Equal-opportunity failure: The Village Voice explores how Vanguarde Media “drowned in red ink.” Complete with a Samir Husni quote, the writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, says Vanguarde was “a noble mission” that “proved futile.”
“The magazine world runs as much on exclusivity as it does on paper and ink. Vanguarde wanted to prove that an urban-read black house could run with the midtown big boys.”
While I love the writing in that paragraph, it is poppycock punditry packaged as reportage. Keith Clinkscales may have made lots of mistakes along the way, but one mistake he did not make was confusing entrepreneurship with mission nobility. Nor, for that matter, would he ever claim that his failure had anything to do with being shut out from some “mid town” exclusivity thing. Keith Clinkscales is one of the most charming, persuasive and plugged-in individuals in the small world of magazine publishing.
Clinkscales’ failure with this specific venture had more to do with the gods of entrepreneurism than with the demons of old-boy exclusivity. Look around: the magazine world has just gone through the worst three years in most living-publishers’ lifetimes. Failure in this environment has occured in a very equal-opportunity fashion. Trust me, I know.
I’m sure, with his Harvard MBA, Clinkscales knows the specific ways in which he screwed up. He knows also that the forces of the world’s economy overwhelmed any brilliance he could have mustered. He knows the precise wrong decisions he approved and can painfully recall the times he failed to make other difficult decisions, hoping that time would take care of things. As wonderful as it might sound in a beautifully worded Village Voice piece, the lessons offered in the failure of Vanguarde are not about dreams and noble missions. They are about market forces, the wrong management decisions and lack of capital.
Without a doubt, Keith Clinkscales has learned those lessons well.
Even with the bankruptcy in process, Clinkscales isn’t willing to concede defeat. On December 18, Vanguarde announced that Triax financial advisers would be assisting the company in its bid to resurrect itself. “The advertising is there, the marketing is there, and there are a lot of investors out there who understand that there’s a readership,” Clinkscales says. “But anytime something like this happens, you have to find the lessons.”