Hayhurst borrowed the Fuckup idea from a group of tech entrepreneurs in Mexico... see more
The Refreshing Brand Strategy of Failure
One of my favorite reads (albeit not in the brand strategy genre) is the Book of Heroic Failures by Stephen Pile, founder of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain.
The book, now in its third edition (a runaway success, it seems – not great if Mr. Pile is interested in living the brand) documents people who are brilliant at being abysmal.
As Pile says “It is a grave misreading of the human predicament to think that everything will be a success. Sanity and happiness come from embracing catastrophe and applauding it.”
Which brings me to the worrying subject that inspired this post – our growing cultural need to never be seen as failures.
It was a James Altucher podcast with media entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk that snapped me to attention. Vaynerchuk was spitting mad at the legions of self-help gurus who ran commercials showing hundreds of thousands of dollars on their kitchen table, a Ferrari in the garage, and the promise that they could help you, Joe Q Public, achieve the same results.
As Vaynerchuk said, these commercials were disturbing for three reasons:
- They were lies – generally the Ferrari was rented, the fortune borrowed, and the advice dished out by someone who had no real-world experience to back their advice;
- They propagated the myth that success should come effortlessly, and quickly;
- They painted over the disturbing realities facing most risk-taking entrepreneurs – 97% business failure rates and, according to a number of studies, an inordinately high rate of suicide, depression and mental illness (49% of silicon valley founders were diagnosed with depression vs 7% among the general population).
CONGRATULATIONS, YOU FUCKED UP
I work primarily with tech companies. And tech is probably the worst offender when it comes to the myth of overnight, effortless success.
Hayhurst borrowed the Fuckup idea from a group of tech entrepreneurs in Mexico who felt the need to reinstate sanity in their world. The format of the evening was simple – three local tech stars take the stage to present – in the most unvarnished, painfully honest terms – how they fucked up again and again on their road to success.
The event in Mexico proved wildly popular, and has since spread to many cities around the world.
It isn’t hard to see why. First, it’s cathartic. It also provides valuable reassurance to startup founders that their trials and tribulations are entirely normal. And finally, it teaches us to learn from our mistakes, instead of pursuing the insanity of failing fast / forward.
As Hayhurst said “Just as bad as the myth of instant success is the bastardized myth of failing forward. Failing forward was originally all about failing, learning from your failure, adjusting, and incorporating your learnings into your business. But it has come to mean failing without learning, only to fail, fail fail again.”
Hayhurst is quick to add that the myth of instant success is pervasive throughout our society, not just in the tech sector. “Thanks to social media, we’re inundated with images of people who are better looking, happier, more successful than us. If I’m 13 years old and I don’t have as many likes as another kid, I’m devastated. Either I get depressed, or I turn to more and more outlandish ways of getting myself noticed.” We’re living in a world of reality stars who achieved dizzying success by simply debasing themselves into the spotlight. Talent seems a trivial detail. This ain’t healthy, folks.
So how can we correct this? From a brand perspective, I have an idea.
THE BRAND STRATEGY OF JOYFUL FAILURE
Celebrating failure, as Hayhurst pointed out, is useful for a number of reasons. We learn from it, and we build community around our shared imperfections.
Community is one of the key pillars of every successful brand strategy. Could brands build a community of fans by admitting imperfection?
Consider the story of the Bass Pub from the Book of Heroic Failures:
“In 1995 the Polar Bear in Soho was named the worst pub in London by the listings magazine Time Out. Business immediately shot up by 60%. By the time they had erected a banner outside saying ‘The Worst Pub in the West End’ it was impossible to get in.”
Or, on a larger (and more serious) scale, take a look at Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles – a wildly successful program that pointed out the company’s frustrations with the unsustainable way it produced its garments.
Finally, take a look at Apple. Behind the bright white sheen lurk countless errors and failures (remember asking artists to play along with Apple Radio for free for 3 months?) But Apple remains undiminished, because the company isn’t afraid to pivot, or even abort. And it still treats mishaps and gaffes as opportunities to get closer to its fans.
I believe there’s tremendous blue ocean for brands willing to embrace imperfection.
And if you fail, you’ll succeed even more convincingly next time.
As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.
Want to try building your own powerful brand to create unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s DIY Brand Build Guide – available Nov 1, 2016.
There have certainly been a lot of firsts for Rob in the last 5 years of working with VIATEC! see more
Source: Gustavson School of Business
Author: Rob Bennett
I’ve had a lot of roles over the years from co-founding Municipal Software and Datamat Services, angel investing in Teampages, Oprius and Simation, to my role as a BCIC accredited mentor and my participation in the Gustavson School of Business mentor program. The two common themes in my varied roles has been coaching and working with a wide variety of stakeholders – two things that have prepared me well for my work at VIATEC. And speaking of my work at VIATEC…
One day, the then Chair of VIATEC, Art Aylesworth, stopped by the office and saw me hanging a disco ball from the ceiling. He asked me how I was doing. I responded, “Really well, Art”, which I think Art took as a pat response. So he pulled in closer to me and said, “Rob, no, really – how’s it going?” I said, “Art, every day I do something I’ve never done before, and will never do again!”
Whether it’s dressing up in a foam finger at a golf tournament declaring that “Tech is #1”, or as Darth Vader welcoming guests at VIATEC’s Tech Awards and leading the World’s Largest Indoor Light Sabre Battle, or as Jolly Old St. Nick during VIATEC’s Member Christmas Party, there have certainly been a lot of firsts in the last 5 years of working with VIATEC!
But here’s the amazing part – even the serious days are truly remarkable. I get to work with a number of very successful, insightful and generous people in our community who are interested in seeing entrepreneurs and their companies grow. Through programs like ICE at UVic, or working with the faculty and staff at the business school or the Faculty of Engineering, or our own Accelerator Programs, there are some incredible people who offer sage words of advice for entrepreneurs that are dedicated to their dreams. These people have “been there, done that;” they get involved because it is the right thing to do, and also sometimes because they’re willing to place a financial bet on the entrepreneur and their team. It’s quite humbling and mind-blowing all at the same time, and I continue to learn from these very accomplished people on a daily basis.
And then there’s the entrepreneurs – from every walk of life. Their passion is inspirational, and the energy they put towards their ventures is awesome. These people want to change the world, and we have a community of others that wish to help them. Is there anything better than that?
Oh yeah, one more thing that just has to be said. Events. VIATEC EVENTS. There’s a bit of a reputation that VIATEC has built over the years about having kick-ass events. From the VIATEC Technology Awards to Discover Tectoria, from multi-day events held annually like Experience Tectoria to one-evening events like the monthly VIAfest meetings, or the many festivals that we support around the community. There is always something happening – an excuse to meet people, get caught up and learn from each other. Although there is always a serious thread to every event, fun is the priority. A tremendous amount of work is done by the very accomplished team at VIATEC and our events typically go off without a hitch. To be part of Team VIATEC is an amazing experience unto itself – it’s truly remarkable what such a proficient – and prolific – team accomplishes.
Today I’m preparing for five companies to come and interview with our crack Executive-In-Residence team to get access to our Accelerator Program. We’ve met with all five already, and I’m quite excited about what each of these companies has to offer. The mere thought that one of these companies, or one of the alumni from the program, could grow to become the next Hootsuite or Shopify makes one pause to think a bit. And to be someone that has perhaps said something or done something to help along the way makes this one of the most fulfilling roles I’ve ever had!
Rob Bennett is the Chief Operating Officer and Program Director for VIATEC (Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council), and it’s the best “job” he’s ever had!
Thursday night, about 100 tech insiders caught a glimpse of some tech failure stories. see more
Greater Victoria’s high-tech industry has for years been lauding its successes, and telling anyone who will listen about its incredible growth.
And while the multibillion-dollar industry that employs about 22,000 people appears on the surface to be skipping along under nothing but blue skies, it knows there are deep, dark secrets hidden in the nooks and crannies of tech firms everywhere.
Thursday night, about 100 tech insiders caught a glimpse of some of them.
The Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council hosted its first F**kup Night, throwing back the curtain to reveal that sometimes it goes spectacularly wrong.
At turns raw, honest, funny and poignant, a trio of veteran Victoria technology leaders bared a little bit of their souls. At times, the candor caught both veteran colleagues and young tech newbies off guard.
The stories touched on fundamental mistakes, minor oversights, poor judgment and bankruptcy.
“Too often, we talk about the successes and we don’t spend a lot of time talking about those dark moments and thinking about the things that haven’t gone right,” said VIATEC chief executive Dan Gunn. “The reality is, if you’re a tech entrepreneur, there will be failures and success.”
F**kup Night, which started in Mexico in 2012, is now a global movement with more than 100 cities in 35 countries taking part, each of them offering a stage for companies to tell the world what went wrong.
Former Contech Enterprises chief executive Mark Grambart told the crowd about the deal and the errors made leading to the pet product company’s bankruptcy in 2015.
Starting with the caveat “this will not end well,” Grambart talked about a poor decision to implement new systems with a new acquisition that led to orders not being shipped and revenue drying up.
“We made no money, and because we made no money the banks didn’t increase our line of credit,” he said, noting that was the beginning of the end.
Grambart said they got complacent as they were veterans at acquiring new firms. He said his is a cautionary tale to remind other entrepreneurs there is always time for due diligence, not to rush a deal and to take the time to do post-merger integration right.
These days, Grambart said, when he feels comfortable he gets worried. “I ask myself, what am I missing,” he said.
Grambart, who is currently a mentor at VIATEC, said being able to share the story is important.
“It’s a bit of community building,” he said.
“I’m sure I’m not the only one with a story like that. It does go wrong, but it’s about how you react and how you work through it. There’s a lot of learning in there and that makes you better.”
Todd Dunlop agrees. The founder of tech firms Neverblue and RingPartner, Dunlop said talking about failure is as rewarding for those sharing the stories as those who hear them for the first time.
“Being able to show a lot of the companies that I mentor that there are ups and downs is rewarding. We all go through these f**k ups, but there are way more ups for all of us than there are downs,” he said.
Dunlop said being able to look back and reflect on his mistakes was therapeutic. “It forced me to look at all those lessons and maybe even apply some of those to my companies now,” he said.
Dunlop shared that after the sale of affiliate marketing research firm Neverblue in 2007 he was riding high, but was brought down to earth by a legal fight started by a patent over tracking technology.
The only winners of the costly legal battle were the lawyers, and Dunlop learned a lesson to limit his exposure and keep a sharp eye on the fine print.
The fight also bled into his new ventures as he became cautious — not in a good way — and stopped innovating and growing.
Dunlop said he hopes sharing his story will open the doors for others. “When you are being a little bit vulnerable, the hope is you’re opening an exchange with others,” he said.
Clayton Stark, head of technology at game developer Kixeye, has never been shy about sharing what’s on his mind.
A 27-year veteran of the tech scene in Victoria, Stark was up front saying when Mercurial Communications delivered its version of Netscape to America Online more than 10 years ago, they screwed up.
“It was a huge deal,” said the former Mercurial chief operating officer.
But the project and its numerous widgets and features shipped to the client without a key piece of the pie — analytics that would have allowed AOL to track and measure the new product.
Stark, who put analytics in the hands of one of his developers, said it’s a lesson in paying attention to detail and to things that you may not necessarily find all that interesting.
“Don’t be blinded by doing just what you love,” he said.
Like Dunlop and Grambart, Stark sees value in making a mess of things. “It’s humbling,” he said, noting he has learned to think things through. “These are ripe opportunities for increasing your leadership capabilities.”