The entrepreneurial phoenix

Sara Rizk on failure preceding success

Are entrepreneurs more equipped the second time around? It’s a question I found myself asking after speaking to Rachel Elnaugh yesterday.

The Red Letter Days founder has just launched her first book, Business Nightmares, which details the collapse of her own business as well as several other prominent entrepreneurial cock-ups.

Rachel told me the experience of writing the book had not only been cathartic, but led to the realisation that perhaps she’s not a ‘business person’ anymore, but is instead enjoying being creative. The Red Letter Days debacle clearly got her fired up on all cylinders, and despite her entrepreneurial ambitions being somewhat modest these days she’s clearly of the opinion that a business failure on your CV can often be the catalyst for future success.

Take Ben Way for example. Ben started his first company, Waysearch, at the tender age of 15, making him the youngest company director in the UK. However, a 2001 dispute with investors left him with nothing. Unfazed, Ben took it on the chin, learned his lessons and has been involved in several successful start-ups since, including The Rainmakers, and his most recent offering ViaPost.

Then of course there’s the tale of James Dyson and his ‘Ballbarrow’ invention, which Rachel dedicates a chapter to in Business Nightmares. The vacuum entrepreneur got well and truly burnt when an employee took the design Stateside leaving James out of the deal. Had the experience put him off entrepreneurism we’d probably still be messing around with pesky vacuum bags to this day.

Not everyone strikes gold first time. Not everyone needs to.

In his review of Rachel’s book for the Financial Times, Jonathan Guthrie said the release Business Nightmares was ‘timely, given that company collapses are rising as the economy slows’.

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Forget the credit crunch. The stigma so closely attached to failure is the single biggest threat to entrepreniership in the UK.

To quote Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari games: “If you are not a millionaire or bankrupt by the time you are thirty, you are not really trying.”



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