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初创企业

A wake for the dead dreams of mourning entrepreneurs
初创企业的“葬礼”

这不是一般意义上的葬礼,而是初创企业员工和未来企业家的集会,是他们从彼此的失败和成功中交流经验的聚会。

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.”

拉伊向人群介绍了Trylista,“这是一家三年前被我谋杀的初创企业”。当时作为工程师的拉伊设计了一个网站和应用,以帮助人们在网上挑选服装,人们可以在家中试穿这些衣服并退回,而无需提前支付任何费用。他对这项业务注定失败的顿悟来自于有人在一个会议上询问他对一场时装秀的看法。他意识到自己对时尚没有丝毫兴趣。“我突然发现,我根本不喜欢时尚行业。”

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.

他表示,在此次葬礼活动上做展示帮助他划清界限。“作为一名个体经营者,很难想清楚什么时候应该认输。”他曾思考过自己是否过于懒惰,或者是一个失败主义者。

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.”

撰写展示文稿是一个提炼放弃理由的有效方式。在关闭了自己的企业之后,他发现申请工作意味着他将要用一种积极正面的方式来讲述自己企业的失败。“在工作面试当中,你会说那些不会让你看起来糟糕的东西——这意味着你并不完全诚实。”

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.”

现在他成立了一家名为Coo的新公司,这是一个给家长用来分享信息的应用。“我对这方面非常关注。我自己就是一名家长。这是一件我希望为了自己而做成的事。”

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.

诸如此类的活动并不新鲜。TechHub在2014年第一次举办了初创企业葬礼,此后又在马德里举行了多次同类活动,6月还在华沙举行了一次。在初创企业葬礼出现之前,还有名为FailCon的会议,这是最早于2009年开始在旧金山举行的为期一天的会议,会上主要分析创业失败的案例。在当时,创业失败还是一个人们很少讨论的话题。而如今,创业失败已经从阴影中走了出来,“快速失败,经常失败”已成为硅谷的一条准则。

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.”

纽曼-桑德斯是Synnapps的联合创始人,这家公司将发展中国家的企业通过移动互联网技术联系起来。对于她来说,在星期二的初创企业葬礼上演讲是为了分享她在这家英国企业失败过程中收获的经验——这家企业就像她的孩子一样——并告诫其他人不要再犯同样的错误。对她来说同样重要的还有找到共同点。“作为一个企业家,有90%的时间都是极其孤独的。你的员工不会和你一起午餐。我渴望找到一种志同道合的感觉。”

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. 

整理展示材料的过程有助于她担起责任:“如果我没有为此次活动做准备,我不会如此仔细地审视我曾犯过的错误。”她表示,直面自己的失败让她的情绪得到了宣泄。在事情过去之后她能认识到,她将自己对于公司的愿景强加给了她曾经的商业伙伴,并拒绝看清对方并未完全接受她的观点。

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.”

在参加初创企业葬礼之前,她没有时间反思自己。“我是如此迫切地想要推销自己的创意,以至于一旦融资有了可能停止的迹象,我就会给自己的创意加上更多华而不实的东西。”现在她已经意识到自己当时对问题视而不见。“我只听得进去自己想要听到的东西……我没有静心倾听。”

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.”

但他认为,在此类活动中也应有风险投资家的一席之地,以讲述他们为什么会给企业提供融资,以及从他们的角度来看是哪里出了问题。“这种做法关键在于倾听来自真正承担风险的个人的意见,此人在企业失败时损失最多。”

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.

在TechHub于星期二举行的初创企业葬礼活动上,在听了一整晚的各种玩笑和实用的经验教训以后,一名听众提出了有关情绪受到影响的问题。纽曼-桑德斯承认她当时并没有向朋友和家人透露情况有多么糟糕,直到为时已晚。她建议寻求心理咨询。

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.

在拉伊看来,解决这个问题的办法在于和其他经历失败的企业家会面。“我们会喝很多酒。我们坐在一起讨论我们的失败,往往一谈就是两小时。”但最终的办法是去其他公司找一份工作,让自己忙碌起来,然后再开始创立另一家企业——虽然之前已经发誓再也不过企业家的生活了。

译者/邓影

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