The Cult of Failure: Why Startup Culture Celebrates Mistakes

May 23, 2016 - 2 minutes read

startup founder

One failure is bad. Two is questionable. Three indicates persistence. Beyond that? Unstoppable.

One of the most confusing things about startup culture, from an outsider’s perspective, is the tendency to celebrate failure. Just browse Medium, Twitter, or anywhere else where iPhone app developers and entrepreneurs air their opinions, and you’re sure to come across dozens of think pieces on the value of messing up.

Why is everyone so obsessed with “the art of messing up?” After all, no one ever got congratulated for a failed restaurant, flopped retail business, or defunct taxi service. Even corporate tech companies like Google are on board with “the cult of failure,” as evidenced by their numerous tangential projects (think Google+, self-driving cars) that don’t always end in a profitable product.

Often, when iPhone app developers talk about failure, what they’re really talking about is persistence. Mobile startups face huge odds, and simply keeping up with the pack is a huge challenge in an industry where technological advancement moves at warp drive.

The difference in the startup industry is partly related to speed. Unlike traditional businesses, tech startups move incredibly quickly. (Instagram, for example, grew to a viewership that rivaled television within a year and a half. One in nine people have a Facebook account — yet Facebook has barely existed a decade.) That speed coupled with the burn-bright-or-burn-out nature of tech means that mobile app developers have to try over and over again before they find a business model that sticks. Unlike traditional businesses, the expectation isn’t that you’ll slowly figure it out. The expectation is that you’ll probably fail… but if you don’t, you might become a billionaire.

None of San Francisco’s iPhone app developers set out to fail — they set out to win. Failure in and of itself isn’t worth celebrating. Persistence in the face of failure, however, is a key developer personality trait.

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