Of course there is that “other side” of entrepreneurship, the side you see when things don’t work out right. It happens.

Jason Calcanis, founder of Mahalo,  has a long, detailed, painful picture of the plight of the high-tech, high-visibility startup when it seems to be grinding slowly downward toward failure. That’s What to do if your startup is about to fail. Also called, by the way, “Don’t Stop Believing.”

On a less-well-known-but-just-as-real level: Yesterday I got an e-mail from a man who’d been working on a very interesting project, combining robotics and pneumatics to create a device that would protect older people from breaking their hips. I saw his business plan at several points along the way, also his pitch and presentation, and offered some tips. I’d hoped he’d make it. But it was a very ambitious idea.

Here’s what he told me in his e-mail (with some blanks to protect things that would be awkward, not intended for sharing):

My business idea hit a wall that was simply impossible to overcome. After four years and at least 100 hours of patent searches I stumbled upon a patent that was exactly, and I do mean exactly, my idea. I found it 26 pages down on a Google search concerning [omitted] I literally had written 3 out of 4 paragraphs of their patent myself. There was not one original thought that was new to me. There simply was no work-around as their patent was well written and comprehensive, leaving NO wiggle room. I sat and cried for three days. I moped around for a month and then I pulled myself up and decided to get on with my life.

I have been paying the bills scanning family photo albums and turning them into “family life stories.” I will never make a bunch of money editing photos and video. That said it is enjoyable and it does keep the bills paid leaving me a lot of time to ski. Which is great especially this time of year.

If you hear of a project in need of a good sales and marketing person, please keep me in mind.

So that’s the other side of the startup game. Things don’t always work. And when they don’t, it’s disappointing.

I’ve been involved with failure myself, more times than I want to remember. And I like his response to it: still looking, paying the bills with something else and oh, well, more time for skiing.

There’s a good lesson there.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.