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Starting a Small Business and Failure

Small Business FailureIf you’re thinking of starting a small business (or are already running one) you have probably heard the scary statistic that more than half of all businesses fail in the first five years.

That’s a pretty grim thought if you’re sacrificing your time, energy, and money—doing everything you can to make your business succeed.

Deal with it.

Failure isn’t the end. In fact, if you believe the experts, it’s a launch pad to success.

Take Michael and Ellen Diamant. They started Ski Hop, a company that creates and sells products for young children. Previously Michael had started a company called iClips, which failed in the 2002 crash. But that didn’t stop him from seeing the potential in the stroller bag that his wife Ellen had designed. That same year they launched a company to sell the bag. And they’ve added dozens of products since—some of which have done better than others. Here’s what they say about the ideas that fail:

“The world is full of people who are afraid to bring a product to market because they are afraid of that initial risk. But failure is a huge part of this business. It often provides the best data you can get. A good percentage of your products will never really take off in the marketplace. That’s okay! You can’t be successful in product design without occasional failures as well. You are going to need to invent and fail ten times for every success. Invent.

In fact, the more we profile successful people who create small businesses, then grow them into big profitable companies, the more we recognize that entrepreneurs see failure differently than other people. To them failure isn’t about the outcome, it’s about overcoming the fear of trying something new. We think Sarah Blakely (you can read her story here) nails the definition of what failure really is:

“When I was growing up, my dad would encourage my brother and me to fail. We would be sitting at the dinner table and he would ask, ‘So what did you guys fail at this week?’ If we didn’t have something to contribute, he would be disappointed. When I did fail at something, he’d high-five me. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was completely reframing my definition of failure at a young age. To me failure means not trying; failure isn’t the outcome. If I have to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I didn’t try because I was scared,’ that is failure.”

Rather than fear failure (and thus not start anything), small business owners need to face the fact that they are likely to fail. Especially if this is the first time they’ve started a business. Once it happens, acknowledge it, learn from it, and start again. Eventually, you’ll succeed:



One more quote, this one from Venture Capitalist Brad Feld, who got us thinking about failure (again) this week:

“In my world view, the best leaders understand that failure is an integral part of things.  The cliche ‘fail fast’ is one of my favorites.  When things aren’t working, deal with it.  Another is the famous line from Atlas Shrugged ‘Nobody stays here by faking reality in any manner whatever.’  Denying that failure is part of our existence is akin to faking reality. While I accept ‘the experience of failure’ feels ‘negative/crappy/depressing/hard/sucky’, I don’t believe that ‘failure is bad.’  Deal with it, learn from it, pick yourself up, and try again.

Photo credit: M.A.J Photography via photopin cc