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Turning Startup Failure Into a Future Success

Turning Startup Failure Into a Future Success

If you have not experienced failure, you are not pushing the limits. If you are really an entrepreneur, you will have to take risks and exhibit less caution than others, which means that some failures should be expected. Accept your startup failure as an indication of your courage: failure should not be pursued but you can embrace it when it does happen and learn from it.

People who are anxious about failing should not become entrepreneurs. Those who cannot overcome the psychological fears of making a mistake and losing money are better off working in a traditional employment setting. Successful entrepreneurs, on the other hand, tap into the positive possibilities that come with 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. Rather than dwell on the failure, he instead went on to pursue many successful media and transportation businesses later in life.

Serial entrepreneurs who have failed at least once are more likely to get funding from investors in comparison with entrepreneurs who have a perfect track record. Investors recognize that founders often learn more from a failure than they do from a success. Do not be afraid to acknowledge previous failures to investors. Unless you have a long history of serial failures, you can use past failure to demonstrate how you have productively learned from previous mistakes.

A failure represents a potential resource for future success if you celebrate failure for what the mistakes taught you and use the experience to develop the next idea. Three things that famous failures emphasize are the following:

  1. Accept responsibility rather than spread the blame. It is easy to blame partners, investors, customers, and the economy. If you blame someone else, you will never learn from your mistakes. Remember, you volunteered to be the entrepreneur so you are not the victim.
  2. Capitalize on the good relationships you found. Even in failed ventures, there are always some positive relationships. Many entrepreneurs have taken on one of these individuals as a new partner and gone on to make millions of dollars. Good investors will fund you again and loyal customers will gladly take your next offering.
  3. Study and profit from your mistakes. Mistakes are invaluable lessons that you should learn from rather than avoid. Making mistakes and becoming savvier through the process is the job of an entrepreneur.

Failure is usually not 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, especially failures due to lack of integrity and ethics, represent significant problems from which it will be much more difficult to recover.

Failure, even multiple failures, can be the first stage of a very successful journey. Success usually comes to those willing to persevere regardless of the difficulties that are faced. Resilience and agility are really the only sustainable resources in business. When you experience your first failure, do not take it personally but instead allow it to inform your future ventures, providing you with knowledge and experience for your next success.

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Original Publication DateDecember 3, 2010
Related categoriesLessons Learned

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