Fail fast, fail small and fail often — what I learned from presenting our startup “F*** Ups”

By Jack Hooper, Co-Founder and Commercial Director at doppel

Two years ago, along with three other founders, I started a business. It was something none of us had ever done before and we have been learning as we go.

Needless to say, we have made plenty of mistakes along the way and in May, I stood in front of a crowd of three hundred people in Budapest and presented three of our finest failures for their enjoyment.

Believe it or not, this was not something I was made to do, I volunteered. It’s not something I had ever done before and, to be candid, it was pretty scary. But it was also liberating and thought provoking at the same time.

To give some background, F*** Up Nights are volunteer run evenings where all sorts of people (not just entrepreneurs) gather together to tell the tales of where they’ve gone wrong and the lessons they learned. They’re supposed to be funny and fun — and to let people know that it’s okay to fail.

It’s a great idea, and despite my initial worries, I’m so glad we were involved! Perhaps inspired by the fact that people laughed with me, and not at me, I decided to share the three failures I presented here.

1. Calling our company Team Turquoise

The name ‘Team Turquoise’ was originally our university team name and then just stuck with us when we needed to name the company. Not only is that a terrible way to go about branding but it turns out that a lot of people struggle with the spelling of Turquoise (Turquiose? Turqouise?). Even us. We sent out our first ever newsletter announcing our Kickstarter launch date with a misspelt link to our new website. We had to register the misspelt domain.

2. Registering the company with the wrong director

At the start of the company our most productive (and most dyslexic!) team member went ahead with registering us. She’s absolutely fantastic but did make a small mistake on the form. That mistake being that she registered our male Co-Founder as female, and spelt his name incorrectly. This fortunately has now been changed, although for a while we thought it might have been easier for him to change his name.

3. Losing most of a €150,000 grant — which at the time was the largest amount of money our company had ever seen

After bootstrapping the business for many many months when this grant came through we knew we’d made it! Or at least for a couple of stress-free months, we thought we had. When it came to the first milestone review we confidently went in to the meeting knowing we had hit most of our targets. What we did not realise was the importance of the one that we missed, and, even worse, the importance of keeping our backers in the loop. They did not like the surprise and we got a harsh lesson in stakeholder management.


But the company still exists! These failures didn’t leave us prospectively re-writing our CVs. So what did we learn?

Well, with distance, number one and number two are now pretty funny. We’ve since moved away from Team Turquoise, and are now trading as doppel. This is easier to spell, easier to search for, and works much better for our international customers. We did also manage, eventually, to correct our registration with Companies House — although I wouldn’t recommend making this mistake to anyone, as it was not easy.

Number three is still pretty painful to remember because to a pre-money startup, €150,000 is life changing. However, we have learnt to communicate better, not only with our grant funders, but also with our investors, supporters and customers. Starting a business can be scary, but by keeping each supporter, backer, customer, adviser and investor in the loop, you can begin to create a community which is great both for the company, and for your sanity.

So in conclusion, it is a fantastic experience to present your errors. It makes you comfortable with them and ensures you understand what to take from them. At doppel we are all doing something that we have never done before and so we constantly make small mistakes. In fact, it sometimes feels like if we fail it will be a death by one thousand small errs rather than the one big disaster. The important point is that we are being trained through experience that we have to handle these fuckups in a constructive way. I have faith we will be able to deal with any future ones because we have had the practice. So my advice is to fail fast, fail small and fail often — if you do it right, it might not even feel like failing at all.

This post previously appeared on Medium.