A wake for the dead dreams of mourning entrepreneurs


The sombre tones of Chopin’s funeral march is the soundscape to the gathering scores of people, some in suits, most in jeans and trainers, in a room on the fringes of the City of London. At the front, a tall wiry man in a dog-collar speaks to the assembled crowd. “Dearly beloved, we are here today … to show our sympathy and to give our comfort to those who feel the loss most and for ourselves to meditate on the brevity of life.”

伴随着肖邦葬礼进行曲阴沉的调子,人群逐渐聚集在伦敦金融城(City of London)边上的一个房间里,其中有些人身着西装,绝大多数人则穿着牛仔裤和运动鞋。一个高瘦结实、围着牧师式白色硬领的男子站在前面,向聚集起来的人群发表讲话。“亲爱的各位,今天我们来到这里……以表达我们的感同身受,并将我们的安慰带给那些因为它的离去而承受了最大伤痛的人,这也将促使我们自己沉思人生的短暂。”

“Vicar” Adam Hawley holds up a copy of the “good book”, Eric Ries’s The Lean Start-up. He reads aloud to the congregation: “When we fail, as so many of us do, we have a ready-made excuse: we didn’t have the right stuff. We weren’t visionary enough or weren’t in the right place at the right time.” The reading continues: “After more than 10 years as an entrepreneur, I came to reject that line of thinking. I have learned from both my own successes and failures and those of others that it’s the boring stuff that matters the most.”

扮演“牧师”的亚当•霍利(Adam Hawley)拿在手中充作《圣经》的,是埃里克•里斯(Eric Ries)所著的《精益创业》(The Lean Start-up)一书。他面向人群大声朗读道:“当我们失败时——我们当中的很多人都会失败——我们已经有了现成的借口:我们不具备正确的要素。我们不够有远见,或者我们没有在正确的时点出现在正确的地方。”朗读还在继续:“在经历了超过十年的企业家生涯之后,我开始排斥这种思维套路。我从自己以及他人的的成功和失败中学到,看起来枯燥平凡的东西才是最关键的。”

So begins the Start-up Funeral, a gathering of start-up employees and would-be entrepreneurs, here at TechHub, the co-workspace and community of tech entrepreneurs, on Google’s Old Street campus. Overseeing the evening’s proceedings is not a real vicar but TechHub’s director of global projects. Two entrepreneurs — Sophie Newman-Sanders and Amit Rai — are here to discuss the deaths of their respective ventures, to be picked over by the assembled crowd in a kind of postmortem.

初创企业葬礼就这样开始了,这是一个在TechHub举行的初创企业员工和未来企业家的集会。TechHub是一个面向科技企业家的共同办公场所和社区,位于英国首都伦敦的老街(Old Street)的谷歌园区。负责主持今晚活动的并不是一位真正的牧师,而是TechHub的全球项目总监。两位企业家——索菲•纽曼-桑德斯(Sophie Newman-Sanders)和阿米特•拉伊(Amit Rai)也来到这里讨论他们各自企业的失败教训,以一种事后剖析的方式接受在场人群的仔细审视。

Mr Rai addresses the gathering on Trylista, a “start-up I murdered three years ago”. The engineer devised a website and app to enable people to pick clothes online which they could try on at home and return without paying upfront. The epiphany that this business was doomed came when someone in a meeting asked for his opinion on a fashion show. He realised he had no interest in fashion. “It dawned on me I didn’t care about this industry.”


Taking part in the funeral presentation, he says, has helped him draw a line. “There is a difficulty as a sole trader knowing when to throw in the towel.” He wondered whether he was being lazy or defeatist.


Writing the presentation was a useful way of distilling the reasons. After he wound up his business, he found that applying for jobs meant he was putting a positive spin on his company’s failings. “In a job interview you say things that won’t make you look bad — you’re not brutally honest.”


Today he has started another company, Coo, an app for parents to share information. “I care about this. I’m a parent. It’s a thing I want to fix for myself.”


Such events are not new. TechHub first ran a start-up funeral in 2014; since then it has held them in Madrid and will run one in Warsaw next month. Before that, there was FailCon, a one-day conference started in San Francisco in 2009, to analyse entrepreneurial failure. At that time the topic was rarely discussed. Today, however, failure has come out of the shadows and “fail fast, fail often” has become a Silicon Valley mantra.


Steffan Bankier, who ran a similar event to the Start-up Funeral in New York last year, was taken aback by the enthusiastic response from entrepreneurs willing to talk publicly about their failures. He believes that people put on a front at networking events and are “itching for the opportunity to break through it”. However, he concedes that the people who were willing to speak did so because they had turned their careers around. “It’s far easier to talk about failure once you’ve succeeded,” he says. In his own case, he ran the nights after winding down his wine business before moving on to a senior sales job at Alice, a hospitality management start-up.

斯蒂芬•班吉尔(Steffan Bankier)去年在纽约组织了一项与初创企业葬礼类似的活动,当时不少企业家都愿意公开讲述自己的失败经历,他们热情洋溢的回应让他吃了一惊。他认为人们在交流聚会的活动中都会戴上面具,同时又“渴望有机会能够打破面具”。但他也承认,愿意站出来讲述失败的人之所以会这么做,是因为他们已经扭转了自己的职业生涯。他说,“一旦你取得了成功,讲述失败经历就会变得容易很多”。以他自己为例,他在放弃了自己的红酒业务以后上过夜班,之后转到了一家名为Alice的酒店管理初创公司从事高级销售工作。

For Ms Newman-Sanders, co-founder of Synnapps, which connects businesses in the developing world using mobile technology, the purpose of speaking at Tuesday’s start-up funeral was to share her experiences of the failings of the UK operation, which was her baby, and to warn others against making the same mistakes. Also important was finding common ground. “Ninety per cent of the time being an entrepreneur is ultra lonely. Employees have lunch without you. I craved a feeling of camaraderie.”


Putting the presentation together helped her take responsibility: “If I hadn’t been preparing for this I wouldn’t have looked at the mistakes I made so closely.” It has been cathartic, she says, to face up to her own failings. With hindsight she can see that she forced her own vision of the company on to her former business partner and refused to see that he had not fully bought into it. 


Before, she did not have time to reflect. “I was so desperate to sell the idea that whenever it looked like the funding might stop I would add more bells and whistles.” Now she can see she was blind to the problems. “I heard what I wanted to hear … I didn’t listen.”


Start-up funerals serve a purpose, says Henry Kressel, co-author of If You Really Want to Change the World: “They can be useful if case histories are discussed and the discussion highlights where key decisions made were faulty.”

《如果你真的想要改变世界》(If You Really Want to Change the World)一书的联合作者亨利•克雷塞尔(Henry Kressel)表示,初创企业葬礼确实能够发挥一定作用。“如果参加者对案例的发展过程进行讨论,并且在讨论中重点关注了关键决策出现错误的地方,这种活动可以很有帮助。”

Brad Feld, a US venture capitalist based in Colorado, has held informal wakes for companies. The key, he says, is to celebrate the life of the company rather than obsess about the failure. “It’s like a normal wake — celebrate the person’s, or the company’s, life. And then move on and get back to work.”

美国科罗拉多州的一位风险投资家布拉德•费尔德(Brad Feld)也曾为企业举办过非正式的守灵活动。他表示,活动的关键在于赞颂企业的发展历程,而不是过于执迷于企业的失败。“这就像一个正常的守灵活动一样——歌颂一个人或者一家企业的一生。然后继续向前,重新开始工作。”

John Mullins, associate professor of management practice at London Business School, says it is important for entrepreneurs to give themselves a version of an exit interview on their business. “You need to step back and try to be objective and bring other people’s point of view as we’re often too close.”

伦敦商学院(London Business School)的管理实践副教授约翰•马林斯(John Mullins)表示,对于企业家而言,对自己的企业给自己一个类似于离职面谈的总结非常重要。“由于我们通常离得太近,你需要退后一步,试着变得客观,并听取其他人的观点。”

Travis Lee Street presented his own lessons about Style Gauge, a fashion analytics company at a previous start-up funeral. He points out that broadcasting your failures if you have spent your own money is different from having burnt through investors’ funds: “I certainly wouldn’t be so forthcoming if my venture was VC or angel funded because there are strong relationships behind the scenes.” He would worry that divulging decisions when in¬vestors were involved would be indiscreet, disrespectful and could burn bridges.

特拉维斯•李•斯特里特(Travis Lee Street)在以前一次初创企业葬礼活动上分享了自己从Style Gauge得到的教训,这是一家时尚分析初创公司。他指出,在公开讲述自己失败创业经历时,你在创业过程中花的是自己的钱和烧投资者的钱是不一样的:“如果我是依靠风险投资或者天使基金来为我的创业项目融资,那我肯定不会如此坦诚,因为私底下存在着深厚的关系。”他担心,透露那些牵涉到投资者的企业决策会过于轻率、不尊重对方,并可能破坏双方关系。

However, he believes there is a place for venture capitalists to speak at such events about why they funded the business and what went wrong from their perspective: “It all has to do with hearing from the true risk-taking individual, the person with the most to lose.”


After an evening of jokes and practical lessons at Tuesday’s TechHub funeral, a member of the audience asks about the emotional fallout. Ms Newman-Sanders confesses that she did not let on to friends and family how bad things were until it was too late. She recommends counselling.


For Mr Rai, the answer was meeting other failed entrepreneurs. “We did lots of drinking. We would sit for two hours discussing our failures.” But ultimately it was finding a corporate job and getting busy, before starting another business — despite his pledge to stay off the entrepreneurial life.