Fail Festival DC is Dead. Long Live Failure!

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Way back in 2009, we organized a Twitter Chat on Failure with Michael Downey moderating the freewheeling discussion. Born from that conversation was Fail Faire, which came to Washington, DC in 2010, thanks to Katrin Vercals.
From 2011 onwards, I organized Fail Faires and then Fail Festivals in DC to celebrate failure as normal and expected when we push the boundaries of what is possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs.
Now, after an 8 year run, Fail Festival DC is done.
In the spirit of sharing our stories of failure, here’s a few reasons why I’ve retired from organizing Fail Festival DC, and at the same time, believe that our effort was a success.
The Easy Answer: Sustainability
While presenting at Fail Festival was always a blast – remember the original Tech Change Fail Song? – it was never a financial success. I lost money on the show every year, but felt it was worth it to give us all something to laugh (and think) about.
Then this year my costs doubled, making the event a financial hardship that was beyond my ability to absorb. Although I was quickly able to find support for the new costs for this year, the new costs meant that next year I’d be scrambling for sponsors again, which is never fun.
The Longer Answer: Exhaustion
After seven years of organizing a 300-person show, I was tired of all the effort it takes to put on such a large production. From searching for good presenters, to coaching them, to working hard to fill Academy Hall with enough paying guests to break even, and then facilitating the actual event, I was always stressed out.
In fact, I remember once in the early years, a friend of mine stopped me in the middle of a frantic moment and told me to stop stressing and enjoy the show. Well now that I live in Chapel Hill, NC, I’m trying my best to do just that – stop stressing and enjoy the show.
So its time for me to step back from my DC event pony rodeo and let others step forward with their ideas for big and bold community events. Maybe someone will come forth with a new, fresh take on failure – and good on them!
The Best Answer: Success
When we started on this journey back in 2009, failure was the “f-word” in international development. I remember the first Fail Faire was a secret production – no tweeting about it allowed lest we get in trouble with donors and lose funding.
Fast forward almost a decade, and failure is here to stay.

  • Failure is now part of our lexicon. Maybe not as often as I wish, and still second to euphemisms like “lessons leaned” or “uneven success” but we’re getting there.
  • Fail Festivals are now a regular feature at conferences and events, many that I’ve helped start, and even more that launched with the spirit of our initial ideas and then growing into their own movements.
  • We now regularly publish failure stories on ICTworks, that are sent in by our peers and coworkers who are not ashamed by failure. They are proud of their efforts and want to share their learnings with us.

So while Fail Festival DC may be at an end, the failure movement is just getting started! Thank you to everyone who presented or attended Fail Festival DC and those bringing pride to failure across our industry.
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