Stories of failed startups used to be scattered across the web, but now these sites are trying to collect them for you.
When in the summer of 2016 the Belgian startup Take Eat Easy went out of business its CEO Adrien Roose did something quite common: he wrote his story on Medium. After startups fail , insiders often feel the need to tell their story, and turn to blogs. In his blog post titled "From 0 to 1,000,000 to?" Roose explained why Take Eat Easy had failed.
Inside stories like Roose’s offer future founders key lessons, and at the same time remove some of the stigma around failing. Now a number of sites are trying to collect these stories, that were previously scattered around the web. They do this not out of schadenfreude but to show why these startups failed and to turn them into a resource for others.
In this post I listed these sites and talked to the people behind them. Be prepared for a journey past graveyards, undertakers and autopsies.
Welcome to Startup Graveyard
Startup Graveyard is a metaphorical graveyard for dead startups. Each startup is represented by a casket with the company logo on it.
“Startup Graveyard was created with the goal of helping entrepreneurs” Agop explains.
“I looked for resources prior to the project but found that information about startup failure was scattered, not explicitly stated and articles didn’t always feel like an encapsulation of the entire story.”
Startup Graveyard has good design and contains well referenced entries. Most are based on multiple sources and contain key pieces of information such as the founders, capital rounds, competitors and reasons for failure. You can also search based on the sector in which the startup was active. The main issue with the site is the current lack of startups, at the time of writing there are 28 stories on Startup Graveyard, not enough to really dig deep.
Same metaphor, similar concept of Autopsy
Just like Startup Graveyard, Autopsy uses death as a metaphor, each startup receives a metaphorical autopsy after it failed.
The site is run by London based Maryam Mazraei, the site’s “undertaker.” When she was 18 she founded her own business, that failed “after 4 years of a hard core grinding and hustling.”
With Autopsy she hopes to better portray the hardships of running a business and offer a resource for people to learn from the failure of others.
Autopsy has a good amount of stories, it features 146 of them at the time of writing, more than Startup Graveyard. Autopsy also collects interesting, often hard to find, information such as Twitter handles of founders, links to Angellist or Crunchbase, blog posts by founders and even inside stories take from Reddit posts. The site design is, however, basically a spreadsheet, and does not have the search functionalities the other sites have.
Collapsed but not finished
Collapsed works differently from Autopsy and Startup Graveyard. Not only does it lack metaphors related to death, it also operates as a user-based platform while the above two sites are curated by the owners (albeit with support from their communities). Users can simply sign in on Collapsed and add pieces of information.
Aaron Kazah, a London based developer, founded the site.
“I noticed a trend in which people focused on successful startups rather than the failed ones” Kazah explains.
At the same time he wants to turn the site into a space: “that truly helps people learn from the mistakes of others.”
Collapsed contains technical information such as funding rounds, names of investors and number of employees (often sourced through Crunchbase). You can also easily search based on sector and country. Because of a lack of community members, however, some posts on the site contain less information than those on the other two sites. The owners have recently been adding more information to posts though, and even included Take Eat Easy on Collapsed.
Are there Belgian initiatives?
In Belgium there's Failing Forward, but that site does not only focus on failed startups. It contains testimonials of entrepreneurs in a wide range of sectors (only some are founders of tech startups) who share the lessons they learned from their fuckups.
CEO of Startups.be Karen Boers, who initiated Failing Forward a couple of years ago, explains: "Hitting a wall, crashing face down, crawling back up and starting over again are all parts of life. Of entrepreneurial life just as much as of any other part of life. Failure comes in many different shapes and colors. It can range from a product fail to a business pivot to an outright bankruptcy. But even the latter should not be a cause to be 'blacklisted' and bashed for the rest of your life."
"The point is not that we should try to avoid failure - that goes against the heart of innovation. The point is that we should embrace the lessons learned from failure."
Besides testimonials (note that all information is published only in Dutch), you will find an agenda with a series of events for those who want to hear real-life testimonials and network with like-minded people.
If you want more stories there are a few other place to look, places like r/Shutdown (a subreddit dedicated to stories of failed startups), Techcrunch deadpool (all stories of failed startups on Techcrunch), Product Haunt (all failed Product Hunt projects), articles by market researchers or just Crunchbase. These are great sites to scroll through, but expect large amounts of scattered information. If you speak Dutch, Tumble Talks is an interesting resource as well.
Additionally, a new site, Shutdown List, is set to launch soon. It should contain more stories than Startup Graveyard, Autopsy or Collapsed. The site is, however, not yet online at the moment, and the creators asked not to be featured on the list.
And again, you can just get out of the building and attend one of the future Failing Forward events. The next major bi-annual Failing Forward conference will be held on November 28th in Gent, so save the date!
By Tom Cassauwers