Don’t Just Build in Public — Fail in Public

What Happens When You Put Everything on the Line and Come Up Short?

Leo Guinan
Mar 22 · 5 min read
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I had it figured out. I had recently spoken with my dream investor. It had taken almost three months to get a conversation with him, but it sounded like he was interested. I was broke. I had given everything to get my company off the ground.

I hatched a plan. I had recently discovered some new technology that should make it easy to launch my platform. I had been building my company in public. I decided to do a 24-hour hackathon in which I would launch my new platform. I needed some money quickly, so I had the bright idea of using my hackathon as a way to make some money. I was live-tweeting my progress as I attempted to solicit donations. I emailed my dream investor to let him in on the plan.

The day came. I was ready. I started furiously working. Then I started having problems.

I’d screwed up. I thought I had a template I could easily build from. And in all honesty, I probably could have if I had spent the time beforehand getting fully up to speed on the layout of the repo and the underlying technology. It was something I had used before and my arrogance blinded me to the fact that I was out of practice. Couple that with trying to figure out the new tech stack that I thought was so easy? A recipe for failure.

By the end of the hackathon, I had raised a whopping $20, I didn’t have a working site, and I was in a bad place. I had planned on a number of possible successful outcomes. I didn’t consider the fact that I would completely fail.

But fail I did.

Where did that leave me?

I want to say that it left me right where I started. It certainly didn’t feel like I had gone anywhere. It actually felt like, if anything, I had gone backward.

Upon reflection, that’s not the case.

Did I secure my dream investor? No. In fact, I haven’t heard from him since our one call. I don’t know if I misinterpreted his interest in my business (wouldn’t be the first time) or if this colossal public failure made him not want to take a chance on me.

Did I have a product I could actually sell? Also, no. I thought I figured out how to build a product. Turns out, I was focused on the wrong thing.

A funny thing happened. The sun came up the next day.

The world didn’t end because I failed.

I didn’t lose my audience. In fact, my level of engagement with my audience went up.

I ended up figuring out my personal finances enough to buy me a little more time to get my company up and running.

As it happens, pinning your entire financial future on one day might not be the recipe for success that I thought it would be.

When I was able to reduce the level of financial strain I was under, it became pretty clear why I failed. I focused too much on the money. I was desperate and it was pretty obvious. Analyzing my failure gave me a ton of insight into why I had failed. It let me stop, take a deep breath, and adjust my course.

Failure cost me nothing and taught me a ton.

And I am continuing to build in public. As part of this, I have gotten a chance to meet some very cool people who are doing the same. Today I discovered Ben Putano, who is writing his book in public. I took the opportunity to read the first chapter that he had put out into the world. Ben is my inspiration for this post. The connections of writing, founders, and building in public really resonated with me.

It is tough to put yourself out there. Being vulnerable is hard.

Being vulnerable is extremely hard for me. I have spent a good deal of the last 10 years avoiding being vulnerable. I have ADHD and ASD. For those not familiar, one of the common symptoms of ADHD is Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. In a nutshell, any time I get even a hint of rejection, it cuts deep. I was diagnosed fairly recently, so I am still learning how this has shaped my life.

When you aren’t aware of it, it seems to come out of nowhere. Somebody makes a comment and all of a sudden, you get hit with such a wave of emotion that you can’t function. Over time, I learned that the best way to avoid the pain was to build a shell around myself and avoid being remotely vulnerable.

After I was diagnosed, I started to learn more about where it had impacted my life. The biggest impact that I noticed was that I had an extremely hard time opening up to people. To combat this, I force myself to be open with others, even knowing that I can (and likely will) be hurt in the process.

I’m still not great at it. Building in public is still a bit of a struggle for me. I have been trying to be a little more open each day. By doing so, I have made connections with some incredible people.

And I have been hurt. Some days, I feel completely overwhelmed. When I failed in my hackathon and I thought my family’s finances were completely screwed, I got hit hard.

Then the sun came up.

Is it hard to be vulnerable? Definitely.

A funny thing happens when you are though. You open yourself up to a world of possibilities that didn’t exist previously.

Don’t believe me? A few weeks later I was on a Zoom call with a billionaire pitching my business.

Don’t be afraid of failing. Welcome it with open arms. Even if you know it’s going to hurt. You never know where you could end up.

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Thanks to Elizabeth Dawber

Leo Guinan

Written by

On a journey to go from corporate engineer to startup founder. He/Him. Sign up for my mailing list:

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Leo Guinan

Written by

On a journey to go from corporate engineer to startup founder. He/Him. Sign up for my mailing list:

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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