I’m a huge Meetup fan — I’m a member of a ton, and attend several religiously. So enamored of the concept am I that I signed up for additional notifications from Meetup, of newly forming Meetups and ones that I “might be interested in.” So I’m getting a lot of emails I’m getting from Meetup now.
So a few days ago I got an email for some entrepreneurial type Meetup, and I signed up. A day or two later, I got an email that the group was closing. Not in itself altogether unusual, as Meetups form and close all the time. What what unusual was the organizer’s message when you clicked through. It was a defensive, “screw you” to the members of the group bemoaning people who RSVP’d but didn’t show up, among many other ways the members of the group failed to appreciate all the value that was being bestowed upon them.
In some ways, I sympathized. It’s hard to launch something new when you don’t know if you can count on anyone to show up. But this guy, he took it personally. I built something awesome, he seemed to be saying, and you jerks couldn’t be bothered.
What struck me most of all about the letter was what it said about the writer’s tolerance for failure.
I have this friend who jokingly calls my affection for “lean” philosophy of building a business “failing fast.”
But I’m not sure “failing fast” is a bad thing, especially if the alternative is failing slow and telling yourself all the time you’re doing just great until you realize nobody wants what you’re selling.
Earlier in the week, someone Tweeted a great article, about Metallica’s long slog as an unknown band on the rise. In keeping with this week’s heavy metal theme, the story was thus: Metallica wasn’t finding an audience in glam rock and hair metal obsessed Los Angeles. So they moved themselves to San Francisco where the audience could be found.
They didn’t get mad about people not appreciating them. They simply shifted focus. We could all learn a lot from that.
I’m a big believer in a simple idea: develop the one thing that makes you unique and then take it to the people who will find the most value in it.
It sounds easy, but it’s not. Lots of people come up short by just doing one thing or the other. They have something unique to offer, but they haven’t shaped it fully for the market. Or they think they know the market, but their offering is half-baked or too generic.
One pitfall is thinking that things that are neat or novel will necessarily connect to sales. I found myself thinking about this when reading an article by author Pauls Toutonghi about boostrapped book promotion strategies in Publisher’s Weekly. It talked about the enormous legwork authors are going through, schlepping out to bookstores in the middle of nowhere, even giving readings from a raft. There’s also a myth that if you try hard enough, pound the pavement and show enough gumption, you’ll win. But if these things don’t connect to sales (as they didn’t in the case of the authors cited), it tells you something about what the audience does and doesn’t value.
What’s tempting is to think that cleverness wins, that you get attention by having the best idea, or better yet, locking yourself in a room for seven years to perfect the world’s most original mousetrap.
But I think the best way to win is by racking up “valuable failures.” Not looking at failure as a question of “I suck,” but instead, which direction is this pointing me in?
You could call it “failing fast.” I call it rolling with the punches and staying on your feet.