FailCon: Startup Reality

November 3, 2011

I didn’t know what to expect going into FailCon, but it turned out to be the best conference I’ve been to. Why? Because it’s a startup event grounded in reality. It completely challenges the fantasy of overnight success. It turns out most startups take years to build, and that most successful founders have had multiple startups fail on the path to success.

Highlights Included:

  • Joe Gebbia of Airbnb talking about their years-long trough of sorrow. Rather than “fail fast”, they stuck with their vision for years before finding product-market fit.
  • Travis Kalanick of Uber talking about his previous startup, which dragged on for something like 9 years – with no pay until exit.
  • Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures talking about failure. Favorite quote: “My willingness to fail gives me the ability to succeed”.

Having recently launched a startup and entered the trough of sorrow, this event’s timing couldn’t be any better. Entrepreneurs need to know that the trough of sorrow is normal, and that it typically takes years to get to product-market fit. Ideally, entrepreneurs should know this before they get started. I worry that it’s not clear to many people getting started that, even in today’s market, their startup is likely to take 3-7 years to succeed, and is even more likely to fail.