Startup Failure: Life, Career, and Other Lessons

TL;DR: bonus cash, inspiration, implementation, loss of partner, trying to do business and failing, meeting great people, loosing friends, and a seemingly still impossible career recovery.

I’ve been working in the programming/finance industry for 10 years, before finally getting a chance to try doing a startup, after accumulating some extra cash from bonuses (instead of getting a mortgage). I really wanted to do it, because I thought this was a good chance to do what I always wanted to do, and possibly gain financial independence along the way, plus a job I love for the rest of my life.

Although I’ve read a lot of business/startup books, I was still a deeply technical guy with regard to the actual experience. However, I thought I could be smarter than all the “business guys” and concentrate on creating revolutionary technology first, and find business applications later.

After a few months I broke up with my long-term partner. In retrospect, it wasn’t fine for him/her that I was taking too much risk with my life, and this created pressure in all other areas of life, which ultimately led to a break up (indirectly).

This destroyed my life for a few months. But eventually I recovered and had even more determination to push my limit to the end and give everything to working on this startup, taking as much risk as possible. This might have been a mistake, because if not for the break up, I would have stopped earlier.

I’ve seen some startup FAQs on the net. There was one question: Where are my friends? And the answer: You don’t have friends anymore. That’s what happened to me. Once I didn’t have the extra means to support the lifestyle I had previously, almost all my friends somehow magically disappeared. Needless to say, none were really interested in what I was working on (beyond the level that “it’s a startup”).

Friends who could have helped me with just half an hour of their time (business/design related), never actually got around to actually look and give me feedback.

After some time, we started to adapt the technology (text analysis) to business applications. It seemed like it should have been easy. Yahoo bought Summly for $30mil, and we were much better. LinkedIn bought Pulse for $90mil, and we were better. It gave us more push to try harder, but eventually we ran out of time/money before trying more business applications.

It is at this time that I’ve met the greatest person in my life, and we are partners now. It was at this point that I wished I had my “regular” life back, so I could share my previously fabulous lifestyle with my new partner. However, now I am minus $5K on credit cards, and I need to count how much I spend on food.

This new life-partner provided me with all support possible: love, advice on startup business ideas, sharing expenses, and not worrying about my future. Being with me no matter what.

I’ve recently went for an interview at a well-known Internet company. It all was going good, however at the last stage of the interview, I wasn’t able to solve the last coding problem, and therefore was eventually rejected, though they gave me great feedback.

My previous career targets, such as banks, do not really invite me for interviews anymore. I guess they are concerned I’ve been out of the business for too long. Some are concerned that I’ve been doing Java, and not C# for the last two years. Even though I know a dozen programming languages, various CS algorithms, and many ideas from machine learning.

I have two masters, in math and in finance. I have 10 years experience in software and finance. But it seems like I lost everything, except gaining the greatest life-partner in the world. That must have been worth it.

What have I learnt? Your friends are not what they seem. Your partner might not be what they seem. Ideas are not business. Technology is not business. Self-control is hard, but learnable. Your career will take a great hit if you do a startup and fail. And you will be older. If you don’t have a safety net of people who can support you if you fail, don’t go till the end like I did. I don’t know how I will recover from this, but I will.

  • There’s a lot of denial going on in this post. For example: the last coding question probably isn’t why you were rejected.

  • So you had some cash, tried once, without any proven marked demand, and burned all the cash? Lets be thrifty next time, use $10 for a domain and up to 3 months of your time to launch.

  • I lost half a million (startup), my son, then my daughter and nearly went personally bankrupt. This all happened within about 24 months. You can learn a lot from your failures on top of personal tragedy (most people will not go to the funeral of 1 child let alone 2 of their own children 9 months apart).

    Seems to me you have had a life reset, it is down to you now, on how you wish to bounce back. Businesses are risky and startups especially, as are the risk and rewards that come with it.

    I would first determine what you want in life and then diligently begin the rebuilding process. Here in the UK, failure is toxic and unforgiving. So getting a job is not as easy after your first dip.
    Getting back in the saddle might be your best bet, do some consulting / offer your services as a contractor. Then you put a bit of distance between the recent failure.

    GET BACK OUT THERE AND SHOW THEM WHAT YOU ARE MADE OF… Once you get your confidence back you will be fine.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about the tragedies in your life. No parent should ever have to bury their children.

      You seem to have such a positive spirit in spite of what you’ve gone through. I’m the one of the cofounders of StartupsAnonymous and would love if you considered sharing your story.

    • Thanks a lot! My failure is nothing compared to you. I salute your strength! I am also in the UK. None of the financial places that would gladly take me two years ago are even willing to invite me for an interview. Seems like the only way to come back into the system is to start from the very bottom, even though I would be most useful and better than many in advanced roles. But there is too much competition among peers there already. Nevertheless, it was a great lesson to learn in life. Thanks a lot again, and keep strong!

      • No worries…And like you, I have started again from the bottom up. Once you get over the initial thought of the long road back, you can build some decent momentum.

        Like success, failure is not final. It really is down to how you approach it. The advantages you have are what you have learned from the battle scars. You cannot buy that experience and if you made lots of mistakes first time round and swerve them on the next attempt… You have just slashed the odds.

        What people seem to forget is some of the most successful people had lots of failures but only told the story once they have become mega successful. Not everyone builds unicorns and piss rainbows (What’sApp / FB / Twitter) the first time around.

        Make a long list of all the mistakes and pin them on a wall… Then get back to writing the final chapter in your story. The road back awaits!

        Good luck…

  • Here in the states, at least in the startup world, failure is a badge of honor and courage. It just gets you closer to success. Look at any successful person, and you’ll find they took risks and eventually got great rewards from their hard work. Sometimes having someone you care about does change your perspective though. Hopefully your new love will support you in whatever you decide to do next. Best wishes!

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