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The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

–Alan Kay

I love studying failures.

Because in all that, pain is where the learning happens.

Many moons ago, I read a book called Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure that tells the story of a company called GO Corporation. GO set out in 1987 to invent the portable computer that was the size of a legal pad and could go with you wherever you went. It was the precursor to the palm pilot (and today’s smartphones).  

GO was a colossal failure.  

It burned through $75 Million in venture capital–a meaningful amount of money at that time–before going defunct in 1994.

“GO didn’t go,” as its CEO, legendary silicon valley coach Bill Campbell was fond of saying.

GO was not alone.

Around the same time, Marc Porat–a former program director at the Aspen Institute and an Apple executive on the Macintosh team–penned a book detailing his vision of the future.

It was inspired by his view that the world would become an information economy.

Porat shared his Red Book with the CEO of Apple, John Sculley.

In 1990, Porat co-founded a startup called General Magic with Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Atkinson from the original Macintosh team. The company was a secretive spin-out from Apple Computer.

What did they set out to do?  

They set out to create an early version of handheld communications devices called Magic Link–a precursor to the smartphone and personal digital assistant (or PDA).

General Magic, a company you’ve never heard of, was a unicorn before there was such a thing.  

Porat took the company public in 1995 (with no shipped product or revenue) at a value of $834M–raising over $90M.

(Its stock doubled on the first day.)

General Magic failed too.  

It shut its doors in 1996, never realizing its vision.

What if you could be a fly on the wall to experience each detailed decision these leaders made? Rarely do you get to see the teams like this–executing their vision. And, you rarely live to see the future and learn whether they were right.

Well, a recent (award-winning) documentary–GENERAL MAGIC— tells the untold story of the shocking failure of Porat and Andy’s company and the wave of success it catalyzed.

There were no actors. Everyone plays themselves.

It is a must-watch for any entrepreneur who wants to understand the power of failure.

What I learned from watching the film:

  • Failure is not the end, it’s just the beginning
  • You have to think big and be willing to take a considerable risk to succeed
  • Never lose sight of what’s happening around you — pay attention to trends
  • Some innovations may be just too early for a market 
  • Be wary of partnerships with big companies — they are self-centered
  • One team can spawn many, many successes
  • Don’t build it before they come
  • The power of telling the right story (with flair)
  • Your network is your asset — take every experience seriously.

As my previous co-founder, William Lee, General Partner of Pilot Growth Equity, puts it:

It is a gold mine of lessons learned from the most talented Silicon Valley legends but from the perspective of one of the biggest tech business failures. As some of us are going through growth phases of different technology companies, I couldn’t help myself recommending this film to you guys as founders, CEOs, and investors. 

We often learn about many success stories and lessons learned from success stories. But I think the best lessons learned are from failures, especially from the smartest people’s failures.

I hope you guys will find time to watch this.

While it took Marc some time to get over the failure of General Magic, as you’ll see from the film, he is the proud father of some of the greatest success the world has ever seen.

Let me know what you learn after watching it!

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About the Author: John Belizaire

John is a versatile CEO and serial entrepreneur who has successfully founded, scaled multiple technology companies over a 20-year career. He is currently the CEO of Soluna, a company helping to shape the future of renewable energy and computing. Before Soluna, John was the founder and CEO of FirstBest, a transformative insurance software company acquired by Guidewire Software and Theory Center, an e-commerce software company acquired by BEA Systems. Before becoming an entrepreneur, John was the lead architect for Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group. John is on the advisory board of several software-as-a-service, data analytics, and insurtech startups. He is the Managing Editor of CEOPLAYBOOK Media LLC, an online publication full of sage advice for first-time founder CEOs. John is also a trustee of Harlem Academy, an independent school in New York.