit of luck I could have made it. So yeah, even though it looks hopeless, you never know. Life is mysterious and totally improbable things do happen.

There's a thin line between the drive to get things done and obsession, sometimes they're the same thing, only the outcome can differentiate between the two.


Perhaps making money out of it may not be the goal.

However working in isolation for such a long period can result in disconnect. How about asking him to do a limited alpha among a small tech group and getting their feedback?


> he's got a couple of months of money left.

He needs money to live.


But if his goal in saving the money was to give himself a window where he could just work on something he likes, he has good window ahead. At the end, he may just put it on Github and invite contributions and pick a day job and continue working on it on the side. The project may infact help land a job.


> From the looks of it, he'll not make it, but how can I possibly tell him that?

You just should tell him that - "I think this is going nowhere and you will likely burn out and have a crisis." And then when in few weeks/months he will start having doubts, he will have a reference and hopefully it will help him to bury the project faster and move on to other things. At the very least he'll have an option of coming back to you and asking why did you say what you said and you two can go on from there.


I wouldn't say anything that isn't also constructive. Keep in mind that most people who succeeded failed again and again. and again.

Also, I'm pretty sure he won't fail completely. Why? Because his contributions are open source. That means, unlike a lot of projects you spend a year or two and nothign visible comes out of it, there is visible code and visible effort that can credential him into his next step.

I especially like what jacquesm said "Here's another angle: try to help your friend succeed." Now that's the sort of attitude we could all do with more of.


if you really want to help, help him sell his product or service.

if i had a friend in business trouble this would be the first thing to enter my mind. in fact, it's the first thing that popped into my mind when i read your post. i would give up hours of my day, sacrificing a small amount of input to my own business, to help his make it through the squeeze. i know this because i've done it before in the past.

the fact that this hasn't occurred to you tells me you aren't the right type to help/advise him in any circumstance. you want to tell him to give up - well no shit sherlock. pretty much anyone can give him that advice. how valuable is that advice, exactly, when literally anyone can give it? answer: it's exactly worthless.

so, since you asked, i say keep your mouth shut and let him win or lose on his own merits. he's not a child, and you're not his dad.


That was a rhetorical question, which I've answered right in the post. I can't and wouldn't tell him my opinion, especially since I've been there, done that and I know that it won't contribute to anything - he wouldn't stop until dead anyway.

In a way it's pretty similar to giving advice to people hopelessly in love with the wrong person. They'll listen, they'll agree and then next day they'll be back after the person who makes them suffer.

I am helping him out, with advice and now with some code, but I cannot help him enough, because I've got my own things going, a family, children, etc.

But point taken, good advice. thank you.


Hey HN!

@NiralSJP here—one half of the team that put this together.

Glad you're finding it useful and we appreciate the comments and suggestions


Thanks for doing this!! (I'm one of the folks mentioned).

Something I've noticed when discussing failure is there's a class of people who are real assholes about other people's failures (focusing on blame, using very negative phrases, trying to second guess founders for who knows what reason, etc). I notice some comments in this thread are along those lines.

I'd love it if you kept that in mind as you build this, esp since some of the comments/suggestions in this thread are quite, em, unpleasant.


This will always be the case, even here on HN, the vast majority of users/commenters haven't been through a start-up, especially not as a founder. Gotta just ignore it and move on. Having been through it 3 times now (2x as a founder, 1x as first employee) I can read some of these critiques and see how maddeningly simplistic they are.

That's not to say a founder has too much more insight into the specifics of what you faced. Without being in the thick of it, it's almost impossible to really see what happened.

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth - Mike Tyson


Oh I agree. I endured and ignored a ton of assholes' simplistic reductions about my business, motivation, work ethic, etc, when we shut down. I agree.

But, as a community, we should try to builds things that don't encourage this sort of shit. If you want to promote learning from failure, it's in your best interest to make sure that you don't accidentally dissuade people from writing about it.


Cheers. I'm honestly not sure how we're going to build this out.

But, we're definitely conscious of negativity, as the goal was always to be constructive and learn from entrepreneurs like yourself.


Thanks for putting this together


What a great database! I keep a "worry" list, things I check often, and this will certainly go on it.

Reminds me of one of the best books I ever read on SCUBA theory: a case by case description of some 30 odd fatal incidents.

Knowing what goes wrong is helpful


There is a somewhat dated but still useful book by Stephen Flowers called "Software Failure: Management Failure" that does a nice job of post-mortems for failed large-scale development projects you might find interesting.


I whish there was a column "successful startup with similar idea". Then we could have a better understanding of the quality of realization.


Partially related: Third party analyses of failures. [1] and [2] analyze Webvan's failure 14 years back.

It is fascinating to read it now and see how much of it they got right (and see how much was wrong, with the benefit of hindsight).

[1] Why E-commerce Didn’t Die With the Fall of Webvan http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/2496.html

[2] What Webvan Could Have Learned from Tesco http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/what-webvan-could...


Absolutely invaluable. So how do we get more unsuccessful founders to add to this?


Easy. Just build more unsuccessful businesses.


Wouldn't they be successful in their failure if the goal was to give this list more data?


Building unsuccessful businesses wouldn't automagically add to the list. Perhaps building somethings that scrapes the net for relevant blogs may.


Add it to the terms of funding.

When you get a drug trial approved you're obligated to publish the findings no mater what happens. By analogy, investors could require a post mortem when they provide funding.


Apparently not: http://www.alltrials.net


This one contains some solid insights, mostly about doing a better job of proving demand: https://medium.com/@michalbohanes/seven-lessons-i-learned-fr...

But...

There is no business idea I cannot kill using a sufficiently cold and objective evaluation. I can show the demand is not there, that it doesn't solve a customer pain-point, that the price is too high, that the model won't work in this market, that the technology won't scale...

At the end of WWII Vannevar Bush, the head of the American military rocketry program, said that human beings would never go to the Moon because you'd have to take a rocket the size of a battleship, stand it up on end, and launch it into space, and this was obviously impossible.

Prediction is hard, especially about the future. Entreprenuership is fundamentally about courage, because you've got to jump off that ledge knowing the odds are you'll fail. If you dig too deeply or look too closely at the problem you may never start, because the risk is always going to be unacceptably high to any sane person.

So it's important for entrepreneurs to balance their optimism against reality, rather than just giving in to realism and sticking with the day job.


Vannevar Bush foresaw many things correctly. But the rocket thing... It was only a few years later that we were lobbing those vertical battleships into space.


It might be valuable to add the ability to have discussions for each of the entries on autopsy.io, allowing people to analyze it further and include the founders in the discussion. From this it might be possible to combine the analysis of a couple of the autopsies and launch a new idea.


Betting so much of one's soul into a consumer play is a risky decision. The pay-outs are huge, but the odds are enormous, as bad as a lottery. Consumers decide to use a product based on intangibles; brand recognition, emotions, entertainment. These are fleeting, like fashion, and for an entrepreneur, hard to pin down what works and doesn't. There is no repeatable model for us to experiment and learn from.

Businesses on the other hand are considerably more rational. B2B decisions are made based on value. Even when a deal doesn't go through, you get tangible data to see why. But make yet another photo-sharing app and no one uses it? That's a lot more harder.


Awesome list to look through! I remember a few of these postmortems when they first posted, like the Wesabe one.

It'd be great if the table had start/close dates, or "months alive", or something.


yes some more data based analytics on metrics you could calibrate on such as months alive, rounds of funding, profit margins, basically any type of portfolio you would present to an investor for value assessment.


The thing I noticed many of these startups had in common: Awful names.


Google's original name was "BackRub". Facebook was "TheFaceBook". They changed the name when it mattered.


somehow good domain names cost way too much which I think will be a bad investment as a startup.


It may be interesting and important to note that some of the "failures" on this list may have simply been before their time. I see a few going back to ~2006 that might actually have a decent chance today if given another go.

Sometimes the fine line between failure:success hinges on nothing more than timing itself. The optimal time to enter a market is a variable that should be weighted almost as heavily as cash to burn.


There's selection bias at play here, but anyone else notice that 99% of these are consumer plays? There's mostly photos/food/social/video/community/jobs ideas. In consumer plays, there's a lot of luck involved, since the company is essentially guessing whether the problem itself is significant, let alone their particular solution.


There's a lot of luck in everything. I've been involved in startups in remote sensing, computer-assisted surgery, medical imaging, and other areas, and while there were various reasons for the failures luck loomed large in all of them.

The medical imaging play got scooped by a patent issued to another research team a month before our patent application was ready to go (this was before applications were published.) That was pure bad luck. We were a small team who weren't publishing our work while it was in development, they were a small team who weren't publishing their work while it was in development. They started a few months before us, or long after us but had more resources, or long before us but worked more slowly, or didn't go down the same blind alley we did part way through. I defy anyone using the information available at the time to pick out a better set of choices than we made without flipping a coin.

The key to understanding the role of luck is to realize how scarce information is when you are building something new. You don't know how big the market is. You don't know what customers are willing to pay. You don't know what the "killer application" will be. One company I worked with thought they were aiming for selling a service to the bottled water sector. They ended up selling it to the sewage treatment sector.

I also know people who were one decision away from success: if they had taken deal X or added feature Y they almost certainly (in hindsight) gotten rich. Given the information at the time, they made the best choice they could. That it happened to be the wrong choice was luck, and nothing else. These are people who had built successful companies during the dot-com era, mostly. If they had exited at the right time they'd be hailed as geniuses today.


Most of these "startups" are boring; they are not STARTUPS, they are small businesses doing what others are doing (or have done).

They seem to lack the OMG spark of insight into how technology can be used to do something exciting. IMHO, a web site or an App (is there really much difference) is not a STARTUP--but it can be a business that generates income.


This is a really great effort. It feels like a nice addendum to Sam Altman's class (http://startupclass.samaltman.com/) - take that knowledge and use it to come up with what would you have done differently.


This is a great idea. I wonder if you thought about implementing some sort of comment/discussion section, maybe with a voting system. That way people could express their opinions and maybe even give valuable advice as to how they'd deal with certain aspects of these failures.


It would be neat to see some lessons from companies that still exist, but have major plans that failed, like 42floors. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9140768


Thought this one was a neat idea: Critica: https://medium.com/@jasonhuertas/my-startup-failed-6c54bd68c...


RE: Elon Musk -- I see a lot on luck in the comments, and agree with most. Another aspect of luck is timing. If Musk graduated in 2002 would he have been able to start a successful company, or would capital not have been there?


Would be great to also add a column for "date of death" as timing is often a major component related to failure.

While on the subject of timing, I'd add a column for years in business, but that might be getting too cluttered.


Cheers, we're going to add "Date of Autopsy".


I tried something similar with My Startup Fail (http://www.mystartup.fail/), but definitely like Autopsy's approach better.


How meta! Is there anything you wish you'd done with My Startup Fail?


I agree with feedjoelpie. One criticism I have here is that there is a lack of comprehensive data analytics from their actual portfolios before they cut the chord, and that it relies on self reported data from the founders, which is bound to be bias to some degree. Some of these failed that are exact clones of companies that were the exact same idea but implemented more quickly and ended up and still are very successful, and in those particular ideas, the autopsy of the failed companies never seems to want to admit their idea was just not that original, or not implemented as well.

Examples that stand out to me just from knowing really successful competitors of the same idea:

Bombfell Manilla Dnnr bloom.fm solorix

Overall, I value their feedback (and I am glad to see it compiled as opposed to every failed company posting on here as if they have some diamond in the ruff wisdom on why they failed) but I would prefer some more data based trends.

Overall interesting idea to start pulling more calibrated analytics from. I was also thinking someone should do the same thing for lessons learned from how VCs and Angel Investors screw over companies.

It's actually going to take some time for me to find something on this list that doesn't reek of knocking off popularized trending app ideas.

I happened to see 99 Dresses on this list, whom I saw on Shark Tank somehow (the one time I watched the show). I'm a girl and for me personally I don't really give about the idea of weddings and think its nonsense, and think it's a waste of money, but I thought it was a pretty cool idea that basically you could rent a wedding dress, and that sounded unique to me and a good niche of rent the runway, though I doubt I'll ever invest in a wedding dress myself in any capacity. Point is weddings are a billion dollar a yr industry and wedding dresses are sometimes the most expensive part aside from venue and catering. As culture becomes less traditional, it's less likely women will view their dresses as a long term investment their posterity will wear.

Additionally, I think I know of plenty of girls who would rather rent a designer wedding dress they could never afford outright (especially if their posterity is not going to wear it as culture is these days) than settle for something they like alot less because that is all they could afford to buy, that will sit in a closet. Additionally, now that we have facebook and social media, girls do not need to buy the dress (despite posterity) so it can collect dust in their closet for the sake of nostalgia. Now we have social media to document not only the dress but how the woman looked in the dress. Therefore, providing the capability to rent one of the most expensive clothing items the average woman will ever invest in, seemed like a pretty solid idea, and at least there was something a little unique about it. However, I have no idea how well she implemented the idea nor did I follow the company after the pitch.

Other than that one company, I didn't see anything I have not heard of realistically, atleast 5 times before.


Findory's link links to Findery. They are two different companies that do the same thing. I find it interesting that the names are so much alike. I wonder if there is a connection.


There's often considerable link rot associated with these sites, so it'd be a good idea to save autopsies as well, not just link to them.


I wonder how many of these are actually related to interpersonal issues, mismanagement, or co-founder turmoil. Nobody talks about it.


This is a good* resource. We should have more of these. I wouldn't mind having an app with a stream of these which pop-up notification on my desktop: notification of failed dreams.

Because they are many - a lot more than in that list. And there will be a lot more of them in the future.

For every startup success story, there are about 9 silent tales of shattered hopes, financial ruin, depression and even suicides.

Success stories are so shiny an bright, that all the smart 20-somethings are blinded by them - and why not - who doesn't want to be a billionaire ?

The theme is always the same.

A really cool idea - which will totally transform, disrupt, reinvent and reimagine the world and will forever change it for the better.

Your heart beats faster, you're full of enthusiasm, you're obsessed, you talk to everybody and you infect others with your enthusiasm. They come on board, you find money, then the coding starts.

It's so fun and cool - you're on that path - you're an actual startup - the coolest thing you can do with your life - sacrifice a bit of yourself for a huge payout sometime in the nearest future.

And so you put in days and nights, you replace food with caffeine, sleep with debugging sessions. You ignore the wisdom of others, because they're not you - you can do it better, you will prove it in the end.

And then, suddenly, after so much work, your main coder drops the bomb that he's accepted a job at XYZ.

You now have little money, no users and a repository full of spaghetti which only your coder understands. You need to launch fast. You use duct tape and saliva to keep everything from falling apart.

And...... You launch! Version 0.1 beta. Then 0.2 beta. Then 0.3 beta. You have 231 users after two weeks. 0.4 beta. 0.5 beta. Two months in and you've still less than 500 users. According to your business plan, you're short about 49500 users by now.

More Red Bulls, it's 3 o'clock in the morning again, when did I sleep last time ? The fucking thing still crashes. Where's everyone ?

Your mother calls. "I'm fine, mom. Everyting's fine.". She knows you aren't, it breaks her heart, she tears up.

You can still do it. Look at XYZ - they've been through worse and they made it. Never give up. Never give up. Rent is due next week. Jack doesn't show up to work and doesn't answer his phone. He's burned out and he's had it, he's leaving.

I can still do it alone, I just need to re-write the whole thing and it will be much better. How long could it take ?

You're in denial, but reality knocks on your door. It's time to move out.

You've failed. You're not good enough. You disappointed everyone and yourself. You're not built for this. You will never make it. You lock yourself in your room for weeks. You put on weight. Days are nights are days are nights are...

Your girlfriend wants to really talk about something. She can't take it anymore. Fine, we split up. Maybe it was because of her anyway...

Depression kicks in. The dark place. The 'there's no escape' place. The 'i'm worthless' place. The 'I'm a failure place'. The shame, the guilt. The disappointment.

The place were all failed people go. By now, you should have been having an IPO, rubbing shoulders with the big guys. Instead, you're in that place - the silent place, the place nobody wants to talk about.

You will be there for a couple of months, maybe years, before you recover. Or you'll swallow your guilt and get a job. Any job. Maybe in another city, maybe in another country.

And then things fade, life gets better, you meet another girl, you fall in love, you recover. You're good again. You have energy. You have power. Your mind is energized.

And then ... the coooolest idea in the world pops up in your head. If you don't do it, who will ? This time you know better. You've learned from all the mistakes of the past. This time will be different.

This time you'll make it... You've got a 10% chance.


edit this down (I didn't read it.) looks OK though.


pitch it as a TV series


Does anyone know what happened to Goldee? It was a good product with a killing web page, I don't know what exactly happened.


Would be good to know how long were the founders they committed to the startup? Extra column OP? Thanks!


Thanks for the suggestions. We're looking into this. Something like "Months Alive"


"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." -Tolstoy


Make it more complete crowd sourcing (with voting) Then only the list will be more useful


An interesting column to add to this would be the amount of funding raised, if known.


I would love it if there were a similar list for successful (or ongoing) startups..


A little off-topic, but does anyone know how Plated succeeded where Dinner failed?


It could be the culture difference as the founder pointed out in his article. United States vs London.

And various other unknown factors.


Thanks for doing this! I hope more people add their stories.





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