Do You Share Your Failures Like VC Firm Bessemer Ventures?


Bessemer Venture Partners – The Anti Portfolio

This post was originally written in 2006, but was updated in 2023 with an updated link and some quotes from the updated Bessemer “Anti Portfolio” website.

The link above goes to one of the oldest Venture Capital firms in the U.S.

Everybody loves to brag about their investments that worked. This firm is unique in highlighting their mistakes and failures. This shows humility, for one thing. It also seems to show a willingness to learn from your mistakes.

How many organizations try to hide their failures? Do you often see a failure followed up by an effort to whitewash history, pretending that the mistake was never made? Are most organizations doomed to repeat their failures?

I've seen many cases of Toyota being very open about their current and past problems. It seems like a core piece of the lean philosophy to be able to openly define problems, that being the first step in actually solving those problems.

“Bessemer Venture Partners is perhaps the nation's oldest venture capital firm, carrying on an unbroken practice of venture capital investing that stretches back to 1911. This long and storied history has afforded our firm an unparalleled number of opportunities to completely screw up.

While, over the course of our history, we did invest in:

  • a wig company
  • a french-fry company
  • the Lahaina, Ka'anapali & Pacific Railroad”

The firm highlights what they regret passing on, investments including, as of 2006: Google, Apple, eBay, FedEx, Intel, and PayPal.

Update: The list has grown.

I would hope that these failures are learning points within their otherwise successful organization. What can we learn from this for our own organizations??

Here are some highlights from the updated 2023 web page that includes some juicy (and painful) details about the investments they passed on:

Atlassian: “The shares we passed on are worth a billion dollars today.”

Coinbase: The ROI on their investment would have been 8580x.

eBay: “No brainer. Pass.”

Facebook: “Kid, haven't you heard of Friendster? Move on. It's over!”

FedEx: They passed seven times.

Intel: “Never quite settled on terms.”

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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