This question originally appeared on Quora: Is it okay to mention my failed startup on my resume?
You should absolutely list it.
Startups can fail for any number of reasons, which can be a mix of your fault and not your fault. While there might be some people who are ignorant of just how hard it is to be successful, most people in the industry are not. After all, if VCs aren't able to predict which startups are successful, why should it reflect that poorly on you that you weren't able to predict this?
Sure, it's great if you were successful, but even an unsuccessful startups shows initiative, a variety of experience, and many other positive traits. It's not just a mildly positive thing to list; it'll likely be the best part of your resume.
I failed my start-up and I list it on my resume.
And just like you, I am back job searching and had several interviews with top firms. I'd say 100% of the interviewers were curious to learn about my start-up experience.
Here's the story about my start-up:
My best friend and I saw the terrible traffic and pollution in China and wanted to do something about it. We left our American lives, quit our jobs, packed two suitcases, and left to the wild wild east to build a carpooling start-up.
When we arrived to China, we had little money, no connections, couch-surfed, and never started a company before.
But we still raised seed funding from reputable investors, won a bunch of awards (MIT, Castrol, Lenovo), joined 500Startups, built some traction, built a 13-person team, and had great press.
Yet it still didn't work out because:
- The carpooling concept was still new in China and we had to educate the market.
- Carpooling model is sophisticated in reality: location, time, trust, legal, revenue model. Plus it's hard to guarantee rides.
- Trust is inherently lower in developing markets (China).
- Even though we are Chinese, we are American Chinese. There was a ramp-up time to fully understand cultural differences and how that impacts user / consumer behavior in a different country.
- We wanted to build a profitable "social enterprise" that was good for the world (i.e. traffic & pollution) and failed to capture the taxi-booking opportunity. We were even earlier than rise of taxi-booking start-ups.
Finally, at least for me, this experience is still a small success for me because of what I learned and what I can bring to the next endeavor. I'm sure it is for you also.
If you ask me if I knew what the end result would be, would I do it again? I would.
Your experience is worth sharing.
I should also add what I learned:
Mistakes vs. How I would do it differently:
- Code, then sell vs. Sell, then code
- Get funded vs. Get profitable
- Used more emotions vs. Use more data
- Angels are from heaven vs. Angels aren't always from heaven
- More features vs. Less features
- Making the right / wrong decisions vs. Making fast / slow decisions
- Large team vs. Small team (cost, quality, management, flexibility, speed)
- Get high off of press releases vs. Get high off of rising business KPIs
- Big goals, build the entire platform (MVP platform?) vs. Big goals, start small with the highest priority features. No registration, sign-ups, database. Super lean. MVP MVP MVP
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