Beyond Success: Failure’s Importance in Building Viable Startups

Houston—Entrepreneurs are a mobile bunch, quickly moving from one startup to another as opportunities play themselves out and others emerge.

So in speaking to Houston entrepreneur Rakshak Talwar, I was struck by his answer to my question about what he’s doing with a new artificial intelligence startup he’s joined. “I can show them what not to do,” Talwar told me, laughing but not entirely joking.

I first met Talwar two years ago when writing about student entrepreneurs in accelerator programs at the University of Houston and Rice University. He was CEO of Raptorbird, a startup that was developing a hardware and software system for customizing civilian drones.

Talwar says that participating in RedLabs, the student accelerator at the University of Houston—and all the associated programming around business models, prototype development, sales, and marketing—provided key lessons in building a young tech company. Still, a year after being in the program, Raptorbird went out of business.

“We learned not to hit the market too early,” Talwar says, looking back at the startup’s failure. “We didn’t fully understand what problems we were solving.”

Our conversation took place following a demo day, the number of which has exploded as new accelerator programs have launched to nurture a growing startup scene in Texas. His candid comment about learning “what not to do” made me wonder why these sorts of lessons, and even failure, aren’t more openly discussed at events like demo days. After all, investors and mentors say one key to an investment is the team and their ability to learn from and respond to what the market needs, even if it wasn’t what the startup first assumed.

Certainly, private conversations with mentors yield intelligence on which startups are actually not “ready” to pitch to investors. Why, then, I asked, don’t those companies do a “lessons we learned” presentation instead?

“Traditional demo days need to go away,” says Todd Dunn, director of innovation for Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, UT. “I’ve attended a lot of them; I … Next Page »

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