Podcast Episode 3: Failure

By Paul Ford

It’s a New Year, and time to talk about…failure. But in a fun way. Rich is fine with failure, Paul hates looking dumb, and there’s some general chat about breakfast cereal.


Paul Ford: Hey Rich.

Rich Ziade: Hey Paul.

Paul Ford: We said we would talk about Wikipedia.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: So uh, what do you want to know?

Rich Ziade: I don’t wanna talk about Wikipedia. I wanna talk about failure.

Paul Ford: But I, I’ve read all of Wikipedia to prepare.

Rich Ziade: Happy New Year, Paul.

Paul Ford: Happy New Year, I’m Paul Ford.

Rich Ziade: I’m Rich Ziade.

Paul Ford: This is the third episode of The Aboard Podcast. Uh, the podcast about a product that doesn’t exist that you can’t use just yet [Laughter].

Rich Ziade: [Chuckles] It doesn’t exist. Um, we are on a journey. We want to take you on that journey. This podcast isn’t gonna be talking about, how great the product is. Even though we may say that sometimes. It’s gonna be about what we’re going through and just this entire experience. We, if you listen to the previous podcast, we talked about how we effectively pivoted before we even went out.

Rich Ziade: Uh, we were building this enterprise software tool, really cool collaboration tool, and then we said, Nope, we’re gonna go for something a little bit different. And here we are now we’re gonna reveal more about what that thing is as time goes by and we’re [00:01:00] excited to.

Paul Ford: We don’t want to tell people about a software they can’t use. But in the meantime, we’re gonna talk, look, why are we doing this now? Like this is a marketing product for a software company. What are we doing here?

Rich Ziade: I think there’s a lot to learn. Uh, I think there’s, there’s something to be said about the web and the state of things and why we pivoted, which will reveal itself over, over time.

Paul Ford: There’s also an element, this is how we keep ourselves accountable. 

Rich Ziade: It’s how we keep ourselves accountable. And we think people can learn from this actually.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Um, we’ve built businesses in the past.

Paul Ford: Or they’ll, or they’ll come teach us something, one or the other.

Rich Ziade: We’d love to learn.

Paul Ford: Yep.

Rich Ziade: Um, and, and you know, we’re gonna, we’re gonna step in shit. That’s okay. Um, uh, and I think that’s what I wanna talk about today. I wanna talk about, uh, failing and, and how necessary it is to fail forward.

Paul Ford: Ooh, there you go.

Rich Ziade: That’s a business– that’s a Hudson News business book.

Paul Ford: Yeah… 280 pages, but like double spaced. You know I love when you get the business book.

Rich Ziade: [Laughter].

Paul Ford: And it’s like, you can, you can drive a sports car through the [00:02:00] lines.

Paul Ford: Oh yeah. They just, they’re like–

Rich Ziade: They just stretch it out.

Paul Ford: Let’s spend a little more on paper here, boys.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Um, so look, this isn’t about big mature companies that sells that sell breakfast cereal who are looking for like 3% incremental increases in revenue because they’re going after new market.

Paul Ford: When’s the last time you had breakfast cereal?

Rich Ziade: I love breakfast cereal, dude.

Paul Ford: When? When? When’s the last time you had breakfast cereal?

Rich Ziade: Three days ago.

Paul Ford: Oh, I didn’t know you were allowed to.

Rich Ziade: I had Choco Chimp.

Paul Ford: What’s that?

Rich Ziade: Choco Chimps, I think it’s called.

Paul Ford: Could be real. Is that real?

Paul Ford: Is that like, that’s like a rainforest brand.

Rich Ziade: That’s like a healthier Cocoa Puffs. It’s kind of bullshit.

Paul Ford: [laughter] I love, there are obviously like five atavistic kinds of cereal, like Captain Crunch and Cocoa Puffs, and then there are. Gross’s pride versions, which you will remember well, where it’s just like brown spheres.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And then, uh, and then there’s the, the hippie healthy version.

Rich Ziade: Oh, there’s the, you know, Cascadian Farms.

Paul Ford: Oh cascadian farms. And you really, you look at, [00:03:00] you look at that, the cascadian, same amount of calories, lots of sugar.

Rich Ziade: Oh it’s the same, but they, they’re sweetened with orange juice.

Paul Ford: Yeah, exactly.

Rich Ziade: Instead of, instead of corn syrup.

Paul Ford: Anyway, I’m sorry to distract you.

Rich Ziade: No, no, absolutely, look what we’re talking about, we’re, we’re the founders of a startup, a tech startup. We’ve never done this before. We’re not gonna sit here and tell you we know how to nail it every time, but we do know one thing, and that is inaction is way, way worse than action.

Rich Ziade: Way worse. If you don’t step forward, fail, pivot, tweak, refine, adjust, keep stepping forward, you’re dead.

Paul Ford: Fair. I agree with this entirely. The only times where I’ve really failed. Like not, okay, boy, that was a mistake. I screwed up. Gotta fix it. Let’s go, let’s go. We’ll put it back together. But like, just failed, like the project fell apart. It was projects where I was saying there’s absolutely I cannot [00:04:00] fail. I cannot fail.

Rich Ziade: You’re paralyzed.

Paul Ford: Yes. By, by just emphasizing how much risk there was constantly in my head,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: I got myself immobilized and I couldn’t move anything across the finish line,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: and I screwed up completely. Whereas if you go, eh, we gotta just get something done for Thursday.

Rich Ziade: We gotta get something out. Oh, so I mean, here are the–a couple of tips. We’ll be a little generous with this podcast too.

Paul Ford: Oh, thank God.

Rich Ziade: Sometimes you, sometimes it’s given to you as in like you made a commitment to present a thing at a conference in July.

Paul Ford: Better get it done. Better get your PowerPoint done.

Rich Ziade: You better get it done.

Rich Ziade: If you don’t have that right, be careful because you need those way points. You need those bright lines to go after and to set expectations around them if you don’t have them. People, especially very talented people, will meander, they will drift. And I don’t mean that in a, in a [00:05:00] lazy way. I mean that as in like, they’re exploring, they’re trying different things.

Rich Ziade: You want some of that. But keep going and expose yourself. Expose yourself to failure constantly.

Paul Ford: Keep going and expose yourself. That’s great advice for a, a middle-aged white man to give right now today. Um, there was a moment where everybody was looking for the perfect writing environment on the internet.

Rich Ziade: Like clean…

Paul Ford: Clean, just like, and it would eliminate all the windows. Like just, and, and there were all these apps and tools. People were building products and all those things, and I was normally really into this kind of stuff. But with this particular case, because I was a professional writer, I just literally, I, I just as a said guy’s, none of it.

Paul Ford: The only technology that you need is deadlines. You could do it with paper and pencil,

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: like you need someone to remember the–

Rich Ziade: I had this it was like it would take over the whole screen,

Paul Ford: Oh yeah.

Rich Ziade: and like these minimalist, like evergreen [00:06:00] trees would show up in the bottom right corner.

Paul Ford: Yeah [chuckles]. Not a lot. Not a lot of novels got written. A lot of software got written to help you write your novel.

Rich Ziade: [Laughter] Deadlines are huge, but really what are deadlines? They’re opportunities to fail. That’s all they are. They’re actually opportunities to learn, to fail. Hopefully not fail catastrophically, but to, it’s an incredible, um, data gathering moment. Like whatever, whether it be that awkward meeting cause you’re pitching to someone, or whether it be launching it out into the world or to a beta user base, whatever.

Paul Ford: You wanna know the ultimate deadline? Election day.

Rich Ziade: Oh yeah.

Paul Ford: Everything works back, thousands of people, data collection, everything works back from election day.

Rich Ziade: Live by that calendar.

Paul Ford: And you know what’s gonna happen? You’re probably gonna fail. There’s at least a 50% chance,

Rich Ziade: Of course.

Paul Ford: If it’s you, if you’re one of the major parties.

Rich Ziade: But, but that date helps you orient. And then there’s the, all these moments in between, all the stops, what do they call it? Whistle stops?

Paul Ford: Whistle stops.

Rich Ziade: Whistle stops and some will be catastrophic. Some will be, [00:07:00] oh, why did you say that? You shouldn’t have said that.

Paul Ford: Yeah, yeah.

Rich Ziade: Now we gotta work this out. Or we gotta figure out how to, like, we gotta put out a statement. There’s gonna be a lot of things there, but forward motion is necessary, and that means really being vulnerable, being humble about failure.

Rich Ziade: Here’s the last thought I want to share. What we’re really talking about are these way points, and without these way points, if you say, I know exactly the location of where we’re gonna be at the end of this journey, you’re fooling yourself. Nobody does. You may have a directional idea, meaning there’s a mission statement that is giving you a north star directionally, but if you think you know exactly what people want, nine months from now after 18 software releases.

Rich Ziade: You’re crazy.

Paul Ford: There’s also just, you know, we’re, we’re saying we’re gonna make a product that will be good for the web,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: and the number of, of interpretations of that concept is infinite, right?

Rich Ziade: Right, it is.

Paul Ford: You, you think that a mission [00:08:00] or some guiding, I could say that, uh, something, you know, a static webpage is good for the web.

Paul Ford: Uh, a new this, that, or the just like it has to be open source or it doesn’t,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: or you can’t. There, there is actually no clarity, just in like defining a mission, creating that outline.

Rich Ziade: No. I think the good thing about a mission is that it’s an, it’s an excellent auditing mechanism. You can always state it when you’re looking at someone.

Paul Ford: Well, then you can discuss it, right? So, it’s, it’s, it’s not quite a law, but it’s a, it’s a razor.

Rich Ziade: A mission statement is not a spec. That’s, I think the thing to take away here, which is a spec, is like we know exactly what the parameters around what this should be are. It has to meet these requirements and if it doesn’t, it’s not what it is. It’s not what it’s supposed to be.

Rich Ziade: That so, What are we taking away from this? And this is something we want to bring to this effort, which is we don’t want to assume we know exactly what the end game is. We know directionally where we want to go, which is doing something that empowers people and and helps the web become a better place.

Rich Ziade: That’s very cool. But we [00:09:00] don’t know exactly what the end game is. But more importantly, we’re not gonna hold up and hide for 12 months and then show up and say, here we are with the endgame.

Paul Ford: We solved it.

Rich Ziade: It doesn’t work that way. It never does, and you, the world is filled with stories of people who had to make a lot of drastic adjustments until they found success.

Paul Ford: I will say-

Rich Ziade: You have to have that openness and that humility.

Paul Ford: I, I’m sorry, say that last part again without me talking. You have to-

Rich Ziade: I forgot what I said.

Paul Ford: You have to have that openness and…

Rich Ziade: You have to have that openness to find a path towards success. It’s a zigzag. It’s not a straight line.

Paul Ford: Let me tell you about something that’s hard for me, which is that when you and I worked at an agency, we would say, “Hey, do you wanna get some software built? Give me some money“. And then they’d give us a little bit of money, we’d build some software. We’d say, “you wanna get the rest of it? Give us the rest of the money“.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And we’d put the money in the bank.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And then we’d pay salaries.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: And then you go do it again. And it had all its risks and all its challenges and ups and downs,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: but boy was the transaction simple.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: [00:10:00] This is like, let’s put some money into a thing and then, you know, we did this big pivot at the end of, at the end of the year there. Right. We have a party. We spent money on the party, right?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: We spent money on software,

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: we spent money on everything.

Rich Ziade: Yup.

Paul Ford: And then we went, ehhh, let’s spend some more money.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And we don’t really know where we’re gonna end up.

Rich Ziade: We don’t. I think we have a general sense of what we want to achieve in, in a, in a broad sense, in like this sort of fortune cookie sentence sense…

Paul Ford: Yeah, that’s right.

Rich Ziade: That’s about it. I couldn’t tell you how this year is gonna play out. It’s the beginning of 2023. As we record this, I could not tell you. I do know we’re gonna put some things out into the world and we may, we may–we hopefully will find a path.

Rich Ziade: I think we’re gonna see some failures. I think we’ll see some successes. I think we’ll have some great conversations. We’ll throw a party eventually, follow this podcast and we’ll invite you to it. 

Paul Ford: Let me tell you, my biggest fear.

Rich Ziade: Go.

Paul Ford: I don’t wanna look [00:11:00] dumb.

Rich Ziade: You don’t wanna look dumb or you don’t wanna be dumb.

Paul Ford: I don’t think I’m dumb.

Paul Ford: I don’t think I, I don’t like, I, I know that about myself, but I don’t want to go out there and say like, because here’s what we gotta do. We gotta go out there and say, I have made great software and I really want you to use it. And if people look at me and go baahhh, then I’m gonna feel like an idiot.

Rich Ziade: We’re not allowed to say that. Only Apple can say that. Apple has arrived. We have not. We never will. We may be telling a story about what we learned. And how we failed and why we failed, and that is, I’m comfortable with that.

Rich Ziade: I’m utterly comfortable with that. We come from an environment agency where we were rejected 80% of the time. So how people perceive us, I think is as much about them as it is about us. Oftentimes, and for us, we are gonna put our best foot forward. We think we, we’ve found a great team. We’ve put a great team together.

Rich Ziade: Um, and I think we can put something out there that’s interesting and we can learn from it.

Paul Ford: And if something doesn’t work out, we’ll help people. We’ll [00:12:00] figure it out. So like don’t I just want people to be mindful of that, right. Like we’re not, we’re not cavalier here at all. There’s other people’s lives involved.

Rich Ziade: We’re also quite pragmatic,

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: and we’re not looking to do an R&D project for five years. Uh, we’re, we’re gonna find a path towards a viable business cause we’re business people. Ultimately. I’m a business person. Uh–

Paul Ford: Me too. I didn’t think I would become one, but here we are.

Rich Ziade: You are one now we’ve cut that part of your soul out.

Paul Ford: How could you do that to me? [laughter].

Rich Ziade: Follow along. We hope you, we hope you can, you can take away some things for your own knowledge and, and maybe help you here. I mean, we believe-

Paul Ford: Or just send an email. Let’s not worry about it,

Rich Ziade: Send an email.

Paul Ford: but people, people will make of this what they will as we evolve our narrative.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Thank you for listening to-stay tuned, man this is gonna be wild. I couldn’t tell you what episode 15 looks like.

Paul Ford: Yeah me neither.

Rich Ziade: It may be something absolutely bizarre, it may have a wild guest, who knows? Um, thanks for listening to The Aboard Podcast.

Paul Ford: Check us out @aboard.io, send an email to hello@aboard.io. [00:13:00] 

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Um, and we love you. We, we, we think you’re fantastic. If you are listening to this podcast, you are very special. Goodbye.

Rich Ziade: Thank you for being special. Have a have a lovely weekend. Happy New Year.

Paul Ford: Bye.