Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Failure: It’s an Option.

Name of your company?
Failure Magazine LLC.

What is your primary product or service?
Failure magazine—at—is an independently owned and operated online publication covering the subject of failure, as well as failure’s close relative, success. Featuring stories large and small, historical and current, Failure and its nationally recognized writers explore the worlds of arts & entertainment, science & technology, business, history, culture, books and sports, all from a bold perspective that is insightful, informative and entertaining. It’s a useful and interesting resource for anyone trying to succeed.

Failure also maintains a blog at, where we feature “extras”—photos we don’t have room to display on the main site, for example. Of course, we also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Date started? launched on July 17, 2000, but we spent more than a year developing the concept and the company prior to launch.

Why did you start the company?
We started Failure because everyone is interested in the subject of failure, whether they are conscious of it or not. Like death and taxes, it’s a universal human experience. Everyone old enough to reflect on the experience of failure can relate—on some level—to what we are doing.

How was the company financed?
It was financed entirely by its founders.

Was there anything that almost killed your business at the start?
The biggest problem we had early on is that we didn’t have the server capacity to handle the post-launch flood of traffic to our Web site. Within 36 hours of launching the site our server crashed—and it took a few days to get up and running again. Although it was a painful experience at the time—and a good example of schadenfreude, as observers really seemed to get a kick out of the fact that’s site failed—in the long run that bump in the road seemed to work in our favor. In the following weeks and months that failure—or “fail,” as it would be referred to today—gave media outlets an additional “hook,” another excuse, if you will, to do a story on our product.

I do recall that one particular media outlet published a review of Failure that said something to the effect of: Check out today, because it won’t be around in six months. As it turned out, that national magazine didn’t survive much longer itself.

What is the one thing you did right?

We did a lot of things right from the get-go, but the most important thing was that unlike most of the other Web businesses that were founded during that same period, we were extremely conservative about how much we spent to develop the business and launch our site, so it was a relatively short trip from “red” to “black.” If we had spent frivolously like most other e-businesses at that time, we wouldn’t have survived, either. But owing to our modest initial investment (in the tens of thousands of dollars), we had time to figure out how we were going to generate revenue and sustain our efforts.

As it turns out, we settled on a three-pronged advertising/licensing/merchandising model. Like almost every other commercial site we have ads on our pages. We also license our content for re-publication in print publications around the world—daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, airline in-flight magazines and the like. Last but not least, we sell branded merchandise—coffee mugs, baseball caps, T-shirts, note cubes and courier bags—via our online store ( From day one, the coffee mugs have always been the best seller, though the caps are popular too. In fact, merchandise sales carried us early on, until we began generating revenue from advertising.

What is the greatest challenge in terms of operating Failure?
Web-goers expect media sites to generate a continuous stream of fresh content. One needn’t be on our site very long to recognize that’s content is very labor-intensive, so it’s a challenge to produce a steady stream of new articles on an ongoing basis.

What is the most “successful” part of the site?
As a general rule, the science & technology and history sections generate the most traffic, and articles from those sections frequently fill our “most popular” and “most emailed” lists. In an effort to live up to our name, we also highlight our “least popular” articles.

What would make your business more successful?
More traffic to the Web site—and new partnerships with large, national media outlets. We’d also like to begin selling Failurewear offline. As a test, we’ve sold it offline in a handful of venues, and we’ve been encouraged by the results.

One last question: Give us your take on the word “failure.”

Failure is a loaded word, one that holds a negative connotation for some. But it doesn’t have to be negative. We see failure as an essential experience; if not always a building block to future success, then at least a necessary part of life.

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