The Sad and Positive Side of Startup Failures

As the Canadian startup landscape becomes increasingly active and entrepreneurs get more bullish about their prospects for success, it’s important to remember startups are also high-risk propositions. It means there are far more failures than successes.

I was reminded of this reality yesterday when Thoora announced it will be shutting down on Dec. 15. It will be a sad day for Thoora’s employees who have fought the good fight during its “crazy journey”. For people who sit in the glass-half-full camp, Thoora has provided many people with invaluable experience that, hopefully, they will benefit from down the road.

In Canada, we tend to treat failure as a bad thing when, in fact, there are many positives. Instead of whispering about a startup not making it, we need to see failure as an important part of the startup ecosystem. Not every startup is going to be wildly or even mildly successful or purchased by Google, Facebook, et al. In the real world, many startups don’t make it for a variety of reasons.

It is, however, disappointing when a startup fails because the ecosystem operates on boundless optimism about what’s possible. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be an entrepreneur if you don’t believe you’ll be successful. This is why it’s sad to see startups shut their doors.

Over the next few years, there will be lots of failures such as Thoora. With the thousands of startups now be created, many of them will work hard but gain little or no traction. This is the dark side of current startup euphoria.

At the same time, life goes on. As someone who worked for two startups that weren’t successful in attracting many users or revenue, I can honestly say the experience gained was invaluable. Now when I work with startups to jump-start their digital marketing efforts, I tap many of the lessons from my startup experience that will, hopefully, play a small part in helping them be successful.

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  • Tm Mahdi

    Thoora didn’t fail. Toronto has failed Thoora. Any good idea, business or startup can thrive if the community supports it. You can work as hard as you like or as smart as you like for your own benefit, your employees or the brand of your message and all that work won’t do much if there isn’t that initiative from your own city to make you a winning formula.

    The thing you have to truly ask yourself, is Toronto Thoora’s home base?


  • Mark Evans

    With all due respect, the idea that people in Toronto are obligated to support local start-ups is absurd. Startups live or die on their ability to attract users regardless of where they’re located.

    Thoora didn’t shut down because it wasn’t supported locally; it closed because the service didn’t resonate with enough users for a variety of reasons. That’s the bottom line.


  • Will

    It failed because they had a bad name and did not promote.

    • Mark Evans

      Will: Can’t say I agree on either count but thanks for the comment. Mark

  • Lee Dale

    Coming over here from the StartupNorth cross post, I see the reason for the followup post from Mark. Tm’s pretty direct in his admonition of the startup community, and I’m with Mark on this one: there’s no reasonable way you can blame the community for Thoora shutting down.

    The engagement from the startup community in the past 5 years, the willingness to support one another, and the efforts people and groups like StartupNorth have taken to help drive awareness around the community exceed any expectations I have of any non-familial or crisis related community support system.

    We have it good here. We share knowledge, insight, and expertise, collaborate on projects with peers traditional companies would deem competitors, speak together abroad, share resources, and engage with one another in myriad other ways through self-organized events, online, and day to day.

    I don’t intimately know the Thoora story, but I do know they were funded, I took a photo of their team about 2 years ago where you can count about 3 dozen employees—larger than any company I’ve worked at—and they were playing in a sandbox that was far larger and geographically dispersed than our startup community. There’s no feasible way the community alone could support such an endeavour. And it’s disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

    Furthermore, not including today’s post from Mark, StartupNorth is sporting four posts on Thoora, I was part of the voting committee that saw them as finalists in the 2010 Canadian New Media Awards, and they’ve received a fair amount of press from Tech Vibes and more.

    Bottom line, I can pretty much guarantee no one at Thoora is pointing the finger at the startup community.

  • Alan Langford

    I know nothing about Thoora. Supporting a product just because it’s local is the only fail I can see here. All that would do is slow down the process of natural selection, which then slows the rate of evolution in the larger startup community.

    What we should stop doing is thinking of this sort of thing as no more than a failure. I guarantee you that the best people who were involved with this venture — be they founders, investors, staff, or even customers — have come away from the experience with incredibly valuable knowledge that will help them if and when they try again. It’s that knowledge that’s important, particularly if it’s shared freely with others. It makes the community stronger, more capable.

    While we may be saddened by the passing of one startup, in the larger view there is much to celebrate. It’s important that we start doing just that.

  • Jevon

    Thoora was soulless. It doesn’t matter that it exists or whether or not it was successful. Even if it was a success it wouldn’t have contributed anything to the community, so the community owed it nothing.

    I’m glad Thoora is dead. Lets kill more zombies in 2012.

    • Lee Dale

      Well played, Jevon. Well played.