Lessons learnt crashing a hang glider

When I was 21, I crashed my hang glider. I was taking hang gliding lessons from an 85-year old German immigrant named Henry, and during a training flight I plummeted out of the sky and crashed in the woods.

After the initial HOLY FUCK I JUST CRASHED AND I’M NOT SURE IF I’M ALIVE shock and the quick pat-down check to make sure my limbs were still on, my face turned rosy red and filled with embarrassment. I didn’t die, but I wished I had. I had just failed in the most spectacular, crash-the-car-going-100mph kind of way in front of my friends, and worse, Henry.

Everyone wanted to know what happened. Was my glider faulty? Sudden change of wind? No, none of those things. It was all my fault. I was going too slow. I stalled. I lost control.

It’s all my fault

Failure feels incredibly wrong. In nature, when you fail— you die. Luckily, we don’t die when we fail at startups, but it still feels a little bit like dying. I can come up with every excuse why I’ve failed, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all my fault.

  • It’s MY fault for getting scammed out of $6000 on Flippa. I should have Googled the seller.
  • It’s MY fault for hiring the shoddy iOS developer. I should have asked for a code sample.
  • It’s MY fault for the site going down at 2AM. I should have fixed that bug weeks ago.

When you accept the blame, failure is easy. You aren’t left with excuses, anger, and questions— the feelings are simple and the answer is obvious. It was all my fault.

You can’t blame anyone but yourself, and how can you possibly hold a grudge at you? It’s easier to forgive yourself than it is to forgive others. When you take responsibility for all of the outcomes, only then can you also take responsibility for your success. Otherwise, it’s just dumb luck.

How to fail at startups, crash course

  1. Make interesting shit
  2. Find out people don’t want to pay for the shit you think is interesting
  3. See 1

The dumbest website I’ve ever created has to be “Swine Flu Email Alerts”. No one ever bought the “flu dominator” hospital masks I was selling.

Or maybe the dumbest was “Send It Fake”, a site for sending emails from fake From addresses. Not only did this awful idea make me a prime gateway for spammers and scammers, but it also got STOLEN from me when a guy from India hacked into my GoDaddy account and transferred the domain to his account. I sent him the rest of the files— if he wanted it that bad, he could just have it.

As entrepreneurs, we’re going to fail. It’s just part of the equation. But when you fail, do it in the most spectacular, hair on fire, blaze of glory kind of way.

I crashed my glider because I was flying too slow and stalled the wing. Although extremely counterintuitive (and pants-poopingly scary when faced with complete loss of control while flying engineless), the way to correct for a stall is to dramatically increase airspeed by dropping into a dive. Maybe this is how we should correct failure, too.

After my crash, I found out that during the descent into the trees, Henry was yelling at me from the ground in his thick German accent:

“GO FASTER. GO FASTER. PULL IN.”

I’ll defer to his advice— when it looks like you’re on a collision course with failure, speed up. Go faster. Pull in.

This was an article I wrote for TechCocktail “#FailureFriday” Series, “Accepting blame and going down in flames”


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