So often we hear the tale of, how despite challenges and hardship, the gritty small company overcomes all and becomes a great success. In my view success isn’t something that can be duplicated with a cookie cutter approach and so we can learn limited amounts from the success of others. Failure actually teaches us more than success.
Almost: 12 Electric Months Chasing a Silicon Valley Dream explores 12 months in the life (and near death) of Ardica Technologies, a silicon valley company that almost was. It is an unusual book in that instead a story of overcoming hardship and fighting through challenges to achieve success, ‘Almost’ explores a series of interpersonal dynamics that lead to anything but success.
‘Almost’ reads like a drama, with leading edge engineers developing a new leading edge product. The parallel adventure in the background of this innovation is a tragedy; a search for both funds and for clarity and vision from an executive Board that doesn’t seem to be delivering on it duties.
As the story unfolds, we learn how a cutting edge battery technology could be a revolutionary clean technology to charge personal devices as well as heat sports clothing for the extreme sports and adventure market.
The book is written from the perspective of Hap Klopp, the founder of The North Face, an adventure clothing company, who was a key member of the board. His view is clear as to where the problems lay, highlighting a series of problems in a variety of areas including financial, technical, regulatory, relationship and industrial. In short, ‘Almost’ could easily be a comprehensive case study for a top business school, it is that well written.
The course of events for Ardica Technologies, is a short 12 month roller coaster of technical success and business failure.
As with many business failures, it is financial situation that is at the core of the problems for Ardica, with a lack of funding, little transparency in the financial situation and a high level of unfounded optimism.
The key points that can be drawn from the book are:
- Invention without understanding how to translate invention into a commercial entity leads invariably to a failed venture.
- Low funds induce anxiety that induces poor decision making.
- ‘Get rich quickly by creating a buzz and then selling to a company that doesn’t bother with due diligence’ is not a viable or even a likely strategy.
- Failing to plan is truly planning to fail.
- Clear timely communication is critical to success.
- Hiding information or obfuscating the situation leads to distrust.
- Distrust at the board leads to failure very quickly. The fish rots from the head down.
- It is important to get the product right first and have a good recovery plan because a high profile failure is difficult to recover from.
- When it comes to your finances, transparency and conservatism should be the watchwords.
‘Almost‘ is a great read for those that like to understand the details of how some businesses are operated and so draw insights from their own reading. It is also a great case study for those that are looking to create a high tech companyand should be required reading for anyone at board level of a startup looking for external investment.
Dare to Aspire