Failure Is the New Buzzword in the Start Up Space


The startup space is as guilty of hyping up jargon as any other sphere of business. Over the past year or so, I have been hearing a lot about "failure." Well, failure has been around all along, but what we are now hearing seems to glorify failure to the point that it starts seeming like failure might actually be a desirable outcome for your startup! So let me begin by stating the obvious: failure is clearly an inferior outcome compared to success. Go ahead and blame me for spouting platitudes, but the buzz about failure has grown so shrill that this needed to be said.Let us try to develop some perspective on this failure thing. What is really going on here? And why have things changed?

 VCs Prefer the Second Venture of a Failed Entrepreneur Than the Second Venture of a Successful Entrepreneur

I admit that is a broad generalization and there will be several exceptions. But many VCs have told me that an entrepreneur who has failed once AND learned her or his lesson is likely to be far more realistic the second time around. On the contrary, the first time successful entrepreneur often comes with unbearable baggage: unrealistic expectations, abnegation instead of delegation, or some other such recipe for disaster.

Failure Could Be Good If You Learned Your Lesson

This is at the heart of failure becoming the new shiny object. Probably some entrepreneurs were born to succeed. But most of us need to learn the ropes as we go along. So if you can learn from failure, you are far more likely to succeed the next time around. Here are some of the lessons you can learn from failure:

  • Timelines: The first time entrepreneur often underestimates the time they will take to produce whatever it is that they need to produce: software, business plan, proposal, or whatever. If these delays lead to business failure, the second time entrepreneur is far more likely to be realistic.
  • Co-Founder Issues: Sometimes founding teams are a motley crew put together serendipitously. Perhaps not enough thought has gone into defining roles and goals. Maybe the division of ownership was based on the most convenient computation, i.e., equal equity for all. I have noticed the preliminary success leads founders to exert pull in different directions – sometimes to the point that they do nothing else. If entrepreneurs undergo suffering on this account, they are likely to be more attentive to this problem next time.
  • Funding Plans: Initial interest expressed by VCs could be seen as a guarantee of being able to raise money. That and other misconceptions about the investment game could distract them fatally from getting their business off the ground.

I could go on and on with the lessons that can be learned from failure. But the point is that nothing is as great a teacher as the suffering an entrepreneur undergoes owing to the sleepless nights that result from unexpected failure.

What's the Deal With the "Fail Fast" Slogan?

"Fail fast" has become a buzzword, and like all other buzzwords gets misused a lot. I wonder why we almost never hear recommendations to "succeed fast." But despite my aversion to buzzwords, I agree that if your business is wired for failure, it is better to fail in 12 months than in 36. Life is too short to "try out" a business for a decade before deciding whether you want to continue running it.

What's New?

What has changed in the Indian context is that failure is not as much of a taboo as it used to be. Investors will be willing to fund you even if you failed once. Employers will be willing to hire you if you are a failed entrepreneur. Quite likely your childhood sweetheart will still be willing to marry you if your entrepreneurial venture fails.

Also check out this infographic from Funders and Founders on  " How to Succeed" ?

The author of this article, Ajeet Khurana, mentors start-ups. An angel investor, trainer, author, entrepreneur and digital marketer, He was a speaker at the first ever FailCon India. He is a member of the screening committee of Mumbai Angels, one of India's oldest angel networks. He sits on the boards of Carve Niche Technologies and Rolocule Games. You can reach him on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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