“Failure by Omission” and other topics discussed by Failcon Zurich

Apr 17, 2013
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Failcon Zurich

What a great event – if you have never been to a Failcon event before, I highly recommend it. It was a bit of a ‘full circle’ moment for me, given that one of the first events I attended, and the reason I originally met my former cofounder for Rude Baguette was at Failcon France in 2011, it was a great honor to be invited to Failcon Zurich to speak about failure. I talked about a topic very dear to my heart – Failure by Omission. The topic focuses on the idea that, although an entrepreneur must own up to his own failure, those closest to him have a certain obligation to give honest, brutal, constructive feedback to that entrepreneur.

I have heard many platitudes from friends – “oh, that’s so nice what you’re doing” (“nice? what’s nice about it? am I a clown to you?“) – and even more criticisms – “oh, I don’t get it.” – each one provides the same amount of value to me as an entrepreneur trying to learn about how to better his startup – none. And so at the same time as I call on friends, family & loved ones to be brutally honest, if only for self-preservation (to avoid the eventual blowback that is an entrepreneur failing and the wake of destruction around him), I also call on entrepreneurs to pull that brutal feedback out of placators and criticisers. Get them to answer the “Why” the “How” the “Where” questions, and make them work just a little harder to provide constructive feedback instead of just criticism.

We often say that choosing a cofounder is like marrying someone, but we miss the inherant inverse on that statement, which is that your spouse, and those close to you, become like cofounders as well, and they are the best source of constructive feedback, because they (should) have a very intimate relationship with you that allows for brutal honesty.

Failcon Zurich – a first in Switzerland, but keep an eye out

Like my first Failcon France, there seems to be a blanket understanding in Switzerland that risk-aversion is there. I argued on a panel that risk-aversion is all about perception, which doesn’t mean it is not real, only that it is only as real as people around you make it. Some other great takeaways:

  • Fear of Failure, which stems from a fear of what “they” will think of you afterwards, is just projections of our own fears onto other people – “they” couldn’t care less, especially in the tech sector that we all work in
  • It is entrepreneurs who will change the culture, not the culture that will change to help entrepreneurs – if you want people to be more accepting of your risk, then you need to accept it in yourself, and be comfortable sharing it with others.
  • Failing is not the end-game, it is the middle of a process. You wouldn’t stop a book in the middle, so why get hung up on “failure”? “Success is not a doorway, it’s a staircase.”

I was definitely impressed with attendees’ desire to strip this attitude from their daily lives. It was as if they wanted to come to a consensus – “we will no longer be afraid of fear” – and start afresh. Unfortunately, it’s not like that, and I don’t think fear of failure is going anywhere. It is the natural barrier to entry to any startup that separates the 95% of people who will never start a company from the 5% who weigh the options (or don’t) and press onwards.

I look forward to returning to Switzerland later this year for Failcon Lausanne, if they’ll have me, and I hope to see some familiar and new faces there as well!

Thank you to Marcus Kuhn (the guy to know in the Zurich startup scene), David Butler, Agustin & of course Cass Philipps for making Failcon Zurich possible!