Wear Your Startup Failure as a Badge of Courage
Real entrepreneurs know that failure can be a milestone on the road to success, as long as they learn from the mistakes.
If you haven't had a failure, you aren't pushing the limits. If you are really an entrepreneur, you are a risk taker and less cautious by nature, so failures should be expected. Wear your startup failure as a badge of courage. Don't go after failure, but embrace it when it does happen and grow from it.
People who are afraid of failing should not become entrepreneurs. They can't overcome the psychological fears of making a mistake, and are afraid of losing money. They are better off keeping their day job. Successful entrepreneurs, on the other hand, tap into the positive power of failure. Here are three examples:
- Steve Jobs was fired by Apple Computers in 1985, the company he helped to create. He went on to acquire Pixar, made it a success, and then came back to reinvent Apple as a very successful consumer products business.
- Dean Kamen, the creator of the Segway Human Transporter, several successful biomedical device businesses, and holder of 440 patents, jokes that his biggest failure is "that I have too many to talk about."
- Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb, central power generation, and the phonograph, but failed in his effort to extract low-grade iron ore from sand. He brushed this off, and went on to many successful media and transportation businesses later in life.
According to investors I know, serial entrepreneurs who have failed at least once are more likely to get funding from them, compared to entrepreneurs with a perfect track record. Investors know that founders often learn more from a failure than they do from a success, so don't be so quick to delete a failure from your bio. Serial failures, on the other hand, send a different message.
A failure can be a milestone on the road to success, if you celebrate that failure for what the mistakes taught you -- and use the experience to move to the next idea. Here are three points of learning that many famous failures emphasize:
- Accept responsibility, don't spread the blame. It's easy to blame partners, investors, customers, and the economy. If you blame someone else, you'll never learn from your mistakes. Remember, you volunteered to be the entrepreneur, so you are not the victim.
- Capitalize on the good relationships you found. In every bad deal, there are always some good people. Many entrepreneurs have taken on one of these as a new partner, and gone on to make millions of dollars. The good investors will fund you again, and the good customers will gladly take your next offering.
- Study and profit from your mistakes. Mistakes are priceless lessons, so you should learn from them, rather than run from them. Making mistakes and becoming smarter is the job of an entrepreneur, while not making mistakes is the job of an employee.
Failure is not usually a single event, but a collection of mistakes and circumstances that add up to test the patience of the founder. Failure combined with a strong sense of business ethics can motivate and produce innovation, while failure due to a lack of ethics can lead to desperation. Certain types of failures, like failures of integrity and ethics, are harder to recover from.
Failure, even multiple failures, can be the first stage of a very successful journey. Success usually comes to those willing to keep coming back. Resilience and agility are really the only sustainable edge in business. So when you experience your first failure, just give up your ego, let it go, and get back to work smarter on your next success.
Martin Zwilling is the founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners. The author of Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur? and Attracting an Angel, he writes a daily blog for entrepreneurs and dispenses advice on the subject of startups.