The Crucible of Failure
The numbers don’t lie. Most start-ups don’t become multi-billion dollar companies. In fact, over 70% of new businesses fail. But this is a risk that every entrepreneur must be willing to take. Otherwise, there is little use in spending the time and energy needed to make a new business work.
Your attitude towards failure will determine what you do if it happens. All of the screw-ups I’ve made as both an employee and an entrepreneur have given me a detached and ironical view of failure. And I am pleased to see that there is a group of professionals who not only share my perspective, but have produced a kind of road show based on it.
There is an article in Fast Company that describes the doings of FailCon, a traveling conference dedicated to celebrating business failure. They hold what they call “Fuck-Up Nights” in which experienced entrepreneurs share some of the costlier misadventures of their business life with young start-up enthusiasts. From the article:
The organizers of Fuck-Up Nights have gathered a rich, and growing, collection of failure stories. For example, one Mexican entrepreneur launched a sushi restaurant where diners could play video games, but knew about neither sushi nor video games and gave up the business. Others mismanaged money, or trusted unreliable employees, or expanded too soon, too fast.
It is easy for a person who has become successful to look back to the time when he was just starting and recalling the many mistakes he made. Indeed, such episodes can be made into a joke; and the so-called Fuck-Up Nights seem designed to do just that. But there is also a serious point being made. Failure is a crucible. It is something that most us will have to go through as entrepreneurs, no matter how well-prepared and diligent we are.
Getting a sense of how others dealt with it is an education in character. You may have a different idea, a different business background, and a different product and market; but you will still have to face the same danger. Thinking through your own response to failure will prepare you for it if it comes.
The full Fast Company article on this topic can be read here. There is a great deal of talk about succeeding in business; which is a good thing, for people want models and lessons that will lead them to success. But given the statistics I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, you would think there would be more discussion on this aspect of being an entrepreneur. Perhaps the Fuck-Up Nights will generate the kinds of conversations we should be having.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.