We didn’t fail, we just showed that it didn’t work

An interesting and optimistic take on startup failure by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, founder of The Next Web and Twitter Counter. The gist of the story is that Boris and his team developed an idea for some anti-spam software that ultimately didn’t work out. That’s not a particularly novel story by itself, but the interesting part is how they framed it – as a successful “dis-proof of concept”.

What is admirable about the story is that Boris and his team conceived an idea, developed it, tested it and then let it go when they realised it didn’t work. In other words, they failed fast. Having taken on investor money, they could have tried to keep developing the software or even pivot, but they chose to honestly explain the situation to their investors, return the leftover money and move on.

Unfortunately, the evaluation of most software startups isn’t so cut and dry. In this particular example, Boris had an idea that could be assessed solely on its performance, i.e. it either works or it doesn’t. But for most startups, the metric isn’t if the software actually works, but if people want to use it and perhaps more importantly, are willing to pay for it. Therefore it’s more difficult to decide when to let a startup fail; for a startup founder, it becomes a question of judgement and opportunity cost – is it worth our time to keep persisting with this or are we better off just doing something else?

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