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3 lessons entrepreneurs can learn from failures – Early Growth

Posted by Shivali Anand

July 22, 2021    |     4-minute read (653 words)

No one likes to fail, but with an estimated 30% of US-based startup businesses failing before they reach three years in operation, it's evident that the majority of entrepreneurs will face some form of disappointment before they achieve success.

We can glean significant lessons from failed initiatives, just as we can from any other part of our life. Indeed, several entrepreneurs have stated that their failures motivated them more than their successes.

Consider the following three lessons from unsuccessful company initiatives, and quotes from notable entrepreneurs who faced steep challenges while growing their businesses.

  1. Failure confers learning opportunities

Maybe you had an idea that didn't pan out. There's a good chance you talked to potential consumers, ran market testing and handled a multitude of other tasks while attempting to make your business a success. You gathered feedback on what customers desired, what they liked and disliked about your concept, and what you might have done better.

Use that knowledge to propel your company forward, even though it might lead to difficult decisions, such as abandoning your original concept and starting over.

This is a lesson recalled by John Jacobs, co-founder American apparel company Life Is Good, whose line made him a billionaire after being "wildly unsuccessful" in prior enterprises. After five years of selling shirts to college students from a van, punctuated by a series of unsuccessful trial-and-error business ventures, Jacobs and his brother together created Life is Good. 

"You either succeed or learn,” Jacobs said about the company's capacity to adapt after failure.

  1. Entertain the possibility of other markets 

Perhaps you want to see your items on store shelves in your community. Although this may be possible, there may also be instances when your target market is outside of the location with which you are most familiar.

This lesson is illustrated by the success of James Dyson, who proposed the concept of cyclonic separation in the 1970s in hopes it would transform the vacuum cleaner industry. While Dyson’s G-Force vacuum was ready for market after thousands of hours and dollars were spent to build 5,000 prototypes, he failed to find a market for it in both the U.S. and the UK. 

However, the vacuum was a hit in Japan. It took a decade to find success in western markets, but Dyson’s vacuums went on to make him one of Britain’s wealthiest individuals.

Dyson’s experience demonstrates how venturing outside of your immediate region can prove beneficial. Failure in one market might open the doors to new ones, and the latter may be precisely what your company needs to thrive.

  1. Failure is a source of innovation

When a product or service fails, you have the chance to innovate and improve it. When you reach a snag, consider how you might make your concept more appealing to the community. Even if you lose money along the road, you may be able to recoup your losses by continuing to evolve.

Consider the words of Jeff Bezos, spoken in an interview regarding the most notable mistakes of his career: "I have made billions of dollars in failures at in some cases," he said. "There have been billions of dollars value of failures. You may recall the websites and … None of these things are enjoyable. They don't, however, make a difference.”

He contends that if you never experience failure, you may be limiting your growth: "What really counts is that firms who don't keep experimenting, organizations that don't accept failure, ultimately find themselves in a desperate situation where the only thing left to do is make a Hail Mary gamble towards the end of their corporate existence," he added.

To put it another way, the only way to know if something will work is to try it – sometimes you'll succeed, and other times you won't. Regardless, you're on your way to becoming a better entrepreneur.

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