Life is a series of launch parties when you write about early-stage startups every day. Between 2012 and 2014, I profiled 488 of them—from 10gen and 10sheet to Zynga and Zypsee.
Conventional wisdom says 80% to 90% of those ventures were doomed to fail. But when I recently tried to measure my hit rate, I found it wasn’t easy to determine which companies had actually succeeded or failed. No one throws a party to announce that a startup is slowly fizzling out.
The list’s spectacular successes were rare, as I expected. But so were the spectacular failures. Most startups I profiled didn’t publicly flame out or melt down. (A notable exception: Fab.com.) Rather, they’re living on in a state of limbo.
Their websites are still accessible and their apps are still available, but they haven’t raised money in a long time. Often their Twitter accounts are dormant, their hiring pages are quiet, and their apps are buggy and in need of an update. Some have faced hurdles such as layoffs or a departed co-founder. Some have simply lost a sense of momentum—practically a death sentence in the technology industry. Whatever the case, they’re stuck in startup purgatory with little hope of escape.
In other words, startups are failing to fail fast.
Perhaps ill-advisedly, I volunteered to read the names of all 488 startups in alphabetical order for Fortune’s video team. You can watch that here.
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Erin Griffith is a senior writer at Fortune. Email her.