Dealing with Failure as an Entrepreneur
SPOILER ALERT: This post is going to be rife with inspirational quotes. But only because so many of them are spot-on.
Failure is a fact of life. Many an entrepreneur learns this the hard way. They start a business, convinced their idea was game-changing only to learn that nobody wanted to play. One could even argue that today’s entrepreneurs are faced with failure more often given the gig economy, with more people taking risks.
As you launch your entrepreneurial careers, get comfortable with the idea of failure.
Learn From It
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas Edison
We often associate this quote with Edison’s search for a usable light bulb filament. For the record, the quote comes in several variations, and many aren’t even sure that Edison actually said it. Nonetheless, it speaks to the experimental nature of an entrepreneur’s work and how trial and error can lead to success.
“I don’t think about failure,” said Tim Ogilvie, CEO of Peer Insight, in a 2013 Entrepreneur article. Instead, he approaches business ventures like experiments. “I think, I’ve got a hypothesis about a business, and I’m going to do an experiment to test the hypothesis. Just that language alone makes you less prone to self-delusion.”
Sure, trial and error take time. So, fail quickly, so that you can learn quickly and apply those lessons to your current venture or your next. In a 2016 article in Forbes, Robin Bruce said that entrepreneurs need to fail quickly, cheaply and often.
- Quickly: disprove ideas that don’t work fast, so you can put them behind you.
- Cheaply: avoiding investing in a bad idea so that you won’t find yourself without dollars to invest after learning from the experience. “Bet big only when the odds are in your favor,” she said.
- Often: do these activities over and over as part of an ongoing experimental learning experience. You’ll also get smarter about failing, so you can be more efficient about it.
Apply Your Lessons to Bigger, Better Ventures
“Believe in something larger than yourself… get involved in the big ideas of your time.” -Former First Lady Barbara Bush
In the early 1970s, Paul and Bill were a couple of teens who started a company called Traf-O-Data, according to a Dec. 2016 Shopify blog post. Traf-O-Data was a software package intended to provide traffic reports to Seattle traffic engineers. But the teens underestimated the difficultly of getting the various municipalities to pay for it. So the business racked up losses and eventually closed up shop.
However, those two teens — Paul Allen and Bill Gates — learned from the experience and applied those lessons when they later founded Microsoft.
Allen and Gates aren’t the only success stories who can claim to have taken a business failure and made it into something considerably bigger. Consider Florence Nightingale Graham. According to Biography.com, she worked as an assistant beautician in New York City in 1908. In 1910, she invested $1000 ($26,000 in today’s dollars) in a Fifth Ave. salon with her business partner Elizabeth Hubbard. The pair could barely afford the rent, and it wasn’t long before Hubbard abandoned their partnership. But Nightingale persevered, experimenting with cosmetics while also changing the name of her salon. She kept her partner’s first name while taking inspiration for a surname from a Tennyson poem. Yes, we’re talking about Elizabeth Arden.
Share Your Failures With Others
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” -Henry Ford
One way to fail quickly, as described above, is to learn from the mistakes of others. Fortunately, entrepreneurs of all stripes are not only willing to share stories of their failures, but they’ve created entire events around sharing those stories with other entrepreneurs.
Have you heard of FailCon? Started in 2009 in San Francisco according to the event’s website, FailCon is all about gathering tech entrepreneurs together and giving them a chance to share both their failures and the lessons they have learned from them. It has a model that allows entrepreneurs to host their own FailCon in their area.
Admitting Failure is a similar initiative. The Entrepreneur article cited earlier explained Admitting Failure as having been inspired by Engineers Without Borders as a way for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to share stories of failure with one another with an eye for helping other NGOs avoid similar pitfalls.
Ultimately, the way to deal with failure is to realize that it is an integral part of the entrepreneurial process. If you do that, then you will not be afraid of it. Instead, you will learn from it, apply that knowledge to bigger and better things, and share your lessons with other entrepreneurs.
IMAGE: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain