Failure: The new badge of honour for start-ups?
Worried that your start-up business might not succeed? Entrepreneur Stephen Newton wants you to celebrate failure and shares five reasons why...
Failure is a universal experience.
I can say with absolute certainty that everyone on this planet has and will fail at something during the course of their lives. And yet, at some point on our path to adulthood, failure ceases to be acceptable.
In the UK, failure carries such stigma that it has the tendency to convince people they are not good enough, holding them back from taking any positive action. But this aversive mind-set can cause a myriad of problems further down the line – questions like ‘why try something new if I don’t know for certain that I will succeed?’
It’s time for failure to stop being seen as something to be feared, and to start being seen as a badge of honour. This is particularly relevant for start-up entrepreneurs, who are faced with the blunt reality that new businesses are extremely delicate and can fail overnight.
There is currently a great deal of debate around whether failure is a good thing, with tech companies in Silicon Valley and their ‘if you’re going to fail, fail fast’ mantra. However, the most important point is being overlooked – the focus on recovery and resilience. In my experience, failure can be a real motivator, but every start-up business, no matter what their location or sector is, needs a clear ‘next step strategy’ when it happens.
So, why should every start-up entrepreneur learn to celebrate failure?
1. Success isn’t the whole story
Success masks our mistakes, whereas failure gives us the opportunity to reflect and improve next time. Being a start-up entrepreneur is about resilience, and accepting that not every idea is going to soar.
While it's important to manage your decisions so that you don't lose it all, you won't gain anything without taking risks.
2. Failure teaches you what won’t work
It may seem obvious, but a failed venture teaches valuable lessons in how to succeed next time – remember Virgin Cola or Virgin Megastores? Individual failures shouldn’t dent your ambition.
Of course, you may have to ride out a rough few months or even years, but ultimately it will help you pinpoint the critical error in your plan. You may even realise that you’ve been focusing your efforts in the wrong place. It took me nine years, £450,000 and three failed businesses before I founded Elixirr.
Once you have acknowledged the risks that come with starting a new company, you will be better prepared for any future setbacks.
3. Businesses that allow failure have more motivated employees
Every employee in a new business should be encouraged to experiment and feel free to offer creative suggestions. If they don’t work out, at least the company will have gained useful insight, and hopefully the investment will pay off down the line.
A business that embraces new ideas and doesn’t vilify employees when something goes wrong will always be a better motivator than one with a strict and uptight culture.
4. There is always a next step
Despite what may feel like the most catastrophic end to a venture or plan, there is always a solution to failure. Whether that is resolving to close or end part, or all, of a company, you have the freedom and ability to make an informed decision.
Just remember that if you’re going to fail, you must embrace that failure and do so quickly to keep the financial impact minimal and to enable you to move on more easily.
5. You’re in good company
It isn’t just Richard Branson that has had to experiment with different ventures. Thomas Edison himself had more than 10,000 attempts at making the light bulb, and Colonel Sanders only sold his chicken business at the age of 75.
Realistically, very few people find success at the first shot (I’m looking at you Mark Zuckerberg), and you can take comfort that you’re in the same boat as many of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time.
Failure may not be fun, and it certainly hurts our pride at the time, but by embracing a less accountable and more resilient ethos, it’s something that we can all learn to celebrate.
Stephen Newton is managing partner and founder of advisory firm Elixirr.