Startup survival: Finding your carbonised bamboo

Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thanks Thomas, but few of us will get 10,000 rolls of the dice…

shutterstock_279097196Dazzled by the seemingly immediate success of Silicon Valley’s poster children, it’s easy to forget that for most start-ups, life is more about weathering uncertainty than conquering galaxies. Goodbye Genghis Khan, enter Bear Grylls, sustaining on the grubs of uncertainty whilst seeking pastures green. Maximising our rolls of the dice.

Edison got 10,000 throws because his cost of failure was so low and his potential upside so high. For him, the challenge was finding a filament that was inexpensive but durable, testing over 6,000 possible compounds before reaching carbonised bamboo. He famously boasted, “the cost of preparing one of these little horse-shoes of carbon is about 1 cent, and the entire lamp will cost not more than 25 cents.”

25c x 10,000 = $250, around $30,000 in today’s money.

$30,000:the first commercially viable light bulb.

A risk:reward ratio we’d all like to play by.

Alas, Edison’s success was more about the engine he had created than the discovery of carbonised bamboo. He proved that when he invented the movie camera, the microphone, the ‘stencil pen’ (a precursor to the tattoo gun), and over 1,000 other patents that have changed humanity forever.

So before you shoot the dice today, which outcome are you hoping for? Forget fame and fortune, what do you truly need to happen in your respective near-term? Before your money, energy, grit, and soul escape you.

For Edison, it was an incandescent filament that was capable of lasting an “ordinary lifetime”.  A lasting glow, a hypothesis a chimp could understand.

So concentrate on your filament, not the grandeur of your lamp. Any deviation is a threat to your survival, shortening your respective near-term, and bringing your last roll of the dice ever closer…

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison.

About the author: Jamie Rose is a co-founder of hotel comparison start-up, You can follow his team’s foray into the unknown on their blog.