This morning I read an article that really resonated with me: How to Fail by marketing guru Seth Godin.
“I think it’s worth noting that my definition of failure does not include being unlucky enough to be involved in a project where random external events kept you from succeeding. That’s the cost of showing up, not the definition of failure.”
This was the case with the failed social networking project that I headed, my so-called Top Sekrit Project. We did make some very bad choices, such as the hire of the expensive, useless business manager. Aside from that however, we had an amazing project that had very early on earned a lot of notice. (When Google contacts you out of the blue to ask to see a business plan, that is a heart-attack inducing day. Will they offer to buy the company out? Will they just decide to take your idea and do it for themselves? Who knows? In the end, they received the plan and then disappeared again into the vasty deeps, like the great white shark that passes the lucky swimmer by.) We put our hearts and guts and soul into that project, and it broke all our hearts when in the end we lost funding and had to close, another victim of the recession.
Built as a secure social networking site that brought kids, parents, and employers together, it was perfectly timed. Built solidly on game concepts and a number of reward systems, it was also fun. (Another article from this morning was this one, and I had to wince, and then laugh. Because that is exactly how I had designed the system.) We had a fully-functioning VLE where notoriously tech-phobic teachers could easily build rich learning content by dropping anything from text to video to their own 3D environments on a page. It was shiny.
Bad luck seemed to always dog the project. We presented several times to the Boy Scouts, who were excited about the project and promised to bring their millions of members on…instant success. But first they wanted to get their centennial out of the way. And then there was a member database that they had to do first. And then they started thinking that perhaps they would do a 3D “Scout World” project. And it never happened. Neither did the fabulously wealthy Dubai venture capitalist who was going to partner with us to roll the software out to a string of English-language private schools around the world. And so on, and so on.
I learned an enormous amount from the failure of Top Sekrit Project – more so than I learned on any blue-chip site that I brought to launch. I learned that if you make compromises, and roll out a limited edition of what you eventually plan to do, you can fall back on that if everything doesn’t go to plan. I learned to let go – sometimes no matter how hard you want something to work, there comes a point where you’re better off just walking away. I would have crawled through fire and broken glass to bring that project to launch, and in the end I was left without a job in the depths of the recession, with over £18k of back salary owed. I learned that the most valuable asset that you can have is incredible people, and that smart companies protect those assets above anything else. I learned to dream big…and I learned to fall. You survive.
Learning the right lessons from failure is one of the most important things that one can do.