From Arlene: Failing Is Important As An Entrepreneur

From Arlene: Failing Is Important As An Entrepreneur

Leadership | Posted by - June 9, 2016 at 12:00 am

Entrepreneurs fall on their faces a lot, especially when they're first starting out, and early failures are just as much a part of the stories of legendary entrepreneurs as they are of those whose names you've never heard. Speaking of names that don't ring a bell, have you ever heard of Traf-O-Data? According to a really interesting article at that you can read here, that's the name of the first company launched by Bill Gates and his partners. Their goal was to sell computerized data to state and local governments, but the company failed because the product had too many bugs. also reports that the man we know of as Colonel Sanders drove around with his secret spice recipe in his car looking for partners and had over 1,000 doors slammed in his face before he found a restaurant willing to take a chance on him. As for Henry Ford, according to Newsweek, his first enterprise--Detroit Automobile Company--went belly up in 1901, "amid customer complaints of high prices and low quality". The following year, he abandoned a second venture due to a dust-up with his partner, and a third company nearly tanked due to low sales numbers.

I love hearing stories like these. They never fail to inspire and comfort me. When you get to know entrepreneurs, you hear them all the time. Actually, I'd be worried if I didn't hear stories of early failure from an entrepreneur, because if that person isn't failing, he or she simply isn't trying hard enough. Or risking and learning.

I also love the story Spanx founder Sara Blakely (a.k.a. the youngest female self-made billionaire in history) tells about how she learned from a very young age to think about failure as a positive. She says that when she was a kid, her dad would ask each of his children at dinner every night what they'd failed at that day. If no one had any failures to report, he'd express disappointment. Sara took from that lesson that failure wasn't anything to be ashamed of; rather, if she failed at something, it meant she'd pushed herself into unfamiliar territory; if she didn't, it meant she hadn't stretched far enough beyond her comfort zone that day.

Many people spout clichés about the lessons they've learned from failure, but I think those of us who possess an entrepreneurial mindset actually think about failure in an entirely different way than the general population. For one thing, I think we have or as Sara Blakely did, we learn to develop, a kind of built-in invisible shield that prevents us from internalizing failure as a reflection of our self-worth. I'm talking about the capacity to step back from failure and look at it more objectively, less as the sum total of who we are in the world and more as simply one isolated situation where various variables came into play that had little to do with us as individuals, but from which we could learn.

I think that's the main reason most successful entrepreneurs I know of are actually happy to talk about their failures, rather than scrambling to sweep them under the rug. Unlike many people, we view failing as a badge of honour because it shows we're unafraid to try something others would be too terrified to risk. We know in our bones that if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, as in life, failure isn't what holds you back. Fear of failure is the real culprit.

I've certainly had my share of failures. What failures have you had? What did they teach you? And how important do you think they've been in the grand scheme of your entrepreneurial journey?




Tags: arlene dickinson, dickinson, blog, business, success, lessons, experience, bill gates, entrepreneur, failure, leadership, leadership advice

Christy Richardson
November 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Failure pushes me to work harder, think outside of the box and try a new approach.

I hate failing.  Hate it.  I try not to take it personally, but a slow day at the store or a product that just doesn't move the way we anticipated, it's frustrating for sure.

The real challenge comes from learning from our mistakes, and never giving up.

Justin Léger
November 6, 2012 at 3:00 am
Malcolm Forbes once said "Failure is success if we learn from it." I learned a lot from my failure. Without it, I wouldn't have move foward
Heather Porrill
November 6, 2012 at 3:05 am

I have to admit I don't like failure either, but it happens. My business is very small so when failure happens, it is also very personal.  Failure causes me to focus and think about my plan of getting from A to B.

Zulubear ~ Annette Young
November 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm

It's only feedback.

By the time a child comes to see me, the volume on their 'behaviour' has usually turned up enough to get the right attention for what they are seeking.

Most of the kids I meet have been struggling with some form of literacy issue for long enough to make it their mission to let us know through their behaviour.

Zulubear: "I'll pay you a twoonie if you teach me how bad you suck at spelling."

Most of them look at me as if to say, "Really? Are you nuts? I am used to getting big fat F's on my report card, sent to the hall, loosing my recess or suspended over this issue."

 Zulubear: “Oh, so maybe you don’t know yet that there is no such thing as failure.

 There is only feedback.”

The kids: But what about my behaviour problems you know my attitude?

Zulubear: "I 'll pay you a twoonie if you let me try to teach you an easy way to spell. Doesn't matter if I succeed or not does it? At least you let me try."

All you gotta do is act like you do when you are playing video games. You know when you get to that part where it’s a new challenge. Where it would take a visit from a super hero to distract you or maybe the one where the more difficult it seems the more determined you become. Use those attitudes.

Shari Blanchard
November 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm
This is what I needed to be reminded of today! Thanks Arlene. I am in the midst of a brand new start-up (only 6 months old) and it is a challenge. I talk to my children about "failure" being where we lean the most. Tony Robbin's book, Unlimited Power, spoke of the story of Colonel Sanders. I remember when I read that part actually, because I recall thinking that he could have stopped just one door short! To 'fail' at something can keep one humble and fine tune our awareness on how to reach our goals!
Shari Blanchard
November 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm
where we 'learn', not lean. Must get my reading glasses out this morning;0
Kirchner Group
November 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm

More evidence of just how important failure is for Entrepreneurs, James Dyson on Using Failure to Drive Success

T Carey
November 9, 2012 at 1:50 am

Very comforting. I have learned to not listen to naysayers, ever. All of the things I have tried have really added to my skill set in a major way. I still haven't made my fortunes, but I have become very happy with the person I have evolved into. After I get a bunch of stuff cleared out of the way, I am going to start to try making money.

Anybody have some seed money for product research?

T Carey
November 9, 2012 at 1:52 am

P.S. I have the products, but they need to go through some hoops, formal testing and certifying etc.

David Gough
November 12, 2012 at 12:06 am

I once read "if it was easy everyone would be doing it" So true. 

Laxmi Timsina Kafle
November 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm

so well said Arlene. I totally agree and love to read more such inspiring postings from you.

Cheryl Ayres
November 16, 2012 at 12:39 am

Failure is an important part of our education yet in school it is deemed unacceptable.  As a young person I learned to feared failure.  Now I realize it has an important place.  In fact there are days I learn far more from the small failures (or Learnings as the fellows from Marketing Experiments call them - ) than the big successes! Cheers!

Gary Lee
December 3, 2012 at 6:31 am

All the success I have had has been from a failure in some ways, the first thing was I decided not to go to university because my grades were bad, I failed most of my exams, I was already to focused on creating my own businesses at the time and had no time to waste at school learning things I thought would never help me. Then I started to teach myself programming. To this day I think I became a good developer in my day based on the fact that I was the only one who wrote code the wrong way, It was never correct the first time so I always coded with mistakes, this meant that when something went wrong in any company I worked for that I was the only one able to fix it as all the uni grads only ever knew how to do it the right way. I started and failed at many businesses not because they were bad ideas but because I had no experience running a business. Even when I look back at some of those businesses they would still work today. Mistakes are hard to deal with at first but looking back on them you realize that you will never do them again and that is what makes even the worst ideas for a business work sometimes.

Laura-Jean Bernhardson
December 22, 2012 at 11:24 pm

It has been in my times of failure that I have learned the most as an entrepreneur.  Hard lessons for sure, and it doesn't feel good when it's happening (it feels like a nightmare) but coming out stronger and smarter makes it all worthwhile. 

Joe Wasylyk
June 11, 2016 at 2:20 pm
Arlene, Thanks for the opportunity to talk about business failures. I was downsized at the young age of 45 years old and I haven't had a full-time job since August 31,1990. i.e. 26 years ago. Then in early retirement I founded the 'Seniorpreneur Project' to help seniors 50+ see the benefits of self-employment or entrepreneurship as a viable option in their retirement life. My own business model is based on Colonel Harland Sanders life specifically on his only published book titled, Life as i have known it has been "finger lickin' good." The Colonel had 50,000 books printed of which I own 2 copies personally myself. Colonel Sanders failed throughout his life even at the end of his life when he sold his fried chicken business for approx. $2 million dollars, while the conglomerate who bought from him turned the business around and sold it for over $300 million dollars!

One thing that I learned from the Colonel is that the amount of money you have at ANY age is not the determining factor for startup of a business. It's basically your health & wellness, the desire to take on some business risks and the ability to learn something new throughout your life as an entrepreneur. But most seniors 50+ will need a lifestyle change because many of them have worked in a secure corporate job for 30-40 years, and would probably not have the required business and technical training if they are going to pursue an entrepreneurial career. Also, Lifelong Learning for seniors 50+ is a must for older entrepreneurs to become more active, creative, productive and prosperous in their retirement life.

To make a long story short similar to Colonel Sanders I have also written a book for Seniors 50+ that is titled:Encore! Encore! Seniors(50 Plus) As Entrepreneurs: Their Time Has Come and is available on Amazon & Lulu.

My entrepreneur journey today continues with some significant failures. In Canada we must be aware that there is a 50+ entrepreneurial movement happening around the World. We need some nww 50+ business support groups along with more financial resources; where like-minded seniors can get together to discuss our business failures and any successes we might have to create a better entrepreneurial eco-system in Canada. Thanks!
Judy Vendramini
June 13, 2016 at 9:32 am
The whole entrepreneurial journey has been a learning experience and this includes failures. I dust myself off, learn from the failure and then try another approach.
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January 29, 2018 at 11:50 pm
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