What Mistakes and Failures Can Teach You?

Mistakes-Precious Life via Commons Wikiepedia

Many things have been written about mistakes and failures, how they are part and parcel of life, how they strengthen us in the long run. The same lessons are applicable, much more so, to entrepreneurship as well.

Many entrepreneurs have failed, many have risen back up, made a go of it again, and succeeded. Failure brings with it awareness of the mistakes we have made so that next time we start up something we will be able to execute better. What separates successful entrepreneurs from the crowd are their willingness to persevere – despite repeated failures, they don’t give up. Instead, they go on, they plod along despite the hardships, until they reach success.

In Failure is Our Only Option, venture capitalist DJ Patil writes: “…tenacity and failure go hand in hand. Without both, you can’t move forward.”

Startups, by their very nature, are risky ventures, and only true entrepreneurs would embark on one. VCs realize this – they look at the track records of entrepreneurs who go before them and make their pitches, and they tend to look favorably on those entrepreneurs who have failed before, and still are not afraid of failing.

What Startups Can Learn From Failure and Mistakes by Jerome Gentolia

Failure Can Be Like Compost by cambodia4kidsorg via Flickr

In Failure: The FWord Silicon Valley Loves And Hates, Paul Graham, founder of seed accelerator Y-Combinator, was quoted as saying: “In the startup world, ‘not working’ is normal … You might wonder why ships have [bilge] pumps [to remove water from below the deck] … Why don’t they just make one that’s waterproof, right? And the fact is, one way or another, all ships take on water … and one way or another, practically all startups internally are disasters. And they just hide this from the outside world.”

So, never be afraid to fail. Instead, embrace it, welcome it, for only by failing will you learn from your mistakes. Failure strengthens you, and as an entrepreneur, you need all the help you can get going down that difficult road.

Justin Hedge, in Learning to Embrace Failure, says: “A young entrepreneur’s ability to embrace failure is paramount to his or her long-term success in business. Great triumph is often the product of a series of small, incremental mistakes. When processed effectively, failure will guide you toward your most ambitious goals and aspirations.” Warning about NOT recognizing the lessons from their mistakes, he warns entrepreneurs: “Improperly perceived…mistakes will paralyze the entrepreneurial spirit.”

As entrepreneurs , we want to make sure that our idea for a startup is sound and can hit it off with our target market. What better way is there than to implement those ideas at once, so that we’ll know for sure that what we have is the next big thing, or the next big bust. Don’t dally; instead, we should hit the ground running. If we fail, we fail. But at least we tried.

What Startups Can Learn From Mistakes and Failures by Jerome Gentolia

Failure is a Process by TechCocktail via Flickr

DJ Patil, in the same article quoted above, advises: “Remember this – fail quickly, don’t fail slow. I know it can sound a bit contrarian or even conflicting, but your goal is to move from a path of eventual failure to a path of success through iteration.”

Remember that we should acknowledge our mistakes, if we want to learn from them. Otherwise, we’ll be doomed to repeat them.

Entrepreneur Matt Mireles says it so well, in The Importance of Running Lean: “If you don’t have a clear hypothesis, you can never be wrong. If your ideas are never wrong, you can toil endlessly building something of indeterminate value, for an amorphous, ever shifting audience, until one day you can’t––like so many before you.”

If there are failures we should avoid, it is failures arising from lack of integrity and ethics. We must avoid making this type of failure at all costs. It is always good advice to retain our integrity and ethics amidst tough competition.

Martin Zwilling, in 3 Tips for Overcoming Your First Failure, writes: “Failure, combined with a strong sense of business ethics, can motivate and produce innovation, while failure due to a lack of ethics can lead to desperation. Certain types of failures — like failures of integrity and ethics — are harder to recover from.”

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but learn from them. Don’t shy away from failure; embrace it. Only by doing so can we increase our next startup’s chances of success.


  • DJ Patil

    Great article. I’m wouldn’t characterize myself as a VC, but rather an in residence role. 🙂

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