A Forum on Failure Stirs One-Liners and Personal Anguish Among CEOs

11/20/08Follow @bvbigelow

It was billed as “an evening of candor and compassion,” but with onetime M*A*S*H screenwriter Neil Senturia serving as impresario, a San Diego forum on business failure became an extended tragic-comic riff, abounding with one-liners.

Entrepreneurs are rarely willing to publicly discuss their failures after they shut a company down, perhaps with the exception of Christopher Herot, who talked with Xconomy’s Wade Roush about last year’s shutdown of Zingdom. Yet much can be learned in the post-mortem of a startup.

Senturia, an irreverent and restless serial entrepreneur, says he proposed the topic to San Diego’s MIT Enterprise Forum to share such insights—and because it felt like the right time considering the current economic downturn for a panel discussion among local CEOs who have confronted failure.

“Failure in itself can be a transformative event,” Senturia said in warm-up remarks that set a poignant-but-funny tone. “Remember Nietzsche said that whatever does not kill me makes me stronger. But Nietzsche never had to interact with venture capitalists.”

Ken Kalb, who left the company he founded, Continuous Computing, after winning an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2005, told the audience Senturia had invited him to talk “emotionally and candidly about what it feels like when things go into the crapper.”

There is usually no single explanation for why startups fail, Kalb and the other panelists agreed. But if there is a single reason why startups implode. Kalb says the “quintessential” factor is … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Tyler Orion

    Bruce-
    Thanks for capturing the spirit of the event. I think everyone in the audience left with a dose of reality despite being entertained. The willingness of the speakers to be candid and “tell one on themselves” was stunning and Neil was hilarious. It was the MIT Forum at it’s best. (Sorry I missed seeing you- good to see you’re still here covering our tech community!)

  • http://www.sitetuneups.com Steve Glass

    Very good article, captured the essence of this amazing event. I also appreciated the point that being an CEO of a start-up requires charisma and talent, leadership is a learned skill.

    A “well done” to Neil, this took a lot of dedication and work, and to his co-presenters for opening up as they did.

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