You can’t fail if you don’t try! (Or why I left the UK)

Grumpy
Photo by Zitona

An article today and a talk last night reminded me why trying to get new stuff done (being an entrepreneur if you want to get fancy) was so damn hard in Britain. The article is from The Guardian on the death of the internet startup scene in the UK. Reading the body it's hard to escape how much the author is enjoying being negative. He doesn't seem sad or angry that the London ecosystem is apparently having so much trouble, more gleeful that he can point it all out. He's a poster child for:

#1 Negativity – When I would talk about my crazy plans for awesome software back home, there'd always be some smirking bugger like Paul jumping in with a million reasons they would never work. I'm sure plenty of people over here think I'm crazy when I talk about what I'm doing, but they've been brought up to be constructive. At the least they'll keep quiet, and some of my most valuable feedback has come from skeptics who really think about what they don't agree with and articulate things they'd like to see improved.

Then I read through the article's comments, and found one that embodies:

#2 Denial – "And why do we want to be the same as the US Web 2.0 start-ups ?!?! … Oddly enough over here we
like to think we have some sense and want to invest in things that can
be seen to work, at least in theory
." How's that working out for you? Sure dodged a bullet with Microsoft (who's going to use dinky micro-computers?), Amazon (buying books online?! ha!), Google (who's going to pay for search?). Thanks to those sort of lucky escapes Britain has no major players in the software or internet industries. Considering how much raw development talent there is, this is a massive failure, and it's impossible to claim that this 'sensible' approach to technology investing works.

I think these two both actually come from a deeper cause, and Paul Berberian gave an amazing talk on it last night:

#3 Fear of Failure
– In Britain, failing in business is a Scarlet Letter, a stain that won't rub off. This is especially dumb in the technology world. Pretty much every founder is setting off to climb Everest naked, hoping to pick up clothing and equipment along the way. The odds of making it to the summit are against you, but the value from the ones who do succeed more than makes up for it. It's impossible to tell in advance who will succeed, so you want as many credible teams trying as you can get.

Paul had already done one of my favorite all-time blog posts on the failure of his last startup, and he spent an hour talking in-depth about what went wrong. He owned the failure, accepted responsibility for it, but the underlying theme was failure sucks but instructs. Back in the UK there were lots of people trying to make sure I didn't screw up, and incidentally preventing me from trying some weird ideas that just might work. Here in the US I'm free to fail, which means I'm free to try and learn, and maybe succeed with something out of left-field too. That's why I love it here, I can get things done!

ps, if you want to see the craziest promo video for a startup ever, check out this one for Zenie

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