Failure and Risk

I think there may be something wrong with me.
Working in Silicon Valley for these many years seems to have warped me. I just announced that I am leaving my current day job to work for myself. My intention was to work on some of my own projects like and support myself as needed as a consultant.
But unexpectedly I received an offer to be a tech co-founder at an interesting unfunded travel startup company. For those outside the Valley’s distortion field let me tell you that one in 10 startups survive. The odds are bit higher for startups that are pre-funding as this startup is.
So why, I ask myself, did the option of going to an unfunded startup seem like the safe option?
I don’t have the same fear of failure I once had. When I started working at my first startup on my first day I helped hire a co-worker who had been laid-off from 10 different startups, but was joining his 11th. I get that. I find that I am now more afraid of mediocrity than failure. I’m more afraid of becoming a 9 to 5 employee with no passion. In fact one of the reasons I am leaving my current company, which I expect to make it big one of these days, is that my passions are pulling me elsewhere.

Byte Cover - Momenta Computer
Byte Cover – Momenta Computer

My first startup was a company called Momenta which was in the pen-based computer space. Lots of press, lots of hype, but a market that wasn’t really there. I remember interviewing somebody at Momenta who wasn’t sure he wanted to come to a startup. He said if “I come to a startup, work here for two years, and the company goes out of business I will of lost two years of my life”. I explained patiently that was not correct. If he came to work for us, worked there for two years, and we went out of business, he would lose three years of his life. He didn’t come to work for us.
I was laid off from Momenta after somewhat less than three years when the company ran out of money and imploded. But this was after putting a product on the cover of most major computer magazines. PC Computer had our product, the Momenta M1, on the cover with the caption “The Perfect Computer?”. We failed spectacularly. We made Byte magazine’s list of 30 biggest all-time failures. But we did not fail because we fail to try. In the two weeks after I was laid off from Momenta I interviewed constantly and received seven job offers.
I’ve been altered because I live in a culture that values effort, that values intelligence, and is willing to accept that trying and failing is forgivable and much better than not trying at all.

Author: chris2x

One man's view of life in Silicon Valley from Chris Christensen - a podcaster, blogger, programmer, entrepreneur


  1. I fully agree with your outlook. Much better to have tried something great and failed, than to have sat home on a safe couch, or in an office cubicle, never having tried. Go for it!

  2. I have lost the fear of failure too. Travel cracked me open and now working 9-5 seems like being in a cage. I have solved both needs by becoming a contractor and making passion for my work a priority, over the paycheck.
    Good luck.

  3. I should clarify that what I think I have lost is long term fear on my career choices… I have every expectation that I will wake up in a cold sweat more than once in the process. Yeah I don’t plan to work 9-5 but instead “half days”… as my wife’s first boss said. The advantage of working for yourself is that you can work half days, and the beauty is that it does not matter which 12 hours you pick. 🙂

  4. Failure is the ONLY way to learn. Learning is a process of encountering failures (mistakes, undesired results, etc), reflecting on those failures, and finding new ways to approach the problem.
    The problem with our culture is that we are taught NOT to fail. We are taught that mistakes are bad. Yet mistakes are crucial to learning. All you have to do is watch a young child in a high chair learning how to eat a cheerio (as I did.)
    (Note, this is a simplification of a more modern model of learning and competence.)

  5. congrats in working for yourself and for following your passion! I can tell you that I have always had passion at my day job… however, after 20years at the same company, I envy your choice to be ‘independent’, and not fear those ‘career choices’.
    I am not there yet…

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