Most startups will fail. It’s just how the numbers work. The issue I have is with the definition of failure. Is it a failure when you get to work on something you’re passionate about? Is your day a failure when you learn something new? No. This post comes after the announcement that Sprouter will be closing their doors on August 2nd.
To say that I’m a fan of Sprouter would be an understatement. I’m a loyal supporter, contributor and consider Sarah one of my best friends. How the startup community and next generation of entrepreneurs interpret this event is very important. It’s critical that we understand what’s happening and put things into perspective. Below are my thoughts on why we must celebrate failures, especially amongst technology startups.
It’s not failing – it’s learning
I’ve always said that it’s normal for companies to fail and that the net effect of a company having been started, especially in a small community, will always have an everlasting effect. Anyone who’s been involved in a startup realizes that it’s all about learning and experience. The normal state of a startup is not knowing how – or what to do – and being o.k. with that. Regardless of the size of the startup, everyone involved in the early days feel the pressure to execute and over come obstacles. You can’t learn this in school – it’s only taught when you experience it. The raw nature of doing a startup allows everyone involved to develop and learn new skills that are invaluable to themselves and potential employers.
Learning how to be comfortable with uncertainty
The number one character trait of an entrepreneur is the ability to be comfortable with uncertainty. Actually, there’s a direct correlation between the size of the uncertainty, and their comfort level, with the potential size of the outcome and probability of achieving it. You can only develop this trait when you’re trying to bend the world to create something uniquely yours and it’s pushing back on you. That’s why we need to celebrate failures and support anyone who’s been involved in a startup. These folks are a rare breed and the economy, innovation and our communities rely on them being out there and creating once again.
It’s part of nature
No one I know ever came out of the gate with a win. It usually always got preceded with a failure, or two. What I learnt from that is we sometimes need to learn those lessons the hard way to lay the foundation for the next venture. Just like the way a forest rejuvinates itself by feeding on dead leaves that fall to the forest floor – so does a startup community. There’s definitely an ecosystem that slowly develops in each city and it’s usually fueled by individuals and teams that worked together at a startup that failed. When people go through that process together, they learn things they couldn’t have otherwise. They see patterns, learn what they’re good at and meet others that compliment their skills. Many time they talk about “if I was doing things my way, I would have …” and next thing you know a new company is started. We need to celebrate the fact that these people were able to work together during such interesting times – hoping they created a friendship and bond that might spark the next startup.
How do we celebrate failures
We can start off by framing it for what it is. It’s not a failure. Any company that starts and gives it 110% only to come up short, did not fail. I refuse to call it that. Is an artist a failure if his painting doesn’t come out the way he envisioned it? No, it’s just a piece of art that couldv’e been better. That’s how I feel about startups that can’t continue executing for lack of funding or resources. The art was still created – peoples lives were still changed. Don’t say things like; “sorry to hear …” or “my condolences” – cause there wasn’t a loss. There was a huge gain and the best thing you can do is say congrats and ask what’s next? Maybe even offer up some help to members of the team. The way we celebrate failures is by viewing them as successes.