Going down in flames and rising from the ashes
Hello, my name is Sarah, and I fail every day. And I’m proud of it. For reals. I mean it stings for a minute but seriously, I dig failure because it means I’ve tried something. That I’ve pushed myself. That I probably accomplished things that I would not have had I played it safe.
As an emerging entrepreneur, you need to embrace failure, too.
I know how hard that can be. I was once mortified by my shortcomings. Ashamed of the times I fell flat on my face, sometimes literally, more frequently metaphorically.
One of my first big failures came when I was in university, I started a painting business that flamed out so fantastically I almost had to drop out because I had spent all of my tuition money trying to launch the business. It was an epic fail, my smouldering pile of you-know-what. And you know what? I’m still here and smarter for it.
Here’s what went down: A lifelong entrepreneur, I’d gotten good at spotting opportunities, but probably not as good as I thought I was. That year, my apprising eye turned towards the booming home renovation industry, and so I started a painting company. The margins were huge, the investment low. The way I saw it, I was going to rake in about $20,000 that summer.
What really happened though was that I in fact, did not make one dollar. I did not close a single deal.
The only real MISTAKE is one from which we learn NOTHING. - Henry Ford
What I learnt through that failure was what kind of entrepreneur I am. I learnt that $$ can’t be the thing that drives you, or at least not me. I need to believe in my entrepreneurial endeavour. From my ill-conceived painting business, I received a painful lesson about the relationship between reason and passion. It’s simple: don’t let the former run roughshod over the latter, or vise versa.
I like how Richard Branson puts it: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." The painting fiasco might have been an early failure but let me assure you, it was certainly not my last.
The good news is that, when it comes to entrepreneurship, failing isn’t seen as, well, failing. In Silicon Valley, innovation’s Holy Land, “Fail fast and fail often” is practically a commandment. Once the dark shadow-twin of success, failure has come into the sunlight, and isn’t simply tolerated, it’s embraced. Celebrated, even.
FailCon is a one-day conference for technology entrepreneurs, investors, developers, and designers to “embrace your mistakes, build your success.” Closer to home, the Pond-Deshpande Centre at UNB Fredericton has a Fail Forward Fund to assist entrepreneurs who have learned from their mistakes and are ready to pivot or try something entirely new.
As Branson says, “Business opportunities are like buses, there's always another one coming.” Like I said in a previous blog post, your first failure is likely to be your first idea. Don’t let that get you down. The true failure would be if you stopped there. Because that is a failure of your imagination, a failure of the perseverance you need to succeed.
The biggest entrepreneurial risk I’ve taken recently was leaving my full-time job to start my own company. I had no clients, no savings. I started a company that I believed in with every fibre of my being – including my brain. The thing is though, not all risks have to be huge.
So, what risks are you taking today?