Friday, December 28, 2012
Founders must both fear and embrace failure to succeed
Most first-time founders enter the arena with only a handful of the necessary skills and snippets of domain knowledge required to make their idea work. Everything else has to be learned on the job.
The type of person who will drop everything to work on a startup usually learns pretty quickly, but being a fast learner is only part of the challenge. The important gaps in your knowledge aren’t enumerated up front for you to study and plug before you quit your cushy job. They’re revealed one-by-one, over time, usually in the form of the failure of something you had hoped would succeed.
The turbulent startup ride consists of almost daily finding out that you were wrong about some strategy, hypothesis or assumption. Each failure is a chance to fill a gap in your knowledge.
But not everyone is naturally good at learning from failures. I’m not.
Being a fast learner doesn’t make you naturally responsive to the lessons offered by a fresh defeat. The more you hope that some idea or strategy will succeed, the harder it is to see why it didn’t. Ego and denial creep in, confirmation bias blinds you, and it’s entirely possible to fail without realising or acknowledging it. Skipping class feels good in the short term.
Working on projects like Paydirt, it took me a long time to figure out I was doing it wrong.
The founders I knew who were making real progress — the ones I try to emulate