Should I include a failed startup on my resume?
April 29, 2009 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Should I include a failed startup on my resume?

I am finishing up my Masters in CS, and have started the delightful process of polishing the resume and looking for a job. Before I started graduate school, I worked in the industry for two years, so I already have some work experience. Some time during the fulltime work, I co-founded an e-commerce company with a friend of mine. To be clear, I did this by working long nights and the weekends, and it did not affect my day job. This was a pretty small company (ordering and delivering a certain service for university students), but we did develop a pretty impressive "Web 2.0"-ish online ordering system. Anyway, the company was not very successful, and we closed shop after 3 months. My question is: should I put this experience on my resume? Is co-founding a failed company, especially while working fulltime, more likely to help or hurt my chances at getting a job?
posted by lenny70 to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, definitely.* It's impressive as hell, even if it failed. You have that experience under your belt, and you've learned a lot in the process (right?). You'd be an asset with that kind of experience if you put a positive spin on it and translate the failure into "I've learned x and y and z, and even though it failed I learned a lot about how a company operates in the process" on your resume.

It shows initiative, an ability to take risks, and willingness to commit to a project and put tons of work into it. Don't be shy about putting it in your resume!

*However please note I'm speaking from my gut here; I'm not someone who hires in the tech industry.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:40 PM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why not document the successes and achievements you accomplished at the start-up into a functional (rather than a chronological) resume? If you were able to raise capital, think about all of the steps it took to raise that capital - treat it as a mini-project that illustrates the great things that you can do.

You also obviously have vision and determination, and are motivated.

Your experience with a startup will help you stand out. But why waste too much time on a resume? 80% of jobs are never listed; you get these by networking.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:43 PM on April 29, 2009

I hire software developers for my company, and would definitely say that it would help - immensely. I'd consider anyone who started a company to be exceptionally hard working and intellectually curious. The fact that it didn't succeed may say something about your ability as a businessperson, but not about your ability as a programmer. So put the company on your resume, and be prepared to show a demo of your online ordering system at interviews. Good luck.
posted by centerweight at 7:43 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have hired lots of folks at an entrepreneurial tech company, and somebody listing their own startup (especially what they learned from it) is almost always a plus. Except don't call it a failed company.

Hell, though I hate the Web 2.0 trend of acting like every random business is a good idea, an ecommerce app is obviously the sort of thing that could work. So it was just some shortcoming in planning, execution, strategy or resources that kept your startup from taking off — if you think you know what you did wrong, then it certainly wasn't a total failure, and you should proudly trumpet the successes that you did have.
posted by anildash at 7:49 PM on April 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Being an entrepreneur will only distinguish you in a positive way. The bottom line is that you'll be employed by a business, which will benefit from people who understand how a small business is run. Think of it as comparable to having a legal or policy background: you'll be able to spot issues other candidates can't, think about different types of long-term consequences, etc. And you didn't "fail" by that metric: you experimented with a second job and got some great programming experience and exposure to what the market will actually bear. Out of a field (I'll stereotype here) neckbeard CS majors and MBAs who can't turn on a PC, wouldn't is be great to have someone with practical experience in both?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:54 PM on April 29, 2009

Definitely include it, just be prepared to talk about it in a positive way, because it will for sure come up. Do not call it failed. They can infer that it's no longer around because you are seeking employment from them, obviously.

Pretty much anything that indicates you are more dynamic than the seeming hordes of people who got vocational Java training so they could make the big bucks, but are otherwise not even interested in programming, is huge. Open source projects, a startup, etc, are all nice to see and will immediately set you apart from the competition.
posted by cj_ at 7:58 PM on April 29, 2009

As a side note, if your actual concern here is that the company will be worried you'll go off starting your own company while working for them (perhaps using IP, resources, etc), this kind of thing is usually covered in the contract. As long as you weren't violating your employement contract at your former job while doing your startup, I don't see a problem.
posted by cj_ at 8:04 PM on April 29, 2009

Leave it on. Smart employers are most interested in learning about how you handle adversity. How they deal with it in an interview will tell you about what type of company it will be. Use their reaction to it as a litmus test for them.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 PM on April 29, 2009

if your other 3 month gigs are on there, yes; if not, no
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 8:47 PM on April 29, 2009

Definitely include - if I were looking at a stack of resumes, one with a clear demonstration of entrepreneurial spirit would positively stand out. Everyone knows that most startups fail, so the fact that your business didn't make it is not a black mark.
posted by zippy at 9:54 PM on April 29, 2009

The success or failure of the venture in immaterial, the question is of relevance to a potential position. If you were to include it avoid negative terms like "failure" and "unsuccessful". I read a lot of resumes, and people put bizarrely irrelevant stuff on them. You would be amazed at the number of graduate programmers who list MS Outlook and TCP/IP as core skills. For me, if someone built and operated an application, and were able to speak coherently about it, it's a plus.

If it's on your resume, it's important.
posted by mattoxic at 10:56 PM on April 29, 2009

Best answer: Paul Graham:
Even if your startup does tank, you won't harm your prospects with employers. To make sure I asked some friends who work for big companies. I asked managers at Yahoo, Google, Amazon, Cisco and Microsoft how they'd feel about two candidates, both 24, with equal ability, one who'd tried to start a startup that tanked, and another who'd spent the two years since college working as a developer at a big company. Every one responded that they'd prefer the guy who'd tried to start his own company. Zod Nazem, who's in charge of engineering at Yahoo, said:
I actually put more value on the guy with the failed startup. And you can quote me!
So there you have it. Want to get hired by Yahoo? Start your own company.
posted by themel at 11:59 PM on April 29, 2009

From reading the discussion on hacker news recently, I got the impression that it's generally a good thing, but make sure to present it properly. Present it as a side project, discuss your innovations, what you did better than competitors, and what you learned. Don't refer to it as a failure. In fact, instead of saying that it "failed" you can simply explain that you decided to stay focused on your full-time work rather than fully devote yourself to developing the startup (assuming this is true, but from your explanation, it sounds like it). In any case, an optimistic person wouldn't think of this as a failure so try to speak and think of it in terms of a project.
posted by helios at 4:12 AM on April 30, 2009

Just to add that assuming the start-up's demise comes up in interviews, there seems to be the angle of "I learned a ton from challenges we were not able to overcome--both relatively small, specific things and bigger-picture matters."

(Of course, the assumption that the start-up was not one that a reasonable person would look at as barking-mad lunacy.)
posted by ambient2 at 4:18 AM on April 30, 2009

Absolutely keep it on. In a capitalist society its a mark of distinction and courage to have started your own business, even if it failed. Many an industrialist has failures under his or her belt.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 9:01 AM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers everyone. It is on the resume now. I am also working on a demo to put on my online portfolio.
posted by lenny70 at 1:05 PM on May 1, 2009

My resume is full of failed startups. I think I might be poisonous.
posted by chairface at 1:40 PM on May 1, 2009

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