To start with, why is failing important?
Failure is not black and white: although it might hurt, it can also provide valuable insights. Failing is important as a record of your actions: you define the reasons of a failure and you learn from it (e.g. bad luck?, bad decisions?). Entrepreneurship after all is an iteration process. Do not forget that 90% of startups fail, so it’s not very likely to make it right with the first attempt.
Of course, there are different ways of failing: you can fail with style, heroically but also in a silly manner. In every case, the worst thing to do is not to reflect on your failure. Reflecting about your mistakes provides new knowledge to you and in this way your failure will eventually become a stepping stone for your future.
So why should we talk about failure?
Surely, there are cultural parameters that frame failure as a stain in someone’s life – as stigma. However, failure happens to everyone, especially in business. So, here is the number one reason for talking about failure: it happens – we don’t have to hide it under the carpet. Failures are simply part of the game in entrepreneurship, although it is hard to talk about it. We are not proud of our failures therefore talking openly about them is an act of bravery.
Failing means moving, not sitting and doing nothing – and via “failing forward” you gain since you are closer to the right approach simply because one wrong path has been crossed out. The generalization of this stance creates a learning culture: people learn from their own but also from other’s mistakes. Failed attempts inform our future decisions.
Real effects of failure (non-theoretical)
Failure can really hurt. Out of its philosophical or epistemological assessment it can have some very practical implications. It’s quite possible that there will be serious turbulence on a personal level – dreams may be destroyed, professional/financial problems may arise, relations may be damaged, there may be even legal implications. In some cases, even friends and associates may get hurt by your own decisions.
Is there life after failure?
True, failure is a hateful thing. There are people who really suffered after failures. Part of our cultural system is the “blame game” – some of us point their fingers easily. In the corporate world the situation may be even tougher. On the other hand, people are also understanding and empathizing beings! While others judge, others give support! And don’t forget the public perception of comebacks! Think of Herman Maier in the Austrian context (Herminator)! Failures can become a starting point for admiration!
In this direction, don’t take “public judgment” too seriously: think that some judge you for fights that they never gave themselves. Your present wisdom could be an asset concerning investors and a great comeback could even make headlines about you!
Are there differences between America and Europe/Austria in the perception of failure?
There is a controversy concerning the differences in the reception of entrepreneurial failure between the United States and Europe. One view supports that the American culture is much more open to failure and American entrepreneurs respectively keener in learning from their mistakes in order to make better decisions in the future. This implies that American investors are more enthusiastic in following people that are passionate while Europeans although, better in keeping the risk small, are much more conservative.
Another view promotes the similarities in the mentality of the two cultures which include taking a step back, emotional recuperation and reflection before the next step. Entrepreneurial spirit is also present in Europe/Austria. Maybe it is still lacking in tech fields but after all entrepreneurship is not just about technology.
What are the main reasons that businesses fail?
Rule number one: failure is about us as entrepreneurs. Blaming the customers makes no sense – you will never learn anything out of it. The absence of a market is the primary reason for the failure of a product/business. Other good reasons may be cofounders who are not on the same page or investors who do not have enough trust in the project.
The alpha and omega for success is always the team: a good team can make a mediocre idea work, while a bad team can destroy a brilliant idea. 90% of success is doing, not thinking and this is the reason that most startups end up with something different than the initial idea, a fact that demands flexibility.
In a nutshell
Failures are an amazing source to learn from! Yes, it hurts, yes it may suck at the beginning, but it is part of the learning process so you have to accept it. Draw a line when you have to and embrace your failure (don’t let denial turn you into to a “non-failed zombie”). Don’t try to solve problems that nobody cares for and always pursue your dream with a kick-ass team. If you fail, take the time to reflect on what went wrong and start over again. And most importantly: don’t let anybody stop you!