Encounters with failure

Jan 17 2014

There are countless stories of failed startups across the country. There are countless brilliant ideas that just can’t seem to sustain themselves. Every startup must consider whether their idea is worth the time and money that it’s going to take to turn it into something tangible.

The Everpix story

In November, The Verge published a story about one of these failed ideas. It’s a great long-form piece that tells the story of “how the world’s best photo startup is going out of business.” This photo startup, named Everpix, was conceived of in much the same way as others are: The creator identified a problem he faced in his own life, the photo mess on his computer, and struck out to solve it.

The Everpix team drew attention in the startup community in San Francisco after it participated in a startup competition in the area. Off to a running start, the team gathered investments from notable incubators and venture capitalists. Everything was falling into place.

But a year and a half after the founders had conceived of the idea of Everpix, things began to fall apart. The team had invested nearly all of its time and money into creating the product. They hadn’t done any advertising or marketing. Though they had an impressive product, they didn’t have many users.

Everpix was broke. Unable to pay its bills, the company sought out acquisition deals. When a promising deal fell through, the team decided it would shut Everpix down. Their last order of business would be to figure out how to refund their users’ money.

Everpix is an example of a startup that started out as incredibly promising and then couldn’t make it.

Thoughts on failure

On the surface level, this is a story about failure. Failure is something that we’ve been talking about a lot lately in the Reese News Lab. If you hit a wall or come face-to-face with some sort of setback, you need to get creative. Rethink your end goal, rethink your process of getting there and above all else just keep thinking.

On the other hand, there are people who laud failure as a soul-building experience. They constantly say that it’s okay to fail. But, as Reese News Lab Executive Director John Clark often argues, when people say that it’s okay to fail, they usually mean that it’s okay to take risks and it’s okay to learn from setbacks.

If I’m being honest, I don’t know what my true opinion of failure is. In our discussions as of late,  I’ve had a lot of trouble contextualizing failure. I suppose we can define it as a lack of success. But how do we judge success? Is it solely profitability? Or can it also be found in the growth of skills and the development of mental processes?

The Everpix team learned invaluable lessons from their inability to sustain their product. Wherever they go in the future, they will carry these lessons with them. In the conventional sense, Everpix failed. And while I agree that failure cannot be an end-all-be-all option, I do think that there is something to be said about knowing when to cut your losses.

Failure is something that’s dreaded and feared. Sometimes it’s easy to fail, sometimes it’s inevitable and sometimes it can even be productive. At the Reese News Lab, we take outlandish ideas and try to figure out how to sustain them. Sometimes we may find that an idea cannot be sustained. But we don’t accept that failure as final. We build off of the failed ideas to create stronger, more sustainable ones. Failure is not an option here.

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