Fail Fast – Just Don’t Talk About It

We talk about "failing fast" all the time in the tech world. But talking the tales of failures - like Everpix this week - happens all too rarely.

An icon went dark on my Mac this week. I’m one of those people who have slightly too many menu bar icons on the top right of my screen, and one of them was a cheerful little “e” that gave me peace of mind. Yes, I was one of Everpix’s insufficient number of paying customers, and I’m going to miss the service.

It was a great way of making sure I had a constant off-site back-up of my photo library, and giving me access to everything I’d ever shot wherever I had internet access. But it did more than that, by delighting my each morning with an e-mail highlighting photos I’d shot on that day in years past. The team’s technology for assessing the content and quality of photos was what made the service so compelling.

And in less than a month, the tech will be sold and the service gone. They had paying customers – like me – but not enough of us. They couldn’t find a buyer for the company or new investors, so they are shutting the doors.

The tale of this startup’s demise has been well-told – both in their own note of farewell and in The Verge‘s excellent article going behind the scenes on the final few weeks of Everpix’s life, pre-announcement.

Casey Newton’s piece is an exception. All too often we celebrate the early stages of start-ups, and then fail to follow-up on their growing pains and (in some cases) failures, unless they go on to success. How well have the hot young things of a decade ago been followed up?

Well, if we look at the hot companies of 2003, high on the list was a blogging company, that still exists, as does its first product. But both are now owned by a Japanese company and have virtually nothing to do with the original company. The story behind Six Apart was charming, and famous. It was founded by husband and wife team Ben and Mena Trott, who were born six days apart (hence the name). He coded up Movable Type to help her blog – and it became a business. They ended up on the cover of Fast Company as their business boomed. Six Apart, though, was business that, in the end, was taken over and merged into a publishing business. The marriage ended in divorce. The startup success was noisy. The failures, business and personal, were quiet indeed.

For an industry that celebrates “failing fast”, we’re pretty poor at actually talking about that failure. Our media loses interest when things stop being hot, and the story of decline and failure is never told. And that’s a really tragedy. Successes tend to be individual, but failures are common. If we talked more about how startups fail, then maybe more of them could avoid that fate.

Kudos to the team behind Everpix for sharing their failure with The Verge. Kudos to Mena Trott for getting up on stage a year or so back and telling that story.

Let’s try to make those stories a little less rare, though. What’s next can be built on the failures of the past… but we have to know what those failure are to do so.