Filed Under:

Failure: The F-Word Silicon Valley Loves And Hates

In Silicon Valley, there's an "F word" that entrepreneurs say in polite company all the time: failure.

For every high-tech business success, there are countless failures in this California cradle of Internet startups. Here failure is accepted, or even welcomed, as a guide for future success.

In fact, failure is dissected in San Francisco at FailCon, an annual one-day conference where tech entrepreneurs and investors spill their guts and share lessons learned.

All Things Considered's Melissa Block spoke with some of Silicon Valley's tech entrepreneurs and investors about their experiences of failure in a place known for its multibillion-dollar successes.


Paul Graham founded Y Combinator, a company based in Mountain View, Calif., that provides seed money and close consultation to startups before they make their pitch to big investors.

On why failing in the startup world is normal

"In the startup world, 'not working' is normal ... You might wonder why ships have [bilge] pumps [to remove water from below the deck] ... Why don't they just make one that's waterproof, right? And the fact is, one way or another, all ships take on water ... and one way or another, practically all startups internally are disasters. And they just hide this from the outside world."


Janice Fraser has created several startups. Some flew, but one crashed during the financial meltdown. She is currently the CEO of LUXr, a San Francisco firm that supports startups.

On failing as the worst moment of an entrepreneur's life

"The worst moment is when you have to tell your staff. You have these people who, beyond reason, have put their trust in you. And you have to look them in the eye and say, 'I'm sorry, this isn't going to work.' It's always when the money's running out ... because you keep going until the money runs out. At the end, it's just you and one or two other people, filing papers with the state and packing up the boxes. And that is not fun."


Joe Kraus is an investing partner at Google Ventures, a venture capital fund based in Mountain View, Calif., that plans to invest $1 billion in startups over the next five years.

On the importance of fearing failure

"In my mind, the ones who have no fear of failure are merely the dreamers, and the dreamers don't build great companies. The people that thread the line between vision and being able to execute and having this healthy fear of failing that drives them — not paralyzes them, but drives them — to be more persistent, to work harder than the next person, that's a magic formula."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Not My Job: NASA's Charles Bolden Gets Quizzed On 'Charles In Charge'

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden flew four times on the space shuttle and was the first voice to be broadcast from Mars. We'll ask him three questions about the remarkable career of actor Scott Baio.
NPR

Scraped, Splattered — But Silent No More. Finally, The Dinner Plate Gets Its Say

Instagram is the Internet's semi-obsessive, borderline-creepy love letter to food. But behind every great meal is a plate doing a pretty-OK job. So a comedian made an Instagram to celebrate plates.
NPR

RECAP: A Round-Up Of Can't-Miss Stories From The RNC

Here are some stories from the NPR Politics team to catch you up on the news from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week.
NPR

Making The Cloud Green: Tech Firms Push For Renewable Energy Sources

Few people can demand what kind of electricity they get. But Microsoft and Facebook, which operate huge, power-hungry data centers, are trying to green up the electricity grid with their buying power.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.