A prayer for dead startups

Notes from the Dead Startup Society

It’s a fact: a large percentage of startups die well before achieving their potential. Going through a startup failure can be very painful. A company is essentially a person in the eyes of the law, and as a founder, watching your startup die can be like watching a close relative die. It contains your hopes and aspirations, connects you and your community of coworkers, can entail huge losses both emotional and financial, and can result in acrimony in once close relationships.

Last night at CreativeHQ‘s Startup Garage, we held a meeting of the Dead Startup Society to acknowledge, mourn, release, and celebrate our startup failures. The event was based on a similar event conceived of and run by Sam Bonney, Dan Khan, and myself in 2014.

It may seem a bit twee, glib, or tongue-in-cheek, but I found the event in 2014 transformative – I was able to release myself from the guilt and angst of a dead startup that I’d been carrying round for the previous seven years. It may look like a bit of a joke on the outside, but it carries a dead serious and transformative payload.

The evening began with a discussion of the grieving process, the role of luck in entrepreneurship, and the necessity the real risk of failure in any innovative activity – the greater the potential gain, the greater the risk. It was poignant that in the CreativeHQ Event Space where the meeting was held, one of the walls is plastered with Arianna Huffington’s quote:

Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of success.

Each of the participants drew small effigies of their startups, and then we went round the room and told our stories of what happened in our startups, how we felt about it at the time, how we feel about it now, and what we learned. When each person had finished their story, I gave them the following “blessing”:

Thank you for sharing with us, your community. We have heard your story, and we feel your pain. We appreciate what you have gone through, and admire your perseverance and your resilience. You have learned valuable lessons from the experience that you could not have learned in any other way. Your failed startup will always be a part of you, and now it will always be a part of us. May you go in peace.

To which everyone present responded, “May you go in peace.”

The speaker then took their slip of paper with the drawn effigy of their startup, scrunched it up, and put it in a cup. These were burned after the event.

When everyone had finished, I offered the following prayer:

As Entrepreneurs, we all are inspired to try new things, in the full knowledge that we might fail.  We push the boundaries with our minds, our bodies, and our souls, and we do this with the best of intentions.  Sometimes we experience the exhilaration of success, and sometimes we feel the despair of failure. But we need not do this alone. We ride the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship together, and we are here for each other. When we are successful, we will invite others to celebrate with us. When we are in trouble, we will reach for to help – mental, physical, or spiritual. When we see someone in need, we will offer our hand in comfort and without judgement.  We draw confidence from the strength of our unique Wellington startup community. That’s us, and we will be here for each other, in good times and in bad times.

I finished by chanting a line from Psalm 97: Light is sown for the righteous, joy for those of upright heart.

May we use these learnings for good, to move from darkness to light, and from despair to joy.

Image credit: Flickr user whyld

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