It’s ok to fail
“Go ahead, Cornelius, you can cry…”
Sometimes it’s very liberating.. figure out when to quit, step away, realise you failed, take a deep breath, learn and move on.
Rewind a few weeks
I while ago I noticed a tweet from the Geek Retreat, something like this:
“It’s not that we don’t have success. We don’t even have failures. We have nothing.”
..about South African online entrepreneurship.
Then at Internetix there was a story about how HP have a party when a product fails. Balloons, party hats and champagne.. a party to make sure people learn from the failure.
So, at the Audi MVP day lunch, over a good glass of white wine, I mentioned to Cath we should have a failure party in Cape Town. She liked the idea. So here you go:
You are all invited to the first Failure Party.
Now the background
Cape Town is a tech an media hub. Silicon Cape. Silicon Mountain. There is a really cool community here which shares a passion for technology. But.. I don’t think we see enough bold, risky, big and scary ideas come out of Cape Town.
The problem could be that people are afraid to think big, fail big and fail bold.
A while ago I figured out my track record for business success is about 3/10.
Most of the really talented, really bright people I see around me are either working in a day job or on venture number one. Nothing wrong with that, but maybe we can accelerate things a bit with the right attitude.
I have to add a disclaimer at this point. I’m not suggesting you start a small franchise and run it into the ground. I’m saying, think big, risk, find a really crazy way to scratch and itch which has never been scratched before.
The Failure Awards
Here are my entries for the failure award ceremony:
1. Frogfoot Wifi Hotspots
This was fun. Spent about 6 months of my life on this one. I figured would be an interesting challenge designing a (micro) billing engine. We figured a profit sharing model with fixed pricing across all hotspots would be cool.. and hey, it only took about 6 months to cook up for idea to launch at a trade show with nice branding, brochures, tokens and balloons.
The snag was that it’s a consumer focused business and Frogfoot was rapidly moving away from consumer business back to business customers only.
To positive side of this story is that Amobia inherited most of the thinking and built something very similar to what Frogfoot created. What makes the Amobia one much nicer is that Amobia is all about wireless and they have their own outdoor network, so there is (almost) no last-mile connectivity costs to a hotspot.
Lesson learnt: Focus.
2. Blio PBX
We founded a company called Blio a few years ago. At first it built an embedded OS for wireless CPEs. Then we figured building a embedded Asterisk based PBX was a good idea, 1U, no moving parts, nice web interface etc. This took about 2 years.. designing a lot of the hardware from scratch. It worked. We build a batch of 20 units and actually sold them.
The snag is that you need lots of capital to play the hardware vendor game. You also need to be very clear about playing in the vendor OR integrator space. In the vendor space you need very good channel and partnership management. Oh, and hardware is about volume.. it’s not easy building electronics in Cape Town, in low volumes and getting close to the price they build this stuff for at scale in China (rather obvious).
Lesson learnt: Some things don’t grow organically, you need capital and volume to play.
Be a smart fool..
“I could not become anything; neither good nor bad; neither a scoundrel nor an honest man; neither a hero nor an insect. And now I am eking out my days in my corner, taunting myself with the bitter and entirely useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything, that only a fool can become something.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky
See you at the Fail Party crazy kids.
ps. I can say that my new venture is big, scary, risky, global, a first (to my knowledge), it has a com+org business model and I can tell you more about it in about 3 months.