The social enterprise literature is dominated by stories of good practice and heroic achievement. Failure has not been widely researched. The limited policy and practice literature presents failure as the flipside of good practice. Explanations for failure are almost wholly individualistic, and related to poor governance. However, organisational studies literature shows that failure cannot be understood without reference to the wider environment within which organisations operate. This article is based on a nine-year in-depth case study of an organisation previously characterised in the policy and practitioner literature as an example of good practice and heroic achievement. We seek to explain its ‘failure’ through studying the interaction between the organisation and its wider environment. We show that simple individualistic explanations are not sufficient by which to understand social enterprise failure and outline the implications for academic understanding of social enterprise.