Duty & Failure

Like this post? Share it.

I ran across this "shutting down" letter from a YC startup called NewsLabs. Here's the crux:

As I'm sure you've noticed not much has been happening with the site recently. I'm very sorry to report that this is because NewsLabs is ending.

As you know, founder Paul Biggar was on his honeymoon for most of May [company launched in April] so I was taking charge of direction. During this time I spoke to many of you on the phone and emailed the group to let you know that we were going through a difficult post-launch period where we were struggling to reach an audience for your work. It seemed like we had the right parts (your writing and our technology) but maybe we needed to be more directed (by getting the editors involved) to move out of the hole we were in.

via www.poynter.org

This is from their TechCrunch write up in April, when they operated as NewsTilt. 

The site is currently accepting applications from journalists who want to start a news site on NewsTilt, and is being extremely selective with which journalists are accepted NewsTilt has assembled a seasoned editorial team in place to oversee the operation, headed by Jon Margolis, former chief National Political Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. 

So far, the startup has only selected 30 professional journalists out of 150 who’ve applied, and each applicant goes through a rigorous screening to ensure that any content they create is both well-written and has editorial quality. The accepted journalists will write from all over the world, including the U.S., China, and Turkey, and will be reporting on a number of niche topics including technology, news in Iran, business travel and more.

To recap: In December 2009, NewsLabs is accepted into Y-Combinator. In April 2010, NewsLabs launches to the public. In May 2010, the Founder of NewsLabs goes on honeymoon for a month. In mid-June 2010, the Founder of NewsLabs quits. In late-June 2010, NewsLabs goes out of business.  

Hmm.

I guess my first question is this: How the hell did no one forsee this problem??? Honeymoons require planning, especially the month-long variety. And who the hell plans a honeymoon right after they launch a startup? How did anyone think this is OK? It just seems completely irresponsible and a betrayal of his co-founder(s), employees and investors.

Now, I understand that people start companies all the time that aren't that serious about their missions, but these guys came out of YC. He took a slot that could have gone to an actual team of real founders who actually give a shit. To just throw an opportunity like that away out of pure laziness just makes me sick. 

And not only that, they signed other people up to work for them! WTF?? I pray they didn't get investors. 

It's one thing to try and fail. I'm cool with that. But to have others counting on you and not even try, well, that's just shameful. And it makes the rest of us––we who are working 16 hour days/7 days a week living in a co-founder's dining room, scraping to turn a vision into a reality––look bad too. It's like when startups scam their customers and employees; it's a PR blemish for the whole category. 

Sometimes when you make promises, you have a duty––not to keep them, but to try. 

24 Comments

  1. chris dixon June 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    agree. astoundingly irrensonsible. and it seems they did raise money:
    “My immediate plans are to respectfully close NewsLabs (including returning our remaining funds to our investors) and to hibernate newstilt.com.”

  2. Chris Yeh June 29, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    Absolutely unreal. If he didn’t tell the investors about the honeymoon up front, he should be sued. If he did tell them and they invested anyways, they should be sued.

  3. VictusFate June 29, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    As a cofounder who just got back from a honeymoon in June I can shed some light on the opposite side. I planned my wedding and honeymoon long before I forged a startup. It’s unfunded, and both of us work to survive a well as build a business. I was able to put in some time while on vacation, and got to meet my cofounder for the first time on the way back in San Francisco which was spectacular.
    Not all work happens in the office (or #speakercave :)

  4. Matt Mireles June 29, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    LOL. Agreed!

  5. Matt Mireles June 29, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

    I feel bad for the CTO. Sounds like a stand up guy left holding the bag.

  6. Matt Mireles June 29, 2010 at 7:39 pm #

    It sounds like you did it the right way.

  7. Matthendrick June 29, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    There’s gotta be something else going on here. Not only is it incredibly irresponsible (not to mention downright stupid) to go this route, I find it hard to believe that PG and the advisers at YC would just sit back as these guys fumbled it so publicly in such a short amount of time. Why not pivot? Why not get a boatload of press and make a big stink about how fucked up the state of the industry is, and double down on making a difference? To me, leading the paragraph off with “As you know, founder Paul Biggar was on his honeymoon…” is a clear indicator that the author of that memo has quite a bit of animosity with his fellow co-founder; is it possible that the dude just went rogue and it was easier to shut down than to try and deal with ex-communicating him?
    Sucks for the stakeholders. As for the founders, this will make a great “how I blew the biggest opportunity of my life” story someday.

  8. Cameronpriest June 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Agreed,
    It’d be interesting to see their internal reasoning. Perhaps they decided their current model could never be viable. But, It’s a market in a lot of pain and there is definitely ‘ gold in them thar hills’.

  9. WT June 29, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    You guys have it all wrong. The story here is that love emasculated this guy and he no longer desires to work hard at his startup for an uncertain outcome.

  10. Matt Mireles June 29, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    I just don’t understand how you leave your team to hanging in the wind like that. Even if the market is screwed, try something!

  11. Matt Mireles June 29, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    Hahahha

  12. FredDestin June 30, 2010 at 1:25 am #

    Team fell out pre-paunch, “ceo” (if you can call him that) fucks off with new bride, understandably pissed-off CTO tells the world about honeymoon. Ultra Light Startups can survive through a lot but not team disintegration. Honeymoon story adds some spice here, what a Loser.

  13. Digidave June 30, 2010 at 1:47 am #

    Good post Matt – and spot on. Something must have gone down behind the scenes. It does feel as though, at some level, this was half-assed.

  14. Matt Mireles June 30, 2010 at 2:36 am #

    Yeah, I bet PG had an aneurysm.

  15. Matt Mireles June 30, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    This just struck a nerve.
    See, I was the poor kid at the fancy college who worked two jobs to pay for school while the rich kids partied and globetrotted. My co-founders and I applied, interviewed and got rejected from YC. Now I’m living in the dining room of an apt I share with them and we worked 16-18 hours a day, 7 days a week on our startup. We’re having a blast, but my personal finances, which are normally impeccable, have gone to total shit. I’m all fucking in, and so are my co-founders. And when I hear about some bloke who has the opportunity of a lifetime and just throws it away like that, betraying his team and backers, well, it pisses me off.
    Am I jealous? Yes. Do I feel sorry for the guy? Not in the least. Am I being fair? I think so.

  16. Matt Mireles June 30, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    Seriously.

  17. Rockstarwookie June 30, 2010 at 7:22 am #

    Why do assume that this guy didn’t do it the same way?
    I know Paul and it’s unfortunate how people are jumping to all sorts of (imo, invalid) conclusions based on the little information in that email and some slight inaccuracies in the reporting. But I guess that’s the internet for us.
    The article portrays Paul as the founder and Nathan as his CTO (note: those parts are in square brackets and I assume not in the original email), which has led to many people assuming Paul just left his employees to deal with everything at a very early stage.
    The truth is that Nathan and Paul were the co-Founders and were equals in the business.
    They took their decisions together, including the one that it was right for Paul to go on his planned honeymoon at that point.
    And just like VictusFate, Paul’s Wedding and Honeymoon were planned long before they got approval for Y-Combinator.
    Paul moved to the other side of the world for 3 months leading up to the Wedding to work on his start up, leaving his fiancée to plan the Wedding by herself. That was a pretty big commitment to the start up.
    Another relevant fact is that Newstilt wasn’t the company’s first product. They came up with the idea of Newstilt through their experiences of finding their initial product a tough sell to newspapers.
    If Newstilt had been their first product, they would have released a lot earlier than April, which explains why the timing seems so poor.
    And once they decided to launch, Paul and Nathan took the decision together that Paul would go on his already-planned honeymoon.
    Whether the honeymoon contributed to Paul’s decision to leave, I don’t know, but knowing Paul, I really don’t think it’s fair to assume that is the case.
    What I do know is that there is much more to the company’s closure than just that Paul went on Honeymoon, and here Paul has said that he is writing a “what went wrong” piece, which will obviously shed more light on the matter.
    Maybe none of that makes a difference to your opinion, but I think it should.
    And knowing a just little of the work the two guys did, you are wrong to claim that they did not try and that they didn’t put an awful lot of work into it.

  18. LT June 30, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    Have you guys not noticed an actual real-life account of some background a couple of comments back there by rockstarwookie? I know it’s fun to bash this guy that you deem unworty of getting YC/ investment, but there’s got to be a lot more to the story than a leaked email from a co-founder who didn’t exactly try to hide the fact he felt hard-done by.
    Commenters here appear to have decided that he’s a spoilt kid with no work ethic. How do we know he wasn’t working 20 hour days, or working while on his honeymoon like the other commenter above? How do we know that it was him that was the problem and not the other founder, or quality of work submitted to the site? It may make for a more salacious tale, but it’s unfair to cast such aspersions.
    I’ve spent a lot of time with startups, and in my experience, no founder wraps up a company without VERY good reason. Personally, I think it’s a lot more admirable to stop spending investor money when you realise your idea is dead, than to doggedly continue and end up wrapping it up in another year, having screwed the investors out of ALL of their cash and the journalists out of their time.

  19. Clauric July 2, 2010 at 4:50 am #

    I couldn’t agree more with Rockstarwookie. As somebody who has known Paul for over 20 years, I know that Paul is not someone to do things by half measures. The company originally got its funding in Autumn 2009, and had planned to launch its original model in Jan 2010. Paul originally got engaged in early 2009, and the wedding was announced for May 2010. The investors (YC) knew about Paul’s upcoming plans, and seemed to have no problem with it, and neither did Nathan (CTO).
    It seems that everybody is forgetting some relevant points.
    1) This is the internet age. The product was internet based. Paul, and Nathan were working on it from California, Oxbridge, Dublin, as well as other places either of them found themselves.
    2) On Paul’s stag weekend, Paul took 2 – 3 hours a day to work on the company.
    3) He left his fiancee for 3 months, right before the wedding, to go work on the project in California. I can assure you that the fiancee (now wife) was not that impressed.
    I believe, that in the fullness of time, and bearing in mind the “what went wrong letter” from Paul, that both Paul and Nathan did their best to make the company a success. Not every company that is launched survives, nor does every good idea flourish. I believe that Paul and Nathan will learn a lot from this endeavour, and that these lessons will be applied in any future ventures.

  20. Clauric July 2, 2010 at 5:01 am #

    Matt,
    I know that Paul, and Nathan were both working very hard, often putting in 20 hours each a day. Both of them left good job opportunities behind, and decided to try to make a success of an idea that they had. The first model didn’t work, but YC obviously believed in them. I think that it is very wise to stop spending/wasting money that your investor has put it, if there is going to be no return.
    As for whether you deserved the money or not, that is the decision of YC. They obviously felt that your product/idea/company/philosophy or other determining criteria did not meet their requirements, whereas these people did. Paul and Nathan can hardly be blamed that you did not get the investment that you wanted. Maybe you will learn some lessons from this company failure, and that you will but them to good use.
    All that being said, I do believe that it is irresponsible of you to lambast a person/company that you know nothing about, based solely on one email, rumour, and fantasy.
    However, I wish you all the success in the future for you and your co-founders.

  21. Garry Tan July 7, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Serious abdication of responsibility.

  22. Garry Tan July 7, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Serious abdication of responsibility.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Five Lessons to Learn from NewsTilt « DigiDave - July 24, 2010

    [...] CEO was on a honeymoon. This leaves room for a lot of WTF questions which I won’t go into, but my friend Matt Mireles does (glad somebody asked these questions and pointed out the craziness). I’m less interested [...]

  2. Newstilt | Failed Startups - June 15, 2011

    [...] commentary into why the company failed. Along with my own thoughts and input from several other analyses, the reasons for NewsTilt’s failure and the lessons that can be garnered are distilled [...]

Leave a Reply

Subscribe

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: