As an entrepreneur, failure is inevitable; it is the necessary evil that you have to go through. In fact, as an entrepreneur you’re going to fail, you’ll spend cash and lots of it. You’ll build products out of uncalculated assumptions and no one will like them. You’ll have painful and expensive experiences that you wouldn’t want to try again.
Albert Einstein put it well when he said that “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.” The most successful people will tell you that at some point in their businesses, they thought they were going to fail. Not because they didn’t have enough confidence in themselves, but because they had risked everything. Greatness is achieved through failure.
Despite the fact that we celebrate failure, constant and repeated failure remains a threat to your development as an entrepreneur unless one learns from it as Teague Hopkins puts it, “failure without learning is just failure.” One has to note that failure is not the goal; it is the by-product of risk-taking and innovation on your way to success. Click To Tweet
When we say “Embracing failure as an entrepreneur” we are not advocating that you set up yourself for failure, no one does that; we are advocating that you utilize every failure moment as a learning pad as you take more risks. The main question is “What knowledge are you adopting as you move forward with risks and innovation?
In this December 2017 Medium post, Steve Blank highlights the 6 stages of a founder’s failure process as follows in his own experience:
Failure Stage 1: Shock and surprise
We raised $35 million and after 18 months made the cover of Wired magazine. The press called Rocket Science one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley and predicted that our games would be great because the storyboards and trailers were spectacular.
90 days later, I found out our games were terrible, and no one was buying them. Our best engineers started leaving, and with 120 people and a huge burn rate, we were running out of money and about to crash.
Failure Stage 2: Deny any of it was your fault
In my mind, I had done everything the investors asked me to do. I raised a ton of money and got a ton of press. We hired everyone according to our plan.
It was everyone else who screwed up. I did everything right.
Failure Stage 3: Get angry and blame everyone else
This was the fault of my cofounder since he was in charge of game development, it was the engineers who bailed on me, it was the sales and marketing people who didn’t tell me how bad the games were, it was the VC’s who refused to put any more money in the company, it was Sega’s fault for making a bad gaming platform…
Failure Stage 4: Get depressed
When the inevitability and magnitude of the failure sunk in, I slept in a lot. There were days I’d get up late and go to bed again at 5 pm. I lost interest in anything associated with my past industry. (To this day I still can’t play a video game.)
Failure Stage 5: Gradually accept your role in the failure
A few weeks after leaving, I began to think about what I should have done, could have done, and pondered why I didn’t do it. (I didn’t listen, I didn’t act, I didn’t own my role as CEO, I wasn’t prepared to do what was right or leave.) This was hard and didn’t happen overnight. My wife was a great partner here.
I often reverted to Stages 2 and 3, but over time I took ownership of my primary role in the debacle.
Failure Stage 6: Gain insight and change your behaviour
This was the hardest part. While I stopped blaming others, understanding what I could change in my behaviour took long months. It would have been much easier to just move on, but I was looking for the lessons that would make my next startup successful.
I looked at the patterns of behaviour, not just at my last company but also across my entire career. I learned how to dial back the hubris, get other smart people to work with me — rather than just for me, listen better, and act and do what was right — regardless of what others thought I should do.
As a learning point in your failure journey, Steve Blank points 3 lessons as follows:
- Don’t get stuck in Stages 2, 3 or 4 — move forward.
- Don’t skip acceptance of your role.
- Get to insight so you can change your behaviour – then commit to the challenge of doing it differently the next time.