By Omar L. Gallaga
Some people don’t know when to quit.
Laura Beck chose five years. Last week, she announced through an online video that her startup, stripedshirt.com, was shutting down after a valiant attempt to popularize logo-free striped team shirts for women, kids and babies.
Beck became an entrepreneur in a not unfamiliar way. She left a PR job at the firm Porter Novelli at age 39 to pursue an idea she’d had for 20 years. But she’s closing down the failing business uniquely: by celebrating defeat with an increasingly popular farewell video online and by dubbing the campaign a “Kickstopper.” (Or, to keep the joke going, an “IndieNoNo.”)
“I have no shame,” Beck joked. “I had the idea for about a month and I thought, ‘If I don’t do it fast and now, somebody else is gonna do it.’ I couldn’t wait to finish this publicly.”
In the video, inspired by a famous online clip from Dollar Shave Club, Beck and her family show the many striped shirts that have stacked up around the house and filled up half of a garage. Beck’s kids celebrate that they’ll be able to make their own style choices while she offers a 50 percent discount on shirts as she brands herself a “proud and failed entrepreneur.”
The video has been viewed more than 130,000 times on Facebook alone. Impending death has been good for business; it’s spurred the sale of 790 shirts in just less than a week, cutting into a leftover inventory of about 6,000, Beck said.
Most going-out-of-business sales are much sadder than their fanfare would indicate, but Beck insists that not only is she ready to move on, she’s not planning to tackle another startup. “It’s awesome. It feels really liberating to be done,” she said.
In the tech industry, where Beck has represented companies through agencies and as a PR consultant, she’s noticed that failure no longer leaves the black mark that it once did. “There’s ‘fail quickly,’ a motto in tech,” Beck said, “but not as many people fail publicly as there should be.”
The business failure, she said, was that stripedshirts.com had great buzz and publicity on some key style blogs, but very few sales. Beck ran the business out of her house and didn’t have a sales team or distributors. Online sales were decent in the first year, but bottomed out and only bumped up briefly each year around October.
“If you think about it,” she said, “how many Halloween costumes incorporate stripes? A pirate, a sailor, a bank robber, Where’s Waldo?” Not to mention McDonald’s Hamburglar, who historically has never saved a failing startup.
Beck found that staring at all those shirts every day became defeating. “I really shut it down a year and a half ago in my mind,” she said. But she gave it the full five years before deciding to close the virtual door in a very public way.
Now, she’s got a temporary problem: filling Kickstopper orders as fast as she can as more people make a success story out of her failure.