Letting Failure Fuel You

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / March 26, 2014


Failure. It happens more often than anyone would like to admit. Oftentimes, failure can bring you so far down that it makes your actions seem like a waste and dreams appear unattainable. Another approach to failure is using it as fuel to push you forward, to prove the naysayers wrong. Consider the story of Reddit and how the founders used a dis to push them to be one of the top tech startups.

Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman began their small startup, Reddit, in October 2006 in a little Boston apartment. Only three months after the launch of their site, they got an invitation they weren’t expecting – a call to come to Silicon Valley and meet with a Yahoo! executive. Of course, Huffman and Ohanian immediately accepted and flew out to California. It was exciting to think that their small startup had grabbed the attention of such a large tech company such as Yahoo!

The meeting, though, did not go as they expected, but the two couldn’t imagine how much fuel it would add to their entrepreneurial fire. Once seated, the Yahoo! executive asked about their site and what exactly it was. As Ohanian and Huffman were explaining Reddit, the executive stopped them. He proceeded to ask how much traffic they had, to which Ohanian and Huffman responded by saying they had 10 or 11,000 users.

With a laugh, the executive said, “You guys are a rounding error compared to Yahoo! What are you doing here?”

Needless to say, the rest of that meeting did not go well.

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Upon returning home, Ohanian put up a sign that read, “You are a rounding error” that he would see every morning.

Soon he added other notes that created a negative reinforcement wall. He used this to drive him forward in his endeavors with Reddit to become more than just a “rounding error.” Ohanian wanted to know exactly who he was proving wrong with all the messages on his wall and then wanted and did do just that.

Today, Reddit is a top 50 tech company. Ohanian and Huffman have had many successes since their visit with the Yahoo! executive, but that meeting is one that Ohanian will forever remember and use as fuel.

As Ohanian says in this video,

“There are always going to be constructive critics who are amazing and make us better, and then there are going to be haters. Haters gonna hate. So you know what? Eat them for breakfast, alright? Use them as motivation – use them as fuel.” 

Ohanian used hateful criticism towards his company in a way that made him more successful in the long run. This is a lesson he hopes to impart onto other tech entrepreneurs with their businesses. Don’t let the negativity stop you from being amazing, but rather, let it be your fuel.

Have you ever been told that your startup or idea was destined for failure? How did you respond? Please tell us your story in the comments!

Matt Hunckler is founder of Verge, a 2,500-member community platform for software entrepreneurs.  Matt also has a passion for magic and drawing and a knack for marketing and experience design. 

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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