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Startup Basics

Why You Need To Fail As Fast As You Can

In startups, failure is part of the plan. That's why you need to fail as fast as you can.
Why You Need To Fail As Fast As You Can
Image credit: Bigstock
Award-winning businesswoman and business investor
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Not all startups succeed. In fact, there are many stories of people who have famously failed many times before succeeding. 

Richard Branson started over 100 businesses that saw him take many wrong turns before he opened the doors of the Virgin Group – and he is the first to admit that failure is an important life lesson.

Failure is part of the plan, as long as you know when to let go

Many of our celebrated local entrepreneurs – people like Miles Kubheka of Vuyo’s Restaurant Chain, Jannie Mouton of PSG Group, Raymond Ackerman of Pick n Pay and John Sanei of Primi Piatti Restaurants – say that an entrepreneur’s chances of success increase in line with the number of times they fail. Failure is a key characteristic of entrepreneurship.

The Real State of Entrepreneurship survey, the largest annual entrepreneur survey carried out by Seed Academy, tells us that most entrepreneurs fail too slowly, which often leads to losing their resilience when it comes to adapting and improving their businesses. 

Related: Rich Mulholland on Why You Need to Stop Being Satisfied and Start Getting Hungry

South African entrepreneurs have this notion that failure is bad so in many cases, they keep attempting to make their businesses work – even if the fundamentals are flawed and there is little chance of success. One of the hardest lessons to learn as an entrepreneur is when to let go. 

Take as long as you need – but no longer

A business generally takes far longer and requires much more money to get off the ground than you can predict. It’s crucial to have the ability to recognise when you have reached the critical point of no return.

The more entrepreneurs put this into practice, the quicker they will move forward and succeed.

‘Failing fast’ and ‘failing forward’ encourages those entrepreneurs running out of funds and resources to be honest with themselves about whether it is better to keep going, or take their key learnings from a business failure and create something new and better instead. 

Related: The Secret To A Successful Start-up? You Need To Just Start

It is one of hardest things for a business owner to do, so don’t be shy to put support mechanisms in place – get an outside opinion, attend a F*ck Up Night, set yourself milestones and stick to a timeline. 

Most importantly, if you are going to ‘fail forward,’ take time to really understand what went wrong so that you can apply these lessons to your next venture. 

We need to embed a culture of entrepreneurship that sees failure is seen as part of the journey and an opportunity to learn. 

This will make it easier for business owners to take risks and be open to risks not working out as planned. I would even go so far as to say that this would help them attract investors sooner too.

Failure is valuable when it leads to improvement

In the past, investors were only interested in funding entrepreneurs with a proven track record. Now, however, they view failure as one of a business owner’s most valuable assets. 

The caveat is that this is only provided their mistakes were due to a lack of experience and not talent – the difference between these determines an entrepreneur’s potential for long-term success.

If you are asking yourself where you fall on this spectrum, start by studying your failures. This is the path to failing forward and building something bigger and faster next time.

Related: It's Time to Change Your Mind About Failure

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