Starting a new business, or even running an existing one, can be a process full of trial and error and even embarrassing mistakes. It’s easy to want to run and hide from failures, but no failure is permanent: you can hire new teams, invent new products, make amends to disgruntled customers, and learn something in the process. Failures can actually be some of the most useful lessons for entrepreneurs on the road to wild success. Here, several entrepreneurs share the benefits of failure.
See Every Failure as a Lesson
According to a 2003 study in the Academy of Management Review, for the self- employed, learning from business failure occurs “when [an owner, founder or manager] can use the information available about why the business failed to revise their existing knowledge of how to manage their own business effectively…that is, to revise assumptions about the consequences of previous assessments, decisions, actions, and inactions.”
In other words, “There are no failures, just opportunities to learn,” says Melissa Daimler, SVP of Talent at WeWork.
Daimler recommends that in the face of failure -- that is anything that doesn’t go as planned -- entrepreneurs take the time to do post-mortems. Her suggestions include asking the following questions:
1. What did I intend to accomplish?
2. What actually did get accomplished?
3. With the knowledge I have now, what resources, people, processes or systems could I have leveraged more of, or differently?
4. What skill or behavior will I work on to ensure that the next time I get this opportunity I will be more successful?
Daimler encourages entrepreneurs to ask these questions daily, if possible. “Every meeting, presentation, or interaction can be a learning opportunity for assessing if they were successful in communicating what they intended to, if they received the reaction they anticipated and if not, why.”
Failure Means You’re Taking Risks
If you never attempt anything new, you might never see what your business is capable of, and sometimes that means you’ll grapple with failure, big or small. Lori Cheek, Founder and CEO of Cheekd, a mobile dating app that “removes the ‘missed’ from missed connections,” has a thriving business whose success was built upon sizable failures, not the least of which was launching without much business know-how. “I’ve taken a crash course in building a business and failing has probably been my greatest lesson of all,” she tells YouInc. When she launched in 2010, her business hit a nerve immediately with the concept of an “intriguing and provocative set of business card sized introductions used to engage a romantic prospect when feeling awkward, shy or simply desiring a new approach.” The company caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey and made waves in style sections, when they encountered a major hurdle—that people were intimidated approaching each other in person.
Unwilling to give up, she was one of a few who made it onto an episode of ABC’s The Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs get a chance to have their dreams financed. I failed in front of eight million live audience members who watched me get torn to shreds.” What could have been the biggest failure of her life turned out to be a profoundly positive pivot for her business. “I took what I could gather as constructive from their criticism and ran with it, and changed my whole business. I wasn’t about to quit.”
Failure became fuel to take the next step her business needed to take: moving to mobile apps.
“Jumping off the ledge to start a business is a risk in itself and there will be so many more risks you’re not ever prepared for,” she says. But she has taken inspiration from the saying “an entrepreneur is the person who jumps off a cliff and figures out how to build a plane on the way down.”
Don’t Put Products Over People
Another common form of failure for entrepreneurs is getting so eager to launch a product that you forget to check-in with your customer base, according to Jeff Davids, managing partner of SmartMoney Startups. “We spent too much time working on product development and not enough time with customers,” he says of one early venture. He says he’s seen this form of failure multiple times, but fixing it is relatively simple by making contact with your customers to find out “what they liked and didn’t like, what they wanted and didn’t want, what they were willing to pay for and what they expected for free.”
Don’t Take it Personally
Davids points out that 85% of startup companies fail, but that doesn’t mean you should consider yourself a failure. “Typically people don’t fail, the business model fails.”
Diane Elizabeth, Founder of Skin Care Ox, and a start-up entrepreneur and marketing executive for over ten years, adds that it’s important to separate yourself from your mistakes. She quotes doctor and author Dr. Maxwell Maltz, “You are a mistake maker, but you are also a mistake breaker.” In other words, she says, just because you made a mistake today, doesn’t mean that you will make a mistake tomorrow or the next day. You have a chance to change or fix your errors.
She urges entrepreneurs to change the plan, not the goal. “Nothing will get you over a failure quite like the thrill of planning a new venture or a new strategy.”
So the next time you find yourself facing a business failure, look for the lesson, put a new plan in place, and reach out to the people most directly affected: your customers.