Indie Hackers Newsletter Crew October 21, 2020

200,000+ discussions on Indie Hackers, but less than 3% mention failure (#3 - The Startup)

Richard Awoyemi @RichAwo

My 3rd newsletter post was about failing to succeed originally published here: thestartup.substack.com
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Failure feels like a taboo subject among startups. We say “over 90%” fail, but scanning through over 200,000 discussions on IndieHackers (a community of founders), less than 3% mention failure whatsoever. But there’s a lot to learn! After reading this, hopefully, you won’t be as scared to discuss failing - we may even laugh about it.


What’s the problem? 🤔

I’m no psychologist 🤦🏾‍♂️, but, here’s my struggle in a tweet (or two):


Embracing The Fear 💪🏾

As a startup, one of your most significant superpowers is your ability to iterate quickly. However, an unhealthy fear of failure stifles that, making us perfectionists or procrastinators:

(Credits - Jack Butcher)

I found this working on my first project. Our desire to be perfect was paralysing at worst and was painfully slow at best. Everything from product launch to social media posts was far too time-consuming. Fearing imperfection left us majoring on minors. However, embracing failure as a possibility is necessary for rapid progress.

Even now, I still struggle with it (as I write), but I’ve learnt a few things:

  • Don’t suppress fear 🤐 - instead, practice the uncomfortable and expand your comfort zone;
  • Where there’s no chance of failure, there’s no room for growth; and
  • Failure doesn’t have to be ultimate or purposeless. Aim to “fail forward” - iterate and pivot your product and ideas until you succeed.

Let’s Run The Numbers 🧑🏽‍🏫

Failure is offputting until you realise it’s advantageous because it allows us to move on and try other things. Assuming only 5% of startups “succeed”:

The more attempts you make, the greater your odds of finding success - which actually improves faster than this if you allow for the things you’ve learnt from previous attempts. This also extends to experimenting with product features. When faced with poor the odds, testing more ideas quickly speeds up your product development.


Book Extracts 🤓

📚 Book - The Lean Startup:

“If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.”

Startups aim to understand and solve customer’s problems more quickly than anybody else. Accomplishing this requires you to create an environment conducive for learning, regardless of whether your assumptions are proven right, or wrong.


📚 Book - The Hard Thing About Hard Things:

“The Struggle is not failure… The Struggle is where greatness comes from.”


📚 Book - The 4-Hour Work Week:

“Eustress, on the other hand, is a word most of you have probably never heard… Role models who push us to exceed our limits, physical training that removes our spare tires, and risks that expand our sphere of comfortable action are all examples of eustress—stress that is healthful and the stimulus for growth.”


🗣 Additional Quotes:

  • Niels Bohr - “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.”
  • Frank Wilczek - If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.
  • Bill Gates - "Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."
  • Horace - “Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.”

Food For Thought 🍽

  • Kyle Gawley - The Startup Success Delusion That Put Me In Hospital
  • Sahil Lavingia - Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company
  • David Brown - Heres What Fail Fast Really Means
  • Google product graveyard - Killed By Google
  • When impostor syndrome strikes, remember 💭:

Thanks for reading!


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Recent posts:
#1: Focus
#2: Online Community

  1. 3

    "Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren't packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human and fully embrace the pursuit that you've embarked on."-Marcus Aurelius

  2. 3

    What incredible timing lol, I have been thinking on this subject for a while as well. I think more of us need to embrace failure because it gives us more at-bats to win!

    The timing is incredible because I literally just uploaded a video on this topic to my youtube channel this morning.

    Facebook Rejected Me As a Software Engineer Intern But It Helped Me Land My Dream Job

    1. 3

      Just saw your video - great minds think alike! 😅

      Honestly wish we spoke about it more, seeing everyone's revenue is great, but would also be nice to see things people tried, that didn't work out so well. It's all helpful at the end of the day. 🙂

      1. 3

        I appreciate it! I also just posted in another IH thread all my failed projects haha.

        So far I haven't had a ton of success building projects but I've noticed that being authentic, telling a story, and not glamorizing life has been helping me build an audience much quicker. People are more interested in what I'm doing and this time it feels a bit different.

        Thanks for bringing this kind of content to the community. Just subscribed to your newsletter :)

        1. 3

          Love the honesty, and wishing you all the best with your next projects. I had to wind down a project a few weeks back for a number of reasons (after about 2 years), but on the bright side, I've started the newsletter 😁

          Like you said, being authentic, helps a lot when building an audience, which can help if you decide to build something in the future.

          Thanks for the sub!!!

  3. 2

    I made a post about the lack of IH discussion around failure about a year ago and Courtland had a good response.

    1. 1

      You called them "Humble brags" to be fair 😂😂😂

      Excellent response, especially about Facebook in the end. I wonder how many people have the "fail multiple times" experience, see all the positivity and then just quit because they feel their experiences don't align? Just a thought :)

  4. 2

    Saw this on your newsletter, helpful post!

    1. 2

      Thanks, glad it was helpful! 😄

  5. 1

    Your startup is not a lottery ticket. There are no "odds" that remain fixed independent of the effort, resources and time you invest.

    Let's take a look at a more familiar analogy. Every year countless people set a goal of running a marathon. Most "fail", but for the vast, vast majority it isn't a matter of luck.

    With a baseline of health, a decent plan and sustained committed effort most people can successfully train and run the distance. Not everyone can do it equally quickly or easily, but setting the goal and then taking a detached view of "the odds" leads to less agency and less success.

    1. 1

      If you stick with something fundamentally flawed for a long time, it doesn't automatically get better. Learning what to say no to is just as important as grit.

      That said, here, I'm assuming that a singular course of action is an attempt. Each new set of assumptions tested and pivot would be a new course of action. Each one functions as an attempt to understand the problem better.

      Btw, I do caveat that past learnings are not being accounted for in the graph.

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