Nobody Remembers Failures, So Why are You Afraid? Failure Stories from Successful People

We’ve all heard of Google and Sun Microsystems, but companies like The Data Dump and Burlee are hardly household names. Google and Sun Microsystems are two examples of phenomenal successes, having become integral to our working and personal lives. What those two companies have in common with The Data Dump and Burlee is that they were headed by the same great minds that lead the companies we hear about every day…. Nobody Remembers Failures.

Fear of failure holds people back each day. What many people don’t realize, however, is that each of those failures is actually a stepping stone bringing them a little closer to success. In fact, many of today’s most successful entrepreneurs experienced at least one business failure before finally achieving success.

The Big Picture

Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla may be a Silicon Valley legend today, but in the pre-PC days he had a monumental failure with a company called The Data Dump. The poorly-timed business revolved around a complex word processor geared toward college campuses. When the PC came along and rendered word processors obsolete, Khosla and his partner lost their investment money.

Three months after starting The Data Dump, Khosla and his partner founded Sun Microsystems and the rest is history. Today when Khosla asks audiences if they’ve ever heard of Sun Microsystems, almost everyone in attendance raises their hands. When he asks if they’ve heard of The Data Dump, he receives a unanimous “no”.

“Nobody remembers failures,” Khosla says. “Success matters. Failure is inconsequential. Yet what I hear most people do is not do things because they fear failure. Most people are limited but what they think they can do, not what they can do.”

Failures Make Great Stories

While failures can seem devastating at the time, they create inspiring stories later. Bill Maris may be known today as managing partner of Google Ventures, but in 2000 he was heading up one of the world’s first web hosting companies, Burlee. With a lucrative buyout offer in the works, Maris was confident enough to have BMWs delivered for each member of his staff. However, on the day they were delivered, Maris’s buyout offer was rescinded, forcing him to send all of the BMWs back.

While the setback was devastating at the time, Maris eventually sold Burlee to In 2009, he founded Google Ventures, a company that provides funding and startup support to businesses around the globe. While he may lead the world’s most active investment team, Maris now looks back on his BMW story with amusement, knowing it led him to where he is today.

Believe in Yourself

Jessica Livingston, founding partner of Y Combinator, remembers a time when reporters wouldn’t even take her calls. The team at Y Combinator knew they were witnessing a dramatic change in the business world but everyone else seemed unmoved.

Instead of accepting jobs with big companies, Livingston and her team realized the biggest talent would start their own companies in the hopes of being purchased by a larger corporation. Today that very trend has created a talent shortage in the business world, requiring major companies to search for promising startups rather than the next great app developer or VP of marketing.

The Y Combinator team continued to believe, though. Ignoring what others said about their efforts, Livingston and her partners focused on helping startups succeed. As these new businesses began getting attention in the business community, it then reflected positively on what Y Combinator was doing, helping them grow. For any startup, this serves as inspiration that when you believe in yourself and keep moving forward, you’ll naturally create a business that people want to get to know.

Many of us grapple with the fear of failure – but too many of us let it hold us hostage. We’re scared of looking stupid or making a huge faux-pas. While the fear is understandable, you shouldn’t let it hold you back. After all, have you ever heard of Data Dump?