Site offers look at what didn't work

Thursday, August 17, 2000

— If at first you don't succeed, try

A new Web magazine called Failure, launched recently from a three-story house in Scarsdale, gives visitors the chance to vote on which dud tastes better -- New Coke or Crystal Pepsi.

There's an article about Breakfast Mates, Kellogg's doomed attempt to sell milk and cereal in one package.

And at the Failure Store, anyone brave enough to wear it can buy a T-shirt that literally says "failure" all over it.

But founder Jason Zasky says Failure is all about success.

"This is not a site for losers," he said. "We're not out to judge people. We're not out to critique. We're not out to make failure a personal issue. Actually, I think we write about winners because those are the people out there taking risks, making things happen, even if they fail."

The online magazine does tackle some weighty subjects. The first issue has a long article, complete with maps, about "the most monumental failure of the past two millenniums" -- the defeat of the Moors in 732 by Charlemagne's grandfather, Charles Martel.

Author Jack Stesney says that by blocking Arab influence, the battle set civilization back 200 years.

Another complex and perhaps controversial piece is promised for a future issue: "The Failure of Christianity."

The site also celebrates -- if that's the word -- "This Day in Failure." For July 17, it was the 1981 collapse of two walkways at a Kansas City, Mo., hotel, which killed 114 people.

Visitors can help predict -- sight unseen -- which movies opening each week will be turkeys. A recent title seemed all too appropriate for the Amy Heckerling film "Loser."

"Some of the shorter, quick-hit content is a little more lighthearted," Zasky says. "But for the most part we're not even talking about things that simply failed. In general, the issues are not that black and white.

"Most of the people we write about are really successful and failure is just a part of their life," he says. "The biggest failure is not trying."

Zasky, 30, and his partner, Kathleen Ervin, 34, expect to make a success of Failure, and they're not talking about the kind of Internet success that includes lots of financial losses and a magical stock offering.

"Our approach is much more conservative than most startups," Zasky said. "We're just hoping for a profitable business. I think we can begin making a profit by year's end."

He thinks his site is a natural for some advertisers, like insurance companies -- "failure is kind of an inevitable thing for them." He also believes the Failure Store will make money.

"When we tested the idea of the site, one of the things we found was that with the younger portion of the audience, the merchandise was really well-received. People were writing on the surveys, 'Where can I get the hat?' 'Where can I get the T-shirt?' We're already getting orders this morning."

Zasky seems unworried about running out of failures to write about.

"We've already produced content that could last several months," he said. "We have so many ideas it's unbelievable."

Cases in point: the $1 coin and Heinz green ketchup.