I've always been fascinated by how some entrepreneurs almost instantly become discounted as people once they've failed in business.
It's the exact opposite of how we should react to failure, in business or otherwise. Failure is nothing less than the gateway to success. It sounds counter-intuitive but it's absolutely true. In fact, I actually find it hard to imagine anyone achieving a noteworthy success if they haven't at first failed.
As a young man, Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job because he, "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." Stephen Spielberg was rejected from USC's film program on three separate occasions. At age 30, Steve Jobs was fired by Apple. "What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating," Jobs said, adding, "I was a very public failure."
Any of these future icons might have given up right then and there and, chances are, they would been applauded for not wasting their time. Quitting in the face of failure might have been seen by their family and friends as a rational, mature decision. We can see now, in retrospect, just how wrong it would have been for these great leaders and visionaries to have been deterred by failure. But the key, of course, is to see ourselves, and our own untapped potential, in that very same light.
As a venture capitalist, I'm not concerned if an entrepreneur I'm evaluating has failed in past enterprises. For anyone to have failed, they must have first at least mustered the courage to have taken a risk – and it's that boldness and tenacity, coupled with the increased knowledge they've gained from the journey itself, that makes them – in my opinion – a great prospect.
Trying new things and pushing boundaries is what we expect from entrepreneurs. We expect entrepreneurs to see opportunity where others don't and to test theories and hypotheses in the context of real market conditions, taking calculated and sometimes unknown risks. Naturally these entrepreneurs will fail sometimes, unable to foresee all market conditions, human frailties and twists of fate. But its the nature of wanting to try, and fail, and try again that forges not only great business leaders but also individuals with great character. It's character, ultimately, and its development through trials and tribulations – and failures, yes – that is the true measure of our success.