The Founders’ Story (of Failures)

April 15, 2019
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By Jun Rivers, Cofounder of SLEEEP

A: “Should we turn right here?”

J: “Wait, it should be right there… but it’s not.”

A: “The map is wrong.”

J: “I think the destination address is wrong. It’s the same street in a different city.”

A: “…OK, you’re right.”

J: “Let’s pull over, get it right.”

….. (input correct address)

J: “Great, now we are on the right track, but we are even further behind schedule.”

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This conversation¹ happened the day after we received our Y-combinator interview and did not get the call. We messed up with our navigation (being over-reliant on GPS and Siri etc.) and were late for our next meeting.


We flew all the way from Hong Kong, dropping what we had in our hands, as we got the Y-C interview invitation. And we blew it. We felt like we weren’t able to do our business justice, even though we did quite an extensive preparation and mock interviews with our trusted colleague John Wang. Anyhow, we failed. We disappointed our team.²

But the long highways of California has the quality of being inductive to long conversations. For Alex and I, as co-founders of SLEEEP, we arguably had all the time in the world to get to know each other: Our grandparents were college mates, and our parents, having moved to Hong Kong during the cultural revolution, grew up together. Alex is a few years ahead of me, and he knew me since I was born. He has been my friend ever since I knew the word ‘friend’.

Despite our long friendship, we needed the time to know each other still some more. In fact, we needed the time to know each other every day. My father has always told me that it is the easiest to be a staff, harder to be a boss, and the most difficult to be a partner. I am sure he doesn’t repeat this if it hadn’t been one of the most profound experiences he had gone through in his own career.

Speaking of experiences, Alex and I shared quite a lot in common: athletic, risk-seeking, US-college-educated, snowboarders, ex-Africa-residences (when Alex was on his UN mission to Sudan, while I went as an NGO volunteer-educator to Tanzania). So when we founded SLEEEP together, we were very excited. We had great hopes for our company, we had the motto of ‘think big, start small.’

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Long way to go…

Today, a few years into our venture, we have certainly faced many ups and downs, and, as confirmed by almost all entrepreneur literature, met many nay-sayers. While our customers endorse us (NPS of 50+ consistently), media has spoiled us (from almost every major local newspaper to Forbes, Telegraph, and CNN), and committees have recognized us (multi-award winning for a less-than-modest space), we have certainly made mistakes, taken detours, caused delays, and dropped balls. We were far from perfect. But one thing I am always grateful for: we love what we do, and we love the people around us: our team, our users, our supporters. We thank all of them for being with us despite our failures, despite our plentiful flaws.

Nobody likes to hear the word failures, but that doesn’t stop them — big or small — from happening almost every single day. But failures only make us stronger; failures could not stop us from reaching for the stars: To catalyze a sustainable culture through quality sleep for everyone, every day, everywhere.³

To Alex and I, both father-entrepreneurs, this is something worth dedicating our lives trying.

[1] Subjective recollection based on a true story.

[2] In hindsight, the feedback YC partners have given us were so extremely precise and insightful that not only could we humbly accept the outcome, we were able to learn a lot from the experience. Our respect for YC has only increased.

[3] Mission v1: More on this in a later post.

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