by Christine Borden, special to Socialize, Inc.

Joe Gebbia of Airbnb taking the stage at FailCon

On Monday, 500 entrepreneurs and startup diehards gathered at Hotel Kabuki not to talk failure. This wasn’t your usual self-congratulatory conference of experts–this was FailCon. FailCon is a daylong conference that doesn’t necessarily celebrate failure…but it believes that learning what not to do can be much more relatable. Not everyone can mimic the magic that happens when special pieces fall into play for the lucky few.

The two biggest talks of the day were from Joe Gebbia of Airbnb and Travis Kalanick from Uber, with Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures starting the day off spouting quotables like an enlightened Buddha.

“Most people who have failed are better at startups,” said Khosla.

Gebbia, in that account, is no stranger to dealing with failure. Initially, Airbnb struggled to get off the ground, but its most recent epic fail moment came this last summer when one their users had her home destroyed and ransacked by a guest. Gebbia used his presentation to detail the earl moments of Airbnb, from that first jump in traffic to 18 months of despair in what he called “the trough of sorrow.” Looking at the Twitter stream for #failcon, the attendees felt like Gebbia was dancing around the pink elephant in the room.

Cathy Brooks of do@ called him out on this during the Q&A following his presentation. If he wanted to talk about failure, why didn’t he address Airbnb’s epic fail from the summer? Couldn’t we learn something from that?

Gebbia must’ve known this moment was coming, and it was very clear that he was not going to address the issue. What did he and Airbnb learn from the summer?

“Be yourself,” he answered. Be true to who you are, and that will help you get through tough times.

Suddenly one of Khosla’s maxims from earlier in the day came to mind: “If you are obstinate about your failures or don’t recognize them, it’s not a good failure.”

FailCon is about making something good out of your failures, and you can only accomplish that if you allow yourself to recognize and share them first. It’s okay to fail as long you can learn from the experience.

Interested in more? The event is held annually and is looking to expand in the coming years. For the full agenda of speakers, photos and videos, slide over to the FailCon website.

Christine Borden is a freelance wordsmithstress specializing in mobile, tech and startups. To see more of her work, visit

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