Me again, and I’d like to contribute to our chat today by sharing some lessons I learned from personal experience. As you may already know, my first attempt to set up a new business was a flop. I can’t go into too many details about it, because I have to respect other people’s privacy, but let me give you a few pearls of wisdom that I picked up the hard way.
First: Choose your partners wisely. Make sure that all the people you bring on board as partners and co-founders share the same agenda. In other words, make sure that everyone’s top priority is to grow the business together. Don’t be as naïve as I was when I brought people into my start-up just because they seemed “nice enough”.
Second: Speak openly. If you aren’t happy about something, it is much better to talk it over openly right away. Discussing problems may not be easy, but if you dawdle, if you “kick the can down the road”, the problems won’t go away and you’ll only have to face bigger ones in the future.
Third: Go all in! If you’re not ready to bet everything on the business, don’t even start it; your cautiousness might be a sign that you don’t really believe in your project yourself. And if you don’t believe in your idea, why are you asking other people, your customers or funders, to believe in it?
Fourth: Test, test and test! We did not test. We thought we had a great product that everybody would be excited to buy. Well, guess what? That turned out not to be true. But we stubbornly continued on our course without listening to the market. We paid for this in many different ways.
Now, apart from these practical lessons that I learned the hard way, I’d like to take a moment to talk about what failing really meant for me.
Failing is hard, and even if I can joke about it now, you’d better believe me when I tell you that I sure wasn’t laughing when we decided to close down the venture. Losing money was bad enough, but for me that wasn’t the toughest part. losing what I believed were friends was harder, and losing my reputation was even worse.
“Fail fast” is the mantra in Silicon Valley … But this saying’s kernel of truth is outweighed by its brutality: it pays no heed to the emotional costs of failing. I prefer “Fail cheap” and “Flop forward”, which at least carry practical and emotional pointers for building one’s future.
However, although failing is not a problem both in itself and for entrepreneurs who cope with it in many different ways, the ecosystem surrounding entrepreneurs still does not accept it as a natural consequence of being entrepreneurial, and continues to be strongly stigmatized. This is one major factoring hampering growth in Europe.
Changing this is what we are set to do through the FlopAcademy, by training our future entrepreneurs and leaders to handle failures more efficiently when their time will come.