Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

False starts

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 27, 2012

Most of us, either through our upbringing, education or profession, have an aversion to making mistakes. Most of us too are governed in some way by a fear of failure.

Fair enough, but we live in a world, and work in an industry, where change is afoot and where innovation is desperately needed. This comes not from walking the line, but from making mistakes and experimenting.

As I start to wrap things up around here I’ve been looking back over some of the mistakes and false starts I’ve had over the last few years. There are lots of them. I hope that sharing mine will make you feel better about yours.

Here’s a quick list of some of the false starts I’ve had so far:

  • I blew my first potential gig as a film-maker, a commission to make a documentary for an NGO. In my naivety and desperation to get the gig I under-sold myself and gave a very cheap quote. Sensibly, they decided to go with someone more expensive!
  • I wrote an ebook of journalism skills for hyperlocal bloggers – it sold a whopping 15 copies
  • Next Generation Journalist did a bit better – it made enough to justify the time I spent on it – but sold far fewer copies than I thought it would
  • My Future of News Meetups in 2010 started off amazingly, but I was unable to continue them after 6 months (although others carried on the baton)
  • I spent about 5 months developing an idea for a new magazine with a friend, but we both lost motivation when we couldn’t marry it to a demand in the market.
  • I started a video business in January 2011 and it did really well. But when the web domain came up for renewal I decided to cancel it and end the business – not through lack of work, but all my clients were coming through me, not the business.
  • I worked with two great  journalists on ambitious plans to create a multimedia explainer of the Eurozone crisis last winter. The topic was so big and fast changing we had to drop it over Christmas.
  • I started a website called Volcano Love Stories which was going to collect love stories that emerged from the volcanic eruption in 2010. I only got one submission
  • Not to mention more than 20 films that have not made the splash I wanted, a dozen web domains bought and left to rot, and the countless ideas that sit in notebooks.

The point is, every one has false starts and stumbles. Everyone falters and fails, particularly on the way to doing important work. Although each of these were disappointing and painful at the time, I learned something important from each of them.

Don’t be set back by your personal false starts. The people who make it in the end are the ones who pick themselves back up, dust themselves off and get busy again. As long as you learn something from them they haven’t been a waste of time.

What have your false starts been and what did you learn from them?


15 Responses

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  1. jodylan89 said, on August 27, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for this motivation. We seldom hear of the hurdles and fall-backs that great people had to overcome before getting to where they are. It is really encouraging to read.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on August 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks Jody! That’s a good point..we never hear enough about the difficult parts of the journey, only the successes, which skews our view of it sometimes.

  2. Auburn Meadow Farm said, on August 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks for itemizing that way – it makes it all seem more real and less self-helpish : )

  3. Reblogged this on

  4. Thanks Adam, I and many can relate. Thanks

  5. Franziska Bährle said, on August 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Great and motivating post, Adam! I just had a similar experience in a project that I worked on for the first time.
    It didn’t fail, but I realized I had made a few mistakes and was really annoyed by that. However I then realized that I’ve learnt from those mistakes and that it would have been quite unlikely for everything to be perfect right from the start. If it would be, how could we learn and improve our skills then?

    • AdamWestbrook (@AdamWestbrook) said, on August 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      Good point. It’s a bit like training for physical fitness. It’s important to push yourself just outside your comfort zone each time..that way you widen your circle of comfort and get better. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  6. themarcthomas said, on August 28, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    False Starts? I’ve had a few of them:

    1) A mapping website – collating maps of the city onto a single website
    2) A street style blog – this one never even saw the light of day but was 90% ready to go. Photos and collaborators fell through
    3) Millionaire Experiment – attempted to make people do stuff for charity if funding steps were reached with 1M being the final goal. Actual money raised: £0.
    4) Sell e-book – Never got round to launching this. However, I did sell it to a publisher… it will launch in just a few weeks.
    5) Create an app that would act as a city guide – Got pretty far with this one. However, someone launched before me.
    6) Create iPad magazine showcasing best of British writers – brand designed, writers commissioned and excited but then realised we missed the newsworthy deadline. Bad planning caused failure.
    7) Launch magazine about masculinity – DONE! However, 1 issue with very little interest: – ironic name.
    8) Write great american (actually, British novel) – attracts interest from several publishers, almost picked up by a big Welsh publisher, in final review round they pass up calling it ‘at best derivative, at worst misogynistic.’ Main character based on self – worrying character assassination. Many bad feelings.
    9) Discount card for city – profitable from day one. Sold a good number. Success until local stores became disinterested and didn’t sign up for a new round of offers. Angry customers – bury head in ground.

    However, for every five failures, I’ve got a success too and ten more ideas. The trick is, I think, to keep going relentlessly.

    P.S. Looking back at your failures is a very therapeutic exercise. Means you’ve tried something!

  7. AdamWestbrook (@AdamWestbrook) said, on August 28, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Wow your failures are better than mine (FailedAstronaut – love it) …but by better I don\’t mean worse if that makes sense!

    You\’re dead on, on two points: 1) the therapy of looking at your failures (and sharing them, I\’ve found) and 2) the trick is to keep on going relentlessly

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Bonnie said, on August 28, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! This is so encouraging for someone like me who is over 2 years into a start-up and finding it very very challenging. Do you have a rule to help you decide whether to keep going at an idea, or to let it go and move on? Thanks again for posting!

    • AdamWestbrook (@AdamWestbrook) said, on August 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      Glad you liked it!
      You should read “The Dip” by Seth Godin – it’s got some great advice to answer just that question.

  9. Tina Remiz said, on August 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing! The very much needed bit of motivation right now.

  10. […] of them. Many of the ideas are now redundant as I’ve moved onto other things, and following last week’s confessional, I thought I’d give some them away for […]

  11. […] False Starts | Adam Westbrook […]

  12. marcywrite said, on April 15, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    Yes! I am all for failing because failing is simply learning. Imagine if we were told never to fall when we were learning to walk. As a writer and marketing coach, I took my lemons and turned them into lemonade. I discovered from my own stops and starts that I will quit a project if I dislike marketing it. I will continue to pursue the concept and market it only if I enjoy the marketing process. So my business morphed successfully into helping my clients discover their marketing personalities, whether they are writers, networkers, social media lovers, or thrive on community participation. They market effectively if they enjoy their process–and their business benefits.

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