It’s okay to fail as an entrepreneur. Here’s why.
16 January 2019 - johannesburg

One of the hardest words to hear in entrepreneurship is the F word.  Even worse than hearing it, of course, is living through it, and there’s a general stigma across industries about dealing with the F word. Every negative thought and fear goes through your head: what if I’m not meant to be an entrepreneur? What if no one works with me again? What am I going to do NOW?

Failure is a big part of entrepreneurship and is in fact extremely common (statistically up to 90%), but you may seem alone because no one around you is talking about it.  When you’re in the thick of it, there’s nothing worse than staring down failure, but believe it or not, failure can be a good thing!

So let’s lay out some positives to failure to show you that there are net positives in the long run, even if, in the short run, things may be looking grim:

1. It shows you what NOT to do…for next time

Throwing in the towel gives you more life lessons than you can handle. But if you can look at the entire situation, and pinpoint exactly what went wrong and where/when you can avoid replicating the same scenario over and over. In short, you learn what NOT to do, and know how to counteract inflexion points that may have led to the failure of a project or a business. Maybe there wasn’t enough communication, or maybe there was poor project management in place. Maybe you scaled too fast or over-developed an aspect of your business. If you can sit back and re-examine everything, you might realize you’ve taken a master class in business and know how to handle things better the next time around. It also helps to talk and share failures with others who have had similar experiences – this is how learning happens.

2. It teaches you to pivot and or/let go in entrepreneurship

When you fail, you quickly realize that you may have held onto something for too long or for the wrong reasons. Maybe you just really loved an idea and were hell-bent on making it work, ignoring your better instincts or maybe you saw a better opportunity and were afraid to stray from the course for fear of looking like you didn’t know what you were doing. In either case, looking back, you’ll see moments where you should have let go or changed course, you’ll remember what that felt like, and you’ll be more in tune with “following your gut” or taking good advice on the next venture. In the innovation space, we often say ‘’Fail fast, fail forward!” as a good guiding principle to ensure you are hearing feedback from your market and innovating quickly.

3. You get a chance to find “what’s missing”

Failure has a way of finding holes. This is a good thing! When you fail, you suddenly have a clear view of what went wrong and where so that you can fix it in the long run or address it on your next venture.  This again is a place where you should be soliciting feedback from your market in particular to her why something might not be working and what you can do about it.

4. It builds immunity to fear

The first time you fail is terrifying. Like trying everything new, there’s a human mentality that if it’s not done right the first time it’s somehow a personal failure, but that’s simply not the case. From first steps to first-time entrepreneurship, chances are you are going to stumble and fall. It’s just a fact. But as each stumble gets less and less severe, you’ll find yourself growing an immunity to fear and general confidence that will translate into everything you do, from communicating purpose to making decisions. It just sometimes takes a fall to get there.

5. It makes a compelling narrative that sells you on your way to the next success

No great story starts and ends with perfect execution.  The stumbling blocks along the way help shape you into the kind of entrepreneur that is successful.  And those moments of missing the mark and/or failing completely on a venture give clients and investors insights into your personality and your vision. Your failure gives you an interesting story to tell that helps you sell your venture, so don’t shy away from the details and be honest about where you failed and why. It will endear you to your audience and brand you as an individual who has walked through the fire and lived to tell the tale.

Know that when you fail, you’re sharing the rarified atmosphere with some of the world’s most notable entrepreneurs. Anyone who has started a business has failed in some aspect (sometimes more than once!) and lived to find success, and, in many ways, change the world. Failure isn’t something to run away from, it’s an invaluable part of being an entrepreneur. Find ways to make it work in your favour and you’ll find yourself succeeding more often.

Want proof you’re not alone? Impact Hub Joburg has monthly FuckUp Nights where successful entrepreneurs share their failures with the community. We also regularly host Entrepreneurs Anonymous meetings where entrepreneurs can gather to discuss their struggles with their ventures in a supportive problem-solving environment designed to help each member succeed.

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