4 Failures For Friday

Edward Neale · · 1 comment

It is little known that it was, in fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger who first formulated the philosophy - ‘Don’t be afraid to fail...!’...despite what academics may claim...

History is riddled with successes and failures, all fascinating in their own right, and the blogosphere’s perpetual claims of definitive ‘All Time Top Tens’ is unfair on the plethora of interesting and amusing examples out there. We will be regularly revisiting the theme in the future but here our 4 failures that tickled our fancy this Friday...


There is not a business school on the planet that does not teach students about Henry Ford and his famous production line. However, Mr Ford had a secret...hidden in the Brazilian rainforest...In 1929 rubber was a monopoly run by European cartels and Mr Ford, a heavy consumer of the natural product, set out to break this.

He headed to the home of rubber, Brazil, and began his quest to vertically integrate rubber production into the Ford empire by building the largest rubber plantation on the planet. An Orwellian town was constructed for employees that enforced square-dancing, prohibition and canteen burgers - Fôrdlandia.

Over a decade later, his hubris had resulted in riots, a $200m bill (in today’s money), and not a drop of his own rubber in any of his tires. All that remains is an American ghost town in the middle of the Amazon...and lessons from an alarming series of basic blunders, including enforcing values in foreign cultures, purchasing fallow land from swindlers and a disgruntled workforce. Lesson: don't do any of the above.


A classic dot-com failure- the online fashion site burnt through $135m of venture capital in 18 months. The overreaching stillbirth built an unnecessarily complex user interface and was a lesson on how important a simple and intuitive user experience is - a lesson that Siasto heeds today in the ugly and complex task management software arena.


Starbucks Australia retreat

It is easy to talk about failed Anglo-Saxon forays into oriental markets - countries like Japan and China are so blatantly different that it is almost surprising that large corporations still make the same mistakes when entering. However, a West Coast American company entering sunny, English speaking, Anglo-saxon Australia makes for more interesting reading.


After 8 years down under trying to sell ice to eskimos, Starbucks sounded its retreat in 2008. When Starbucks went to Australia to bring coffee and their cafe culture to the masses, it found that...they already had it...Melbourne is the Mecca of quality coffee and culture (believe it or not...and I am an Italophile...). Lesson: Multinational corporations should actually offer something better than the local alternatives if they want to succeed.


One of the more famous failures - DeLorean failed to adhere to what is now commonly known as the ‘Lean Startup Methodology’. The customer development methodology originated by Steve Blank was ignored and a product was built that nobody actually wanted. Furthermore, while the infamous gullwing car was giving Biff Tanen his comeuppance, Mr DeLorean was busy being busted with 100 kilos of cocaine. Lesson: find out what people actually want and keep your beak out of the bugle.


1 comment

Fordlândia instead of Fôrdlandia.

? bhdn

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