You've Got to Fail to Succeed

Remember Shakespeare's concept of a play within a play? Where the actors play actors playing out a play in a self-referential loop that simultaneously pokes fun at, and celebrates, the life of the theater?

A new Web site has brought that same self-referential concept to the high-flying world of dot-com disasters. Startupfailures.com, which launched on May 8, is an Internet start up that provides support and online community for casualties of failed start ups. Subtitled "The Place for Bouncing Back," Startupfailures.com appears to be the first and only site of its kind, according to founder Nick Hall, a veteran of three failed start ups.

"Our purpose is to take the stigma out of failing and help you recover quickly from the failure and get back in action," reads the site text.

It almost sounds like the punchline of a particularly nerdy Silicon Valley joke: "So then he started a start up for failed start ups! Get it?" And maybe it would be, if it wasn't such a perfectly timed concept. Considering that only six of every thousand business plans receives venture funding, and that of those lucky few, sixty percent go bankrupt, Hall has tapped into an exponentially expanding market.

Hall came up with the idea for the site after going through the experience himself and being profiled in an article while he was working at a company that was gasping for breath, and ultimately went under.

"These are really trying times to go through," he says. "It's not easy. Even if you're successful, you probably hear 'no' thousands of times. So imagine being a failure -- you hardly hear 'yes' at all. It's easy to take that personally."

Hall saw a need for providing a voice for this rapidly expanding community and knew he had the skills and experience to cultivate it.

"I have created an environment for myself that has allowed me to bounce back," he says, attributing much of that to his strong basis of support from his wife and other family and friends, as well as his years of investment in personal coaching and other personal development techniques.

Startupfailures.com is not just about helping entrepreneurs get back on their feet workwise, it's about mind and body as well -- anything that's helpful in taking the sting out of experience -- whether that be exchanging war stories on the message boards or trading tips about affordable vacation spots. For many, just having a place to vent their frustrations is invaluable.

"Thanks for this site... it's given me courage to admit it, "failure" and get on with life!" reads one message board post.

Hall says response to the site so far has been tremendous -- the site's getting about 3500 visitors each day and Hall has received tons of personal e-mail thanking him for providing a place for people to find support.

His goals for the site are different than most. While Hall wants the proverbial eyeballs he says, "If our community is doing its job, we'll have fewer and fewer repeat visitors."

At the same time, he believes that if the Startupfailures community grows it's a positive step for the economy.

"That means more people are trying new things," says Hall, "and the reality is if you try enough things some won't work."

This glass-half-full guy says he's learned a great deal from his own failures and says if he had the opportunity to go back and make different business decisions he wouldn't. He thinks failure is something that needs to be accepted in the business world, as it is in other arenas, and that it shouldn't be considered a liability.

"In baseball if you have a .300 batting average, the focus is not on the seventy percent of the time you don't hit the ball, but the thirty percent of the time you do," Hall says. "I would love to see people be able to lose the significance of the word and for failure to be a reflection that you tried. Just because your business failed, doesn't mean you're a failure."

Hall says he doesn't fear tempting fate with his latest venture. To the many who ask, "What if this is a failure?" he says: "If it fails, I will try again. I will have learned lessons."

He calls this venture a "philanthropic for-profit," and while that may sound a bit contradictory, Hall says he's not capitalizing on other's failure. He is trying to develop a sustainable business so he can develop services that are in the best interest of the site's community.

In fact, the project does seem too touchy-feely not to be a labor of love. The site's marketing and promotion is currently solely on a grass-roots level, and Hall's only investor so far is his wife, Jennifer. But he is looking for sponsorship so he can expand the site's offerings. He's hoping to add original content, advice from personal coaches, financial and travel resources, real-world networking events and a marketplace for failed start ups to sell their assets.

And it's not like he takes things too seriously. Hall does see the irony of the situation and jokes about it.

"It would be funny," he admits, "if this became a hot space."

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