There are a lot of things no one really tells you about entrepreneurship. It’s a tough road, really, with a lot of ups and downs and unexpected roadblocks. It’s absolutely exhilarating, but there’s really no way anyone can prepare you for what’s ahead.
I’ve learned a lot in the past few years as I’ve embarked on this road and had to encounter the many issues that ensue. Some of them I knew would be ahead from seasoned entrepreneurs, some of them I expected but was never told about, and some of them that even the best of us can’t see.
I’ve got a few in mind, but this is definitely a series of posts. I’m not sure how many are posts are in this series or how long it’ll take me to complete it, but I think this information is valuable and worth sharing.
The first topic I’d like to discuss is failure.
Failure is something no one really wants to talk about. It’s success that everyone seeks and the best stories come from those that have made it.
But the dirty little secret about failure is that it’s absolutely necessary. Without it, success couldn’t exist. It’s as much a part of entrepreneurship, and, indeed, life, as success is.
Take for example Steve Jobs. Had he not been kicked out of Apple, he wouldn’t have started NeXT. NeXT was a pioneer of technology and the company which, through acquisition, ultimately lead to his triumphant return to Apple. In fact, Jobs credits the failure of being fired from Apple to his later success:
“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
One more thing: if he had been at Apple, he never would have changed Pixar into the film company we know and love today. Without it, we wouldn’t have the revolutionary CGI movies that Pixar made, such as “Toy Story”.
Of course, Jobs has had monumental success in his life — both before and after his climactic failure. But he’s not the exception. If you ever have the ear of a seasoned entrepreneur, ask them about their failures. Those stories are far more interesting than their successes and you’ll learn a lot more from them. And do! The best advice I’ve ever received has been from people who have failed, learned from it and told others. In fact, they’re almost always more willing to tell their failure stories than their success stories. Why?—because they’re learning exercises.
Look, the path of entrepreneurship has a lot of failures. It’s almost impossible that you won’t, at some point, fail. Some will be small, some will be large and public and humiliating. But with all of them, you have to take it as an opportunity. Yes, you failed — get back up, look at what happened, and learn. Everything with entrepreneurship is on-the-job, and the best training is failure. Learn from your mistakes so you don’t make them again. The important thing isn’t not failing, it’s learning from those failures.
Now, I’d like to talk about one of my failures.
We were working on a project some time ago. It was our first major contract and although the budget was small, it was a huge step forward for us. We were so excited to begin working on it that we jumped the gun — we started the project before the contract was signed.
In the end, the worst thing that could have happened did: the contract was never signed. The client ran out of money and we were dead in the water. We lost several thousand dollars on development cost and it put us in a tough spot. I had screwed up big time.
But I moved forward. I learned from my mistakes and now I double-check that we have a solid contract before we begin working (extra tip: it’s never too early to get a good lawyer—and get a good one).
Luckily, it wasn’t all a bust. We developed some really cool technology on that project that we’ve been able to reuse on several others.
As a wise man once told me: “The deal is trash until you get the cash.”
In the end, failure is inexorable. And, really, you shouldn’t go about trying to avoid failure at all cost. Instead, focus on doing the best you possibly can and when you make a mistake, learn from it and move forward. Take the time to analyze the situation—though not overly so—and learn. Learn, learn, learn. You’ll be smarter and better equipped for the future.