Thoughts on Failure
I knew most startups fail.
And the stat of 10% win/90% go down doesn't apply to something like Subtense.
Our chance of success was far less because our tech lived out much, much farther in the entrepreneurial frontier.
We weren't starting up a chain frozen yogurt shop, we were building artificially intelligent patent tools.
This unquestionably reduced our chances of success. By how much? 10x? 100x?
The upside, though—and I do not mean the money, I mean the creation—made it worth it.
To offset the increased risk, I knew the optimal thing to make it possible.
One team member, Brad Schildt—invest in anything he starts—successfully co-founded and sold 2 previous companies to the tune of about $70M. This character, as COO and co-founder, single-handedly reduced our risk immediately by minimum a factor of ten.
I turned to and asked for the attention of some of my favorite people on earth: Matt, Sandrine, Whitney, Andi, Joey, Nick and more.
These folks could make Subtense happen. I know what they've accomplished.
Even with a righteous leadership teammate like Brad and a team who's built stuff everyone I know uses, I knew I had to be 100x better than I ever was to justify asking for money.
That Left Me
I don't need to be right. This needs to be right.
My mindset when starting Subtense: Not because of my efforts, never because of my cowardice or fear or weakness. Only an external force would stop this.
- I planted seed after seed after seed, never to be exposed in public. Every tiny way imaginable to self-generate energy and passion and the motivation to always move.
- I created a Subtense soundtrack just for me, a blend which made me sing, dance, yell, and focus.
- I invented sayings which will live with me forever. My favorite and our company mantra: I don't need to be right, this needs to be right.
- I rewired my mind, using a browser plugin to change words on my screen, and re-checking my personal vocabulary at every opportunity. You never hear me "trying" to do something. Fuck trying. Do it and learn.
- I—raised by pacifists—defined my enemies: those who rip off entrepreneurs and businesses with their semantic horseshit for $500/hr and add zero value. I still want to destroy their way of existence, and you're goddamned right I'm here to pick a fight with these bullies.
- I strategized how to deal with governmental agencies because in 5 to 7 years it would be important.
- I knew what 2030 looked like with Subtense in it.
- I rehearsed speech after speech after speech.
- I burned through more notecards and pens than ever before.
- I put myself on video to study from the outside. I didn't want internal biases clouding my awareness. The hell with cringing at myself.
- I cold-called, asked for intros to people who would never say yes, did interviews, anything, anytime, anywhere. And I'm an introvert.
- I would never stop because when this project likely failed, I would always look in the mirror and want to know it wasn't me.
Amazing people kept popping up at the right times to say the right things and support in the right ways.
- Sam Bobo at IBM Watson.
- Techstars folks and affiliate characters like Julie Penner who didn't laugh at our audacity, and Zach and Natty.
- David Cohen in a talk on clarity.
- The YCombinator video series where one of 'em reminds the class: CEO, the buck stops with you. You cannot bullshit.
- Dave Rogers who added awareness to my experience outside Subtense.
- FAKEGRIMLOCK who answered questions from time to time.
The service we centered our solution around shut down.
The data we retrieved couldn't do the job, and to get to revenue was 9 or 12 or 18 months away.
I already asked a year's attention from these people I love without any reward on their part, and unreasonable to ask for more time.
Also, without knowing—and I mean knowing—we would have real revenue in n months, I found it unreasonable to ask investors for more money.
Only an external force would stop me. Market forces count.
This is not to say it wasn't me, mind you, because I learned about new weaknesses in my game which need correction. With more exposure comes more awareness, and, at least in my case, more flaws.
Which will get corrected with more exposure and more awareness.
I have a new soundtrack for the next, new project which is actually 10 years old.
The technology didn't exist when I started, though I expected it would eventually.
I could never fulfill it because I was not ready, either in technological ability—I trained and studied and practiced since the spark—or in startup experience.
The new project centers on self awareness.
I will never stop.