We can't all be unicorns. 9 out of 10 startups fail, and when they do, 10 out of 10 bereaved founders take to Medium or the company blog to share the news.
The genre — and there's definitely a genre — is often called the "postmortem." And with as many dead startups in Silicon Valley as there are dead people in Colma, a website called autopsy.io launched last month to collect their stories. That site's founders tell Business Insider that the project was originally called "Shit Startup: What we wish we knew before we fucked up our business."
Sure, bragging about an expensive failure might seem like a ridiculous attention grab. But actually it's right in keeping with an open-source tech industry ethos and haven't you been watching Silicon Valley? '"[It's] definitely about the lessons," one autopsy.io founder said. "Hopefully people will see the patterns. That seems to be the main thing people are talking about so far. We've seen lists of the ten things that everyone does right, and we're hoping that this will be equally as valuable."
So, if you find yourself in the unenviable position of announcing the dissolution of your business, it's important that you get the eulogy right. Maintain the proper tone and address pressing concerns with this Postmortem Style Guide.
Journey. You may not have gotten too far, but be proud anyway.
The journey bringing GroupSpaces from a college-room idea has been the best ride of my life - an unbeatable learning experience full of the hardest challenges, the opportunity to work with people I have the utmost respect for, and the creation of a product of which I’m immensely proud. I’m indebted to all the mentors, advisors, investors and all who’ve supported us along the way. — Looking back at 7 years with my startup GroupSpaces
Lessons. Assure your reader that this post isn't a diatribe about yourself. Instead, you're just generously sharing teachable moments from your experience. People will be sure to read them.
This rather long blog post is about my lessons learned and is a post mortem. I will try not to go too much into the Dinnr specifics. Most of the readers of this post will not be interested in Dinnr itself. Instead, I will try to reflect on my 18 months and 12 days of entrepreneurship and see what I can come up with that will be applicable to any startup. Rock’n’Roll. — Seven lessons I learned from the failure of my first startup, Dinnr
Runway. You're out of funding, but funding is such a vulgar word. Instead use this term to imply that your startup was like an awesome plane that definitely could have taken off if only you'd had just a little more capital.
It may seem surprising that a seemingly successful product could fail, but it happens all the time. Although we arguably found product/market fit, we couldn’t quite crack the business side of things. Building any business is hard, but building a business with a single app offering and half of your runway is especially hard. — Today my startup failed
Users. Did you have them? Almost by definition you did not. Express your gratitude to them anyway.
Thank you to our loyal users and partners - We couldn’t have made Springpad what it was without you! — Springpad Says Goodbye
This was a hard decision given that, over the past three years, Manilla has won many awards and has been well supported by its valued user base but was unable to achieve the scale necessary to make the economics of the business viable. — Manilla Is Shutting Down
Timing. Blame this somehow.
Sure, it was seven years ago, pre-iPhone and pre-Android, so it was ahead of its time, we had to use Adobe Flash on a browser which sucked in so many ways I can’t even start to explain how bad it was. Technology would be so much better and more important all mobile today. — How I Failed Launching Seesmic Video
Product/Market Fit. A smart-seeming term for whether there was a market for your product. Was there? There wasn't? Be vague.
This all fell flat due to our lack of product/market fit in the new markets, distracted significantly from product work to fix the fit (double fail) and cost a whole bunch of our runway. — Looking back at 7 years with my startup GroupSpaces
Scalability. It's a thing.
Neil and I shut down HelloParking. We never managed to find product-market fit, and we were having trouble scaling. — Part Two of the HelloParking postmortem: a look back, and a new perspective
Although we achieved a lot with Tutorspree, we failed to create a scalable business . Tutorspree didn’t scale because we were single channel dependent and that channel shifted on us radically and suddenly. SEO was baked into our model from the start, and it became increasingly important to the business as we grew and evolved. In our early days, and during Y Combinator, we didn’t have money to spend on acquisition. — When SEO fails - Single channel dependency and the end of Tutorspree
Dreams. You followed them. There aren't a lot of people who can say that, even if a lot of people say that.
In 2012, my brother Aaron and I had a vision. We imagined a platform where people could find and offer any home service, from cleaning to carpentry, with the click of a button. Our dream was to help people keep their homes clean and cared for - and empower our partners to enjoy flexible work so they could study, raise families or ease into retirement. — Homejoy says goodbye, and thank you
Regrets. Have some, but not too many.
After a lot of thought and consultation with our board, I’ve decided to shut down Secret.This has been the hardest decision of my life and one that saddens me deeply. Unfortunately, Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company, so I believe it’s the right decision for myself, our investors and our team. — Sunset (on closing down Secret)
Founder Differences. Were you different from your co-founder? Subtly blame these differences on your co-founder.
The wind snaps over Twin Peaks and slaps me in the face and I don’t care. I effectively resigned as CEO of my startup. Co-founder differences: a big gnawing reason for the move. You’re forced into learning how to be married after you’ve already had a kid. You spend so much time crammed in a room with the same person that you lose site of grounding. You are on an island. — Seven Walks: 5 / Impostor
Thanks. Express your gratitude to everyone who made this failure possible by believing in you and funding your idea and watching their money go up in flames.
Thank you so much for your support over the years — we never could have gotten here without you, and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who’s helped us along the way. — Twice
Thank you to everyone who supported us over the past year. What an incredible journey.
— Sunset (on closing down Secret)
Dolores Park. Have a party for yourself there. You've earned it.
Related: Startup Showers Dolores Park With Confetti To Celebrate Acquisition [Updated]