The Right To Fail – The Friday Project

Eoin Purcell

The Noise
The Friday Project’s collapse and the subsequent acquisition of some of its assets by HarperCollins has generated a lot of heat, much noise and precious little decent analysis over the last few weeks. I’m not sure I have much to add one way or the other.

It is a complicated subject because a good number of people are angry, and justly, because their work will go unpaid. Some authors have lost their publishing contracts and one creditor is owed the massive sum of £150,000.

I know some of those involved, not on the inside but on the outside, and I feel sorry for them. I also feel sorry for the folks that have been stung by the business failure too, it would be very hard not to be.

The Heat
Some are concerned at the reported expenditure and at the suggestion that they might have saved some of their creditors pain by wrapping the business up earlier. You only need to read the discussions on Clare Christian’s now defunct blog to understand this argument. (The blog is now deleted)

Frankly, the truth of that suggestion is not clear cut. Who is to say what is the best way to act when faced with business troubles. It is possible sometimes to trade out of a rocky patch, get new funding and move to healthy sales, pay back creditors and generally rescue a business, sometimes it is not.

I’m glad I didn’t have to make that call in this occasion. I don’t begrudge TFP’s efforts to find new funding and to try and trade through difficulties, though the suggested expenditure is alarming.

The Analysis
What The Friday Project represented to me was a willingness to take risk, in this case, perhaps too many and too expensively taken. They were one of the few companies that was happy to say that online content was good enough to make it mainstream and in doing so they uncovered some great writing and some quality authors.

They failed to be different enough though, not having a Unique Selling Point, something that marked them out as clearly better or different from major publishers or indeed other independents, not that that is ever a barrier to success in most industries, including our own.

You can diss the effort, decry the fact that people will go unpaid and call the principles any name in the book, but at least they tried to shake up the medium, gave their efforts to the goal.

The wrap up
I say well done and hard luck to them and to their creditors. I wish, for all of them, that it could have ended better than the way it did and I hope never to have to face the extreme difficulties that a trade partners failure can impose, but I look forward to seeing where the TFP people go from here and how their efforts progress in their new surroundings which will, no doubt, present their own challenges.

Increasingly risk averse (at least this week)
Eoin

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6 comments

  1. The demise of The Friday Project – A Lesson For Everyone

    I am sad to say that I’ve been there, done that and got the ‘T’ shirt. That is to say I had a group of companies and lost it all because of many reasons. Some were poor business decisions and others not being sufficiently dynamic where it counted. In some case it was a case of being too dominant in my managent style. Others were missing oportunities plus underfinancing projects that really had potential had they been given the best resources. There were many good things too, that is what created the untold successes for over 25 years.

    At the end everyone was paid with no debts outstanding. There were no medals for being a decent guy, no thank you’s, friends, clients and employees did not care a dame. I was broke and in serious burnout due to the enormous and prolonged stress of fighting to save the group and trying to grow again. The strange thing is that once on that slide it seems whatever one does you might as well pack your bags and leave because anything you do just accellerates the pending disaster.

    It took 4 years to recover from burnout so I had plenty of time to analyse everything and take all the lessons. If you think this is backed by bitterness than think again also with that mind set do not ever set yourself up in business. Why? Because being in business is being in the risk business. Just as any serious and experienced stock market investor or consultant will tell you, only invest in the stock market what you can affort to loose. Even if you loose everything, the only thing to do is walk away from it, take the lessons and start over again.

    It is easy to point the finger of accusation and say you should have done this, that and closed down when you knew you are in trouble. It is another thing when you are responsible for many employees, loyal suppliers, etc., who depend on you to make all the right decisions to ensure the profitability of the company when other competitor companies are doing their best to put you out of business.

    Bitterness, certainly not. That’s life and if you cannot stand the heat then get out the kitchen.

    Few outsiders let alone new entrepreners have any idea what it is to run a company until they are well and truly in the mire. So I decided to use all by 35 years of business experience to support new start-ups and even upstarts who can have some great ideas too. The trouble is that non of those many new entrepreneurs that I spoke to wanted to listen. They all without exception believed they had the perfect vision, idea, determination and stamina to succeed, finally, they did not need any help from me.

    The truth was they were all under funded, had too few clients and in many cases none at all. Worst of all they were all under the same horrendous illusion that they knew what they were doing even though they were already on the road to bankruptcy. At the last count most had failed.

    Why did they fail? Largely because they listened to everything they wanted to hear and nothing they did not like to hear.

    Failure is never easy and like the case of The Friday Project it touches many people in many strange ways. In my case my financial director tried to sue me for wrongful dismissal, naturally the case failled to even get off the ground.

    Since few new and inexperienced entrepreneurs want to listen to good business advice my next resort is in writing a book on a 1000 easy and complex ways to successfully destroy your own company. Maybe there is a place for a big stick, the only problem is, how do I get them to read it?

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