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Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #146
Does failure really exist?
In this issue’s Q&A, I reply to an entrepreneur whose company just failed. I’ll let you read my response below, but I also wanted to kick this issue off with a brief reflection on failure.
Failure is something I’ve been thinking a lot about the past few weeks because I’m currently teaching one of my favorite entrepreneurship classes at Duke. It’s called “Learning to Fail.”
It’s the kind of class that wouldn’t necessarily work at every university, but it’s particularly well-suited for a university like mine because the students are generally considered “high achieving,” meaning it’s a place where “fail” is a much scarier word than any other four-letter-F-word you can think of.
As you can probably surmise from the course title, the goal of the class is to stop treating failure like it’s some sort of apocalyptic outcome. When you learn to do that — especially as entrepreneurs — good things happen. Specifically, you discover how valuable failure is as a tool for improving yourself and the people around you.
In fact, I’d argue failure, more than any book or article, is going to be the best way to learn about entrepreneurship.
With that in mind, failure is also one of the most expensive and inefficient ways to learn about entrepreneurship, which is why I hope you’ll agree that reading an entrepreneurial advice newsletter like this one has some distinct advantages, too. If you agree… maybe take a moment and share this issue with a friend.
In the startup world, simple things are often the most valuable. Unfortunately, that simplicity sometimes makes the value difficult to see.
And, despite what you’ve surely read, your pitch deck isn’t nearly as important as you probably think.
Office Hours Q&A
I just shut down my company. We hadn’t gotten huge, but we lasted for around 4 years, we raised a little over a million dollars in VC, and we had around 10 employees at our peak. So there was something there, I think. It really seemed like we were getting somewhere, but then the wheels came off.
Now I feel like an udder failure. I love all your writings. I really wish I had discovered them sooner because I feel like they could have helped me prevent this disaster. Can you tell me something to make me feel better now?
For starters, unless your startup is in a wildly different industry than most of my readers, I’m pretty sure you feel like an “utter failure,” not an “udder failure”... #GrammarPolice… 😊
OK, teasing probably wasn’t the emotional support you were looking for, but maybe it should be. Humor is a great opiate. I hope it’s also a useful reminder to not take this setback too seriously.
Yes, it sucks. But you’re not a failure. In fact, I guarantee you’re a better entrepreneur now than you were four years ago. Why? Because you just had an incredible four year education.
Think about it: You spent the past four years building a company from scratch. In the process you surely learned about incorporating, hiring, marketing, selling, managing, fundraising, and all sorts of other valuable skills you’ll be able to apply in whatever work you do next. Best of all – since you raised capital – it seems like you got to learn a lot of those lessons on someone else’s dime. It’s kind of like you had a scholarship to one of the best educational experiences possible. Better yet, you shared that scholarship and learning opportunity with lots of other people. How cool is that?
Sure, the thing you were building ultimately wasn’t successful, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful on a personal level. If anything, it’s the opposite. You’ve been wildly successful by learning valuable lessons few other people in this world are ever exposed to or have experience with. I’d call that a #MajorWin.
The only way to fail, at this point, is to not use what you’ve learned to continue helping the world in some way.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!