Sharing Failures in Paris: FailCon

25th September marked the day of FailCon Paris when the fantastic FailCon team came over from California to help the French embrace failure!

Cass introducing the FailCon Paris sponsors

The conference hosted a full day of speakers, Q&As and excellent networking opportunities at Microsoft’s offices in Paris. I went along as I’m particularly interested in encouraging people to understand that any business, start up, venture or entrepreneurial idea will at some point, inevitably experience failure. That, however is not a negative occurance but a means of learning to succeed at what you want to achieve.

The speakers were excellent. Some were fairly big names, others were less well known but the thing, for me, that made the event was the atmosphere in the room. Everyone that attended the conference was ready to accept failure, had failed at some point, wanted their business to succeed and/or understood the value of learning from other people’s mistakes.

Prepare For and Avoid Common Startup Mistakes
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leaders have dealt with failure while keeping a positive and tenacious attitude.
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FailCon Paris

Learnings from the morning’s speakers

JB Rudelle CEO and cofounder of Critero talked about the differences between being a hare and a tortoise when it comes to business start ups. You may feel the need to run quickly and reach your goals quicker than planned but this can be a curse. ‘If it’s not quick and easy, it is a bad idea’ – WRONG! Success comes from hard work and persistance. Deals should be done when opportunities arise or ‘me-toos’ will creep in! All of this must, however take metrics into consideration. You must force yourself to measure your actions and outputs properly or it will become very difficult to know if you are being successful or not.

Eric Mittelette from Microsoft told the story of Microsoft’s web servers being hit by a virus which gave them a bad name. The virus took 15 minutes to infect 75,000 servers! The flaw in their single product meant that customers had a negative opinion of the entire company. Their failure came from their product having too many features and they did not know enough about security. Their piece of advice for businesses is to always have someone look over your code and use fresh eyes when reviewing work. This not only finds flaws and irons out problems but creates fun,positive competition in the workplace.

Jean-Christophe Capelli, CEO and cofounder of FriendsClear encountered regulation issues when starting his money lending via the internet business. His business was a small start-up trying to work with big businesses but both were on different time lines. Jean’s advice is to avoid working in regulated industries (!) but the overall learnings were to never give up, be prepared for hurdles and be aware of the pace of your partner companies. He had to stop working for 9 months and take a breather. Something that is not unheard of by a number of start-ups.

Next came a panel session titled ‘Investment Pitfalls’

On the panels was:

Jean David entertained everyone with this opening remark. ‘the first pancake never looks good’ Very true and interestingly linked to the fact that VCs will hardly ever admit they failed after an investment! VCs need to trust the entrepreneurs more and trust what they are doing with their money. When someone is investing, they are buildling the company and know one knows what will happen to that company. ‘how do you make people row in the right direction? you can’t…’
Sean went on to discuss the directions that failure can take. Often failure occurs because the technology has failed or because a me-too has entered and possibly saturated the market. There needs to be trust between the investor and shareholders. Breakdown in trust is when failure gets nasty. Know your numbers, show your enthusiams but don’t be afraid of having doubts.
Philippe said it’s important to paint a vision but also be able to tackle situations and take control.

Learning’s from the afternoon speakers

Olivier Fecherolle, Viadeo realised that he was too early with his start-up but didn’t have the money to wait. He made an interesting point that the UK is an island and you need to think that way if you want to launch there. You must base yourself in the place that you want to launch in to be able to set yourself up commercially. You must be in the same place as your company for success and look at your business globally if you want to scale it.

Thom Cummings, SoundCloud piece of advice from starting up his company was that it is easy to under recognise your achievement yet it’s also easy to over recognise milestones! It is common to have access to too much information and too many paths which makes focussing challenging. Start-ups must pick the right metric and be able to recognise when good enough is good enough. ‘Be a navigator, not a chauffeur’, ‘choose the right path, give support and let them drive’

Thom Cummings at FailCon
Next came the panel session Location: Can It Ruin You?

This session discussed building trust with your brand and the necessity of having a website that your stakeholders like and can relate to. Good branding is essential for gaining this trust. Markus explained how he tried to scale the marketing too slowly. It is important to have big numbers and faith to spend money on your marketing!

Gabriel was confident that you don’t necessarily want two years of runway to grow your start-up. It’s more important to spend what money you have wisely!

Lara Rouyres and Tatiana Lara, LivingSocial had some very wise words to share as the last speakers of the day. The culture of a small start-up will change when it becomes a bigger business and people need to be ready for this. ‘Make sure you get management to write down their values each month, then choose who represents those values best’ was a technique they have adopted.

Anticipate transition, don’t rush into hiring people and remember that communication amongst the team is crucial.

What I learnt from the whole event

Starting a business can be done by nearly anyone but understanding what is ahead of you needs confidence, management and planning. We can plan for inevitable hurdles but we never know when we will come across them and need to be ready to pivot. Every time we fail, those hurdles become more obvious and the time it takes to pivot reduces.

You must believe in yourself but be mature enough to listen to others and know when to take their advice!

The conference was incredibly valuable for anyone running a business and what I heard definitely rings true with the start-ups I am currently working with.

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‘TED+’ becomes ‘My Fail Tale’ – thanks to attending the Digital Agenda Assembly

OpenIDEO set social challenges and put call outs for people to design solutions, better together. I’ve been involved in a number of the challenges over the last couple of years and each time find myself becoming more and more involved.

OpenIDEO

People are often intrigued as to why I choose to volunteer my time to contribute. That’s easy to answer; as a design interested in design for social good, it ticks all the boxes; I know I’m helping develop ideas to help others and help huge social issues, I get to meet designers and creatives from all over the world (albeit virtually) and I learn a huge amount. Other people’s point of view, suggestions, ideas and help is invaluable for developing myself in the world of social design.

The web start-up challenge interested me as I’ve increasingly found myself involved in web start-ups. The web opens up the potential of innovation, it is continuing to grow and more and more opportunities are appearing.

Following on from my own experiences and from speaking to web start-up founders it was clear that the majority have failed at some point in their career – they have either completely changed direction, closed one business and started up another or spent longer than expected to be successful. I believe that things happen for a reason and that positives comes from every negative – let’s embrace failure, let’s change our culture of hiding away from failure and let’s learn from other people’s mistakes.

That’s where the TED+ sharing failures, concept idea came from; let’s encourage people to talk about their failure stories and use the TED model to do this.

TED Positive

Being chosen as one of the 10 winners of the challenge was very exciting but being invited to share the concept at the Europrean Commission and collect an award as part the Digital Agenda Assembly was incredible.

The assembly was streamed live and here is an edited version of Tom Hulme introducing OpenIDEO followed by Amy Bonsall handing out the awards to the winners (sorry for the poor quality of the video!):

Although the community on OpenIDEO had provided really valuable feedback and contributions, having the opportunity to discuss the concept in person with members of IDEO, the other winners and members of the European Commission really helped develop the concept on even further.

It was clear that introducing another Failure conference series may not be the best way to realise the concept – I want to reach everyone, change the culture, build a community and help people possibly scared to launch into the start-up world to realise they can do it.

TED Positive has moved to www.myfailtale.com – the site is aiming to create a movement. It will be the place to share and learn from others. It’s your one-stop website for all failure stories told in a fun, positive way!

My Fail Tale

Please share your stories…send them via twitter using the hashtag #failtale, record a video and email it to me, send me web links to interesting articles or attend a conference where failure stories are told (FailCon will be holding an event in Paris on 25th September) – once the stories have been curated, the site will go live – watch this space, I’m really excited to see how far the message can be spread!