On Gigaom

Gigaom ceased operations with a post on its front page last night.

On first glance. the front page of the influential tech news site, Gigaom, appears like yesterday was merely another day at the office: Coverage of the Apple Watch announcement, coverage of the upcoming SXSW Interactive. But then, in what appeared on Twitter to be a surprise to even its employees, Gigaom ceased operations with a post on its front page saying this:

Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time. As a result, the company is working with its creditors that have rights to all of the company’s assets as their collateral. All operations have ceased. We do not know at this time what the lenders intend to do with the assets or if there will be any future operations using those assets. The company does not currently intend to file bankruptcy. We would like to take a moment and thank our readers and our community for supporting us all along.

Those words are painful to read. Worse than anything short of losing a loved one, I can’t imagine a greater pain than losing something that starts out as an idea, and then you carry that idea all the way to seeing it succeed as an influential and innovative product. But then, for some reason,  it doesn’t  click.

Unfortunately, I know the feeling. At some point you get over it. But then, later, you realize it never quite goes away because you see good people who do great things, and it doesn’t click.

I’ve learned along the way that it’s useless to look for exactly one factor to blame. A founder of a failed business will go through periods of blaming him- or herself. And then, they’ll blame some other factor. And  then they’ll blame everyone.

It’s one of those classic stages of grief things that, if one is to move on, ends with acceptance. And while I know it may sound like a Kelly Clarkson song, there does come a time when you realize that knowing you can survive one of the worst things you can imagine gives you power over the fear of failing.

It’s a shame it got to this point. If you read the tweets of people who were mourning its demise last night (a sample can be seen via Techmeme), you realize how much influence Gigaom has with the most influential of tech business obsessed. There was something there worth saving if the game of chicken that must have been taking place hadn’t ended in a head-on collision.

If guessing, here are some things I would likely blame. And, with no guessing, a couple of things not to blame:

Potential Things to Blame:

  • A management decision, or several management decisions, that were caused by any number of things (hubris? denial?), people or situations.
  • The over supply of news related to the same topic, a deflationary condition that results when too much media is chasing after too little news. Or, as Jeff Jarvis once said, “If you are selling a scarcity — an inventory — of any non-physical goods today, stop, turn around, and start selling value — outcomes — instead. Or you’re screwed. Apply this rule to many enterprises: advertising, media, content, information, education, consultation, and to some extent, performance.”
  • A flawed business model or a bungled execution of a good business model.
  • Bad marketing.
  • The always favorite: Timing.

Don’t blame:

  • The quality of the product and those who produced it. It doesn’t get any better than Gigaom.
  • The viability of industry vertical business media, writ large. (I feel certain there’s going to be lots of navel gazing today on this front, but such analysis is bunk. There’s too much tech content about Apple and Silicon Valley startups, yes. Way too much. But there are narrow niches in tech that get little coverage, if at all.)

Bottomline:

  • Failure sucks. The fear of failure sucks worse.

(I wrote on the topic of causes of startup failures a few months ago on SmallBuiness.com)