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7,000 Words on Failure: NewsTilt Co-Founder’s Essay on What Went Wrong

When startups fail and are forced to shut down, often times one of the co-founders will offer a short blog post about what happened and why the company wasn’t able to succeed. Not everyone does however, as reveling in your own failure isn’t the most fun thing to do. In the case of the failed individual journalism platform NewsTilt, co-founder Paul Biggar penned a 7,000 word essay last week that painstakingly details how and why his company ultimately failed, providing a must-read set of lessons for any entrepreneur.

“I think it’s fair to say we didn’t really care about journalism.”
– Paul Biggar

NewsTilt was designed to be a place where individual writers could create their own brand. The company promised to build a rich set of tools and to help promote the authors’ work across the web – two things it failed to come through on. As Biggar points out, passion and motivation were an important pair of qualities lacking in NewsTilt.

“I think it’s fair to say we didn’t really care about journalism,” writes Biggar. “Even when we had NewsTilt, it wasn’t my go-to place to be entertained, that was still Hacker News and Reddit. And how could we build a product that we were only interested in from a business perspective.”

He also adds that he tried to do too much in his life at once – another sign that NewsTilt and journalism weren’t his life’s passions. Biggar launched the company hours before he defended his PhD thesis and while simultaneously planning his wedding, which took place a month later.

Another important lesson Biggar says he learned from NewsTilt’s failure is to not stubbornly hang on to particular idea or feature. Biggar believed forcing users to log in via Facebook was the smartest choice because it meant comments were tied to people’s real names. Unfortunately the product launched amidst a hailstorm of anti-Facebook privacy concerns, and the stench from that wafted over to NewsTilt.

“I was totally wrong,” he says. “It alienated people who didn’t like Facebook, including some of our journalists. Worse, it caused people to just not comment, meaning they didn’t come back, they didn’t engage with the journalists, and they didn’t start to frequent the site.”

These are but a few of the lessons (Biggar formally lists eight in his essay) learned from NewsTilt’s failure. Others lessons surrounding ambitions, communication, viability, third-party platforms, speed, hiring and teamwork (and much more) are each outlined in the essay. It’s a long read, but Biggar’s transparency and frankness certainly make it a worthwhile one for any aspiring entrepreneur.

Photo by Flickr user pepez.

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