Obsessing Over A Giant Failure Can Be A Good Thing (Really)

Martin Hosking's LookSmart was a poster child for the late-'90s Silicon Valley boom and bust (but mostly bust). With his new e-commerce company with a twist, RedBubble, Hosking once again looks very, well, smart. Watch brain power overcome the most brutal collapse.

Any conversation that involves digging through past failures is generally a CEO's worst nightmare. Martin Hosking is an exception—a leader who revels in the opportunity to dissect his previous catastrophes.

In 1995 Hosking cofounded LookSmart, an online advertising company that became a poster child for the late-90s Silicon Valley boom and bust. LookSmart rose to prominence with a multimillion-dollar Microsoft contract and a meteoric IPO, but within a year, the dotcom bubble burst, crippling the company and revealing its shaky foundation. A major class-action suit over its core product devastated the entire operation by 2003.

RedBubble became Hosking's new obsession three years later. The company had a fresh retail model focused on custom-designed products and user-submitted artwork. The cautionary tale of LookSmart's demise directly informed the process in creating his new venture—as a lesson of one idea that never needed repeating.

Martin Hosking

"The only thing that's a real failure is if we tried something that didn't work and then we go try the same thing again," says Hosking.

Seven years in, RedBubble is alive and well, and Hosking readily admits that none of it would have been possible without that first setback.

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  • Geoff

    I too feel the need to "burst the Bubble" on this. I believe one must learn from the past - to try the same thing again with no change is failure. It would seem from my daughters recent experience with this business that whatever philosophies are being touted, the most important learning a business needs seem to all be ignored, ie listening to the customer and responding quickly to a customer via "customer complaints", "customer service" and use of immediate and effective "communication" in this endeavour.
    for her and others experience It appears that these are not 'learning's' currently encouraged/considered with this business as immediate communication does not seem to be enabled (broad based automation is not really part of such communication and often leads to even more frustration and discontent and probable loss of repeat business) in order to gain this feedback for continuous improvement and retain good will / repeat business. They do not seem to allow any voice contact on issues and little to no timely feedback using any other media or at the very least seem to be very low / non-existent priorities - Geoff

  • Mdretrogmr

    Redbubble has a massively unstable internal structure, horrible communication across offices, and no real business vision. Hosking is just repeating the same mistakes, in a whole new industry and format. Terrible place to work.

  • Ant

    It's surprising that FastCompany would cover a company like Red Bubble without going over the neo-Nazi products that Red Bubble did so much to promote and has never apologized for.  

  • Guest

    Just looked at this issue and I see that RB was praised by the Simon Wiesenthal Institute for having "modelled how conscience and commerce can intersect". So if Fast Company looked they are pleased with what they found. 

  • Jgoldberg

    "Go try the same thing again" is failure?
    The Hitler t-shirt people ares still advertising themselves as members of Redbubble and selling their wares on their own website.
    Hitler paraphenalia may sell but at what cost to brand and reputation?