By Cassie Phillipps (Executive Producer, Failcon)
Editor’s note: In 2006, we met Holly Liu who had just co-founded Kabam, a Google Ventures -funded social gaming startup that today employs over 400 across offices in San Francisco and Redwood City (California), Beijing (China), and Luxembourg.
Holly talks to Cassie at Failcon about turning mistakes and failures into learnings and future growth.
Holly Liu: The funny thing about failure is when we look back, the great entrepreneurs will try to extract the full tuition from the failure and figure out how to move to the next step.
Our first failure was our first idea, which was to build a corporate social networking site and really try to break down walls within the company and re-empower the employee-base within a company. The idea was great, visionary, but execution-wise we were really confusing for our target and could not align our higher vision with a good best-interest for the employee. Why would they want to connect with their co-workers on a third party site that was not sanctioned by the company’s intranet?
Cassie Phillipps: What seemed so right about that at the time?
Holly Liu: I had read a great book called “Cluetrain Manifesto” which really ushered in the Web 2.0 thinking of everyone as a publisher. If everyone had the tools to publish, including employees, then I felt that the walls between management and employees would be broken down so that the business could be ran more effectively – and ultimately revolutionize the workplace.
Cassie Phillipps: How were you guys able to recover from that?
Holly Liu: As with anything, the first step to recovering is admitting you have a problem. We had iterated on the initial idea 3 different ways. It was becoming clear that we were not the team or product to change this space. We could have continued or admit that we had a problem. Admitting you have a problem is hard because it means you failed. You left your company and everything you had, to go work on something which you felt would change the world. The failure is painful and palatable.
After we realized we had a problem and a fiduciary responsibility to our investors we couldn’t just quit from making a return on their money. We had to pivot the company. We took a hard look at the make up of our team expertise, market opportunities, as well as product positioning and began to boil down a Failure Manifesto, which was a list of declarations of what we would and would not do next.
The Manifesto included declarations about product design, market strategy as well as business model.
Cassie Phillipps: What advice would you have for a first time founder to avoid it now?
Holly Liu: If you are starting out, mission and vision are wonderful; however, execution is critical. You’ve heard a dozen times that ideas are useless, and it’s all about execution. My analogy to put that in perspective is to me an idea is like a seed, and execution is the daily watering, tending and pruning of that plant. You see how much success is heavily weighted towards execution. And, I’m not just talking about product execution. Execution encompasses team expertise, business model, timing, product design, company and product strategy, market strategy, as well as engineering . Part of that execution will be how well you recover from setbacks.
When you venture out and do your start up, your team will have highs and lows. The highs will be high and the lows will be low being able to recognize when to move on, and then continuously learn and grow from that failure as quickly as possible will be your biggest asset.
This post was originally posted at Failcon’s blog.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Cassie Phillipps is an event producer for the Bay Area startup community, creating and producing FailCon. She manages shows like the SF MusicTech Summit, Inside Social Apps, Unleashed Conference, and the Future of Money. Every two weeks, Cassie send out an email of all her favorite events. You can find out more at WebWallflower. She loves cats and lizards, spend her free time making costumes, and am a bit of an introvert at heart. Follow her on Twitter at @WebWallflower.