by Ivaylo Simov and Dilyan Dimitrov, founders at Eleven

At every startup conference (we’ve been to a lot) there’s usually at least one important d*ck to propagate the bullsh*t fail fast mantra in his or her presentation. Usually it goes with other copy paste advices for startups, including the exact opposite perseverance slide.

How it all started

Originally, the term fail-fast was applied to systems immediately reporting any failure or conditions that can lead to a failure. The result is, instead of steaming ahead and generating flawed output, the system will stop till the fault is corrected.

Further down the road, the term was adopted in the startup world with the meaning of “experiment fast”, e.g., when you see something does not work at all, stop pushing and try something else. Finally, today, a lot of people put to it the meaning of fail fast - e.g. when you see it does not work, stop trying.

Why is it bad?

Red Bull Air ForceDo you think the first base jumpers thought failing fast is an option (thank you, Alex Hunter, for the inspiration)? Or, imagine if Thomas Edison considered this a viable alternative when experimenting with the light bulb? Would we all be shooting funny birds at sick green pigs if Rovio gave up on any of the 51 attempts to make a game before Angry Birds? You can make your own conclusions.

Can it be good?

Now is the time to draw a very clear line between failing after you put your best effort into succeeding, and failing when the going got tough because I don’t think anyone anywhere should tolerate the latter. If “failing fast” refers to experiment fast and change course quickly, it can actually be applicable to many different processes and in many cases with early stage startups.

Also, we believe that failing after trying your best and learning in the process can be extremely valuable, especially if you go through it all: form a team, set up a company, launch a product and pivot a few times routine. And especially when the MBA education available around is in the range of a few hundred thousand euros, and you can go through the above loop for less than 20k. But mind you, if you approach a project with “yeah, I will fail, but I will learn” from the start, well, you have it all wrong.

What is better than failing fast?

Well, a lot of things, but here are our personal favorites.

    • Do not fail at all
    • Succeed fast
    • Launch fast (yes), learn fast (yes), pivot and adjust quickly (yes)
    • Fail slow (no), fail your customers (no), fail with somebody else's money (no)
    • Fail hard (and we shall highly respect you, but only after you’ve gone the extra mile with the 4th try)

Where is it all going?

We’ve heard the arguments that fail fast is a misnomer, but unfortunately, it has taken a meaning of its own, which promotes a notion that there’s nothing wrong in giving up early and provides an easy excuse for failures. Ultimately failing fast is egoistic, immoral and irresponsible to all your stakeholders (partners, employees, shareholders, clients), particularly to your early investors, who entrusted you with their money, when nobody else would.

So to all the bozos that will continue to pitch the fail fast meme:


Let us know what you think - join the discussion below.