Failure feels like a taboo subject among startups. We say “over 90%” fail, but scanning through over 200,000 discussions on IndieHackers (a community of founders), less than 3% mention failure whatsoever. But there’s a lot to learn! After reading this, hopefully, you won’t be as scared to discuss failing - we may even laugh about it.
What’s the problem? 🤔
I’m no psychologist 🤦🏾♂️, but, here’s my struggle in a tweet (or two):
Arvid Kahl @arvidkahl@thisiskp_ Schools sure have prepared us to fear getting things wrong.
Embracing The Fear 💪🏾
As a startup, one of your most significant superpowers is your ability to iterate quickly. However, an unhealthy fear of failure stifles that, making us perfectionists or procrastinators:
(Credits - Jack Butcher)
I found this working on my first project. Our desire to be perfect was paralysing at worst and was painfully slow at best. Everything from product launch to social media posts was far too time-consuming. Fearing imperfection left us majoring on minors. However, embracing failure as a possibility is necessary for rapid progress.
Even now, I still struggle with it (as I write), but I’ve learnt a few things:
Don’t suppress fear 🤐 - instead, practice the uncomfortable and expand your comfort zone;
Where there’s no chance of failure, there’s no room for growth; and
Failure doesn’t have to be ultimate or purposeless. Aim to “fail forward” - iterate and pivot your product and ideas until you succeed.
Let’s Run The Numbers 🧑🏽🏫
Failure is offputting until you realise it’s advantageous because it allows us to move on and try other things. Assuming only 5% of startups “succeed”:
The more attempts you make, the greater your odds of finding success - which actually improves faster than this if you allow for the things you’ve learnt from previous attempts. This also extends to experimenting with product features. When faced with poor the odds, testing more ideas quickly speeds up your product development.
Book Extracts 🤓
📚 Book - The Lean Startup:
“If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.”
Startups aim to understand and solve customer’s problems more quickly than anybody else. Accomplishing this requires you to create an environment conducive for learning, regardless of whether your assumptions are proven right, or wrong.
📚 Book - The Hard Thing About Hard Things:
“The Struggle is not failure… The Struggle is where greatness comes from.”
📚 Book - The 4-Hour Work Week:
“Eustress, on the other hand, is a word most of you have probably never heard… Role models who push us to exceed our limits, physical training that removes our spare tires, and risks that expand our sphere of comfortable action are all examples of eustress—stress that is healthful and the stimulus for growth.”
🗣 Additional Quotes:
Niels Bohr - “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.”
Frank Wilczek - If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.
Bill Gates - "Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."
Horace - “Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.”
Food For Thought 🍽
Kyle Gawley - The Startup Success Delusion That Put Me In Hospital
Sahil Lavingia - Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company
David Brown - Heres What Fail Fast Really Means
Google product graveyard - Killed By Google
When impostor syndrome strikes, remember 💭:
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