Embracing Failure as an Entrepreneur
When I started out as entrepreneur, I remember reading this:
“Success lies on the far side of failure. To be successful you need to fail faster; double your rate of failure.”
It didn’t make much sense to me. I also thought I was invincible or rather my business idea was strong. Yes, I would make a few little mistakes here and there, but outright failure several times as the path to success – no way!
More than eight years later, I look back and shake my head in amazement. If someone had shown me what was waiting ahead – the blood, sweat and tears of making the business work – I would have promptly ran back to my corporate desk. I would never have signed up as entrepreneur or what nowadays is seen as sexy and cool: startups.
Just to be clear, a startup isn’t sexy at all.
Before the holiday break, I remember meeting a corporate hotshot in the Kenyan business scene who had just resigned to start out as an entrepreneur. He talked about his plans as a capital fund for technology SMEs. I asked him about failure, whether he had thought about it because it would definitely knock on his door. He confidently told me that he wouldn’t fail at all. I tried to bring up the topic of failure again but he quickly brushed it aside. It wasn’t going to happen to him. I made a mental note to check up on him after a year to see how he had survived it.
What no one tells you is that starting a business and then growing it is hard…like really hard.
It’s unimaginably brutal, especially if you are playing in it to win big. It doesn’t matter if you were working in corporate for ten years or you are just fresh out of campus ready to conquer the world. It is plain and simple hard.
You spend so much time working to capitalize the idea (read as acquiring paying customers) then retaining those customers, the never-ending need of having more cash in your business, and with each step of growth a different set of problems will arise. Daily you show up with a brave face to your customers, employees, suppliers, and bankers because the passion you have is your jet fuel. But it’s a constant enormous pressure to create and make it a success.
In the past two months, I have been looking at failure with a new set of eyes and begun appreciating the key things I have learnt out of failing several times. My business has evolved so much over the past years. I have dropped business lines, set up new ideas, failed again, re-adjusted my path, fallen out with partners in the business, fired an entire team overnight, lost an entire magazine a week before a launch, had months where meeting my payroll was more of a vision than a reality and many more terrifying stories.
There is also the big one that no one tells you – the loss of your personal time. There are years out of my twenties that I don’t recall because I was fully immersed in my business. I paid the price through my health and lost time with family and friends. It`s a phase I would never ever like to repeat again in my lifetime. Then there are the highs like securing capital for your business, getting your product to No.1 in the market place, expanding into new markets which make it worth it until the next set of new problems.
If you don’t love what you do, you will not survive your startup.
If your vision isn’t bigger than simply making money, you will not survive your startup.
If you can`t overcome the extreme business environment, you will not survive your startup.
If you have a weak spine and are averse to risk, your startup will vomit you out with just cause.
If you are itching to dive into entrepreneurship, ask yourself whether you are pursuing a cool sexy concept or actually willing to roll up your sleeves and work passionately to build your company.
My conclusion is that you have to fail big a few times to really appreciate failure.
After dealing with sleepless nights, guilt, depression, desperation and outright craziness, you realize you can and you will survive and suddenly failure takes on a new meaning. It becomes a learning experience where you can only be better as a person building your dream. As Mark Cuban once said:
It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. It doesn’t matter how many times you almost get it right. No one is going to know or care about your failures, and neither should you. All you have to do is learn from them and those around you because…All that matters in business is that you get it right once. Then everyone can tell you how lucky you are.
P: S: A book worth reading Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston.