Its been a rough few weeks for Keen. In January, a big customer churned. We didnt close any new big deals. So, we not only missed our revenue target, our MRR and incoming event volume actually went down for the first time ever. We discovered the dedicated topology we sold to one customer actually made their user experience worse, and refunded their money. A couple of teams have been struggling to find their footing; emotions have been running high. In last weeks outage, we dropped data for the first time in over 12 months. The instability has led not only leading to worried emails from our customers, but many sleepless and stressful days & nights for our teammates. And perhaps worst of all, several folks have admitted that theyd have a hard time recommending a friend to join Keen right now, because its just too stressful at this time.
During a time like this, itd be easy to say: lets double-down, work through the weekend, push through the issues, get er done, rally!
Instead, lets give ourselves permission to fail.
Giving myself permission to fail has been one of the most liberating, stress-relieving, and rewarding things Ive done in last year.
The only way we can become a truly great company is if we open ourselves to the possibility that we might not be.
And you know what? Its okay if were not. If Keen busts, well all find new grand adventures. Some us could start a new company together, or get boring jobs at big cos, or sail around the world, who knows, the world is full of lots of amazing opportunities.
This whole thing is an experiment and has been an experiment since the beginning. We wanted to work together, to solve problems, to create something people loved, to forge our own culture. We wanted to challenge ourselves. We wanted to be happy & fulfilled in our work. We wanted to do it our own way. For the most part, weve done that, and done it better than we ever imagined. Who knows if it will continue to work. I have a lot of evidence and strong intuition that it will, but I cant predict the future. Its still an experiment.
To give yourself permission to fail, it helps to imagine the path where the absolute worst happens.
What would happen if you walked away from your job right now and never looked back? What would happen if you did your job the best you could, and you still failed completely? What would happen if the company went under?
I can imagine all sorts of things I would do if Keen went poof. At first, I felt guilty for thinking this way. Then I felt incredibly liberated. Try it. Your work becomes 10X easier when you realize you dont have to do it. You dont have to do this. You are incredibly talented and there are so many opportunities out there.
To give yourself permission to fail, you have to untangle your ego from your work. Having your ego tied up in your work is a handicap. You cant think strategically or take risks when you and your personal well-being are on the line.
I used to (and sometimes still do) romanticize Keen a little too much, thinking of it as my child, a part of myself. Ive been working hard to untangle this. Not because I plan to care any less about Keen, but because I dont want my ego & personal fears to get in its way. Keen and Michelle are two different things, or at the very least they are less overlapping than they used to be. If Keen is struggling, it need not mean Michelle is struggling. If Keen is taking a risk, it need not mean my happiness is on the line. Even if I fail completely at my job, I will be just fine. It just means I tried something too difficult for me, or my assumptions were wrong. Thats ok too.
Ill admit its a little bit awkward for me to write all of this out. Its possible that I care about Keen more than anyone and here I am saying its OK if it busts. Dont get me wrong, its a little bit terrifying to think about. But its also a huge relief, a weight off my shoulders. It would be okay. When failure is no longer scary, my work is no longer driven by fear. Paradoxically, thinking about Keens failure makes me more confident in our success. Not only does it become less scary, it seems incredibly unlikely.
After 24+ solid months of growth, it would be silly to conclude it might all be falling apart because we had a stagnant month, or even a few bad months. Part of the reason the platform has struggled lately is that we continue to grow like crazy. Just today we hit a new record for event volume. In the past months, two companies have approached us about deals that would double our business. Many people at Keen will tell you its the best job Ive ever had.
Still, I appreciate this time to reflect when our confidence is shaken a bit. To be honest, we were probably overdue for it.
Building Keen is the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and I love it dearly. But Im learning to accept that fulfillment isnt about achievement. Its about accepting what happens. Its about listening to what you want to become. To do that, you have to be comfortable with many possible paths, many possible outcomes. We probably wont fail, but if we do, Ill be okay. Well be just fine.