The End of the Runway: Tales of Startup Failure Keep Growing

This month, dozens of companies will graduate from the ever-growing collection of startup accelerators. Most of them will fail. That’s a truth that’s been baked into the startup culture for so long that “fail fast” is a mantra and conferences celebrate and seek to learn from flameouts.

This week, the research firm CB Insights updated its trove of startup postmortems, jargon-rich blog posts charting their journey from ideation to minimum viable products, pivots, friends and family rounds, and the final realization that they’ve reached the end of the runway before taking flight. At the most basic level, the new stories from venture-backed companies Canvas Networks, Outbox, and others are mostly the same. Like Jeanette Cajide’s photo-sharing startup Blurtt, they ran out of money and couldn’t raise more.

The average startup that shut down between 2010 and 2013 died 20 months after its last financing round, according to CB Insights, giving companies plenty of time to twist in the wind. Even a company with a short life span—like startup small business lender Funding Community, which shut down seven months after it launched its service—has plenty of time to confront obstacles, fall on its face, and get up over and again.

That makes for good reading, at least for those who can stand a whiff of self-indulgence. Whether the postmortems help anybody else is another question. Startup founders have been leaving behind narratives from their shuttered companies for years. There are some lessons, it seems, you have to learn for yourself.