Our culture has prevented us from ever thinking that failure could be an acceptable possibility. Instead, we are disowned, looked down upon and shunned from society. Our “mistakes” are not easily forgotten and although we have learned valuable lessons from our past “transgressions” the lack of monetary gain or tangible achievement means it meant nothing, atleast to onlookers but sometimes even to ourselves.
It’s a challenge to unlearn this type of mentality as it has been ingrained in us, but as entrepreneurs, we can not afford to think this way. “Failure” should not be looked at as a negative outcome, as it is a big part of being an entrepreneur. Those valuable lessons will propel us forward, make us stronger and wiser. Also they will prepare us for what lies ahead, something which ordinarily could not be achieved without our past.
We are so conditioned to see only the sunshine and rainbows in successful companies that we forget to note that these same companies went through failures and struggles themselves before “making it.” Before PayPal became widely accepted as “successful”, it was head to head with a competitor, Billpoint, who ended up being bought out by Ebay and becoming their default payment method. The “overnight” success of the iPhone game “Angry Birds” took 8 years after 100s of attempts and at the brink of bankruptcy. The company behind Toy Story, Pixar is another example of a failing company that came up with Toy Story as a last ditch effort after being in business for 15 years.
All these companies share a similar story of being close to failure yet pushing through it. It is of course, possible to push through failure if you see future potential and believe strongly in your chosen path. Furthermore, there are numerous examples of entrepreneurs that are smart enough to know when to walk away, which is harder than sticking with it so you don’t have to face failure.
So how does one fail successfully?
First, accept that failure in some capacity may occur so be ready for it. Then, fail fast and hard.
How fast? A good amount of time is 3 months which is enough time to see (potential for) growth and revenue. Here are things you need to accomplish during those crucial first 3 months to ensure you are “failing hard”.
- A brilliant idea that keeps you up at night and makes you scared and excited at the same time.
- Talk to a minimum of 5 people that you trust about your idea such as your supporters, mentors, and people in the industry. Once you say it out loud, it becomes real and evolves into what you want to do along with their sound advice.
- Don’t get caught up on the details or minutiae of the business like what colour the logo will be, the precise layout of the website, or how much equity you want to give out.
- Don’t spend months on writing a detailed, and in depth business plan locked in a room; you need to focus on turning your idea into reality. Whether that be writing code or a book, that’s where your energy should be.
- Along with building your product/service you need to do your due diligence: understand who you are targeting as well as the competitor landscape.
- On top of the research and building, you need to continue to network and talk to what could be your future customers and stakeholders.
But what happens, if the numbers are not high enough, or you don’t think you are creating enough value for your potential customers, but you still believe strongly in what you’re doing? The simple answer is to pivot. This is a term used to describe a “failure” in disguise. You use what you learned and apply it to a different approach that you believe could work better. This could be targeting a different demographic, or changing your product offerings. Then, the cycle continues, another 3 months to fail fast and hard.
The fail fast and hard approach allows you to understand quickly if the challenges that you are faced with (because there will be many) are things you’re happy facing and you have the passion to push forward with the idea. Moreover, it will quickly become apparent if the venture has long term potential and can scale.
[To foster this spirit, we’ve recently announced the launch of “The Fail Summit” 🙂 Details here.]