Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor with over 1,093 patents for various inventions. But not everything he created was an instant success. Some inventions took many iterations to work, some were outright failures.
In the case of the light bulb, for instance, he supposedly made several attempts before he got it right. Edison considered each failure as a step towards success. In fact, he is known for saying, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
The entrepreneurial mindset works the same way.
Successful entrepreneurs know that it’s necessary to encounter defeats that will test their mettle. This way, they’ll know who they are, what they can handle, and how they can bounce back from it. They understand that failure is inevitable, but a necessary part of the journey. Failure results in better, more focused, and more efficient re-tries.
Here I put the spotlight on priceless lessons several entrepreneurs learned from detours and failures.
Here are nine winning insights from people who used failure to their advantage.
1. Sometimes there’s no silver lining, so learn to lose.
Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO of Eastman Kodak Company and current host of the C-Suite Network, was an avid hunter, so he thought he’d succeed at pheasant farming. After all, he loved everything about pheasants. He was sure his business venture would be a hit right from the get-go.
“My passion fueled my desire and my business plan. I reached out to a bunch of friends and associates and sold them on the idea. Many of us invested all we had. Our plan was to set up giant outdoor pens on the prairies where the pheasants could fly and run free as if in the wild. It would be a thing of beauty, and very, very lucrative,” Hayzlett continues.
But then nature had other ideas. During a thunderstorm, hundreds of pheasants grouped together looked toward the sky with their beaks open and drowned. The whole business was gone in an instant.
As difficult as it was, Hayzlett accepted failure. He continued, “Businesses, like all things, have life cycles. Just because you failed the first time, doesn’t mean you won’t succeed the next day, year, or decade. So accept your loss and try again next time.”
2. Background check everyone you deal with online.
The Internet has opened doors to so many opportunities. Instead of just reaching your local market, it allows you to do business with the entire world.
It only takes someone with a polished website to look credible. This brings different challenges such as more competition — and more chances to get ripped off.
Nick Chachula, owner of iCustomLabel, learned this lesson the hard way. He was ripped of by 4 companies that had a credible online presence. “Everyone seems to make excellent promises. They claim to know how to do everything. This is just not the case, especially in an unregulated industry like online outsourcing,” he reveals.
He goes on to advise fellow entrepreneurs, “When you hire a service provider online — be it a designer, coder, developer, or a public relations specialist — be sure to do a thorough background on the individual and the company.”
3. Testing market demand isn’t enough.
Simon Slade, CEO and co-founder of Affilorama, says, “I’ve learned that developing an-demand product isn’t enough. You also must devise a plan for generating revenue and a general action plan for measuring its success and planning for improvements. In hindsight, I recognize the errors I made, but I have no regrets. I am proud of myself for taking a gamble, and as long as you learn from your mistake, no mistake is made in vain.”
He cites Zeadoo, a personalized start-up Web page. He explains, “Zeadoo is still available today, but it’s a failure because we didn’t have s the proper strategy to support it and a method for monetizing it.”
4. Getting fired could lead to unexpected opportunities.
Many of us continue to do something even if our heart isn’t in it because we’re afraid to go after what we truly want. Amy Marshall knows this all too well.
“I was not fulfilled at the last job I worked at, even if the people were beyond wonderful and I learned a great deal. But I found myself day dreaming about doing something else and I had a burning desire to work for myself. Then one day I was called into the office and let go for financial reasons,” Marshall says.
Fortunately, the company had been impressed with her work so they offered her the opportunity to work as a consultant for the company. They even paid for a session with the company accountant to get her business set up properly.
“Today, we still have a great relationship. More importantly, I’ve been in business for myself close to two years and have tripled my salary. I love every second of what I do now,” Amy continues.
Marshalls says, “Being fired can be a blessing in disguise. I’m sure this piece of advice isn’t overly groundbreaking and we may have all heard it before but it’s completely true. My advice to entrepreneurs is to keep failing, have a positive attitude, get back up and see where it takes you.”
5. Never eat your seed corn.
Author and consultant Barry Maher emphasizes the importance of being careful with your company’s finances. He says, “This year’s profit isn’t all profit. Much of it should be plowed back into the business, along with a reserve for when times get tough again. They always do, sooner or later.”
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of not using their profits to invest in things that would further improve the company. So, when they experience setbacks, their business is completely vulnerable.
6. Establish the WTF policy
Brian Scudamore, CEO and founder of Wow 1 Day Painting and two other businesses, is proud of establishing a ‘willing to fail’ (WTF) where failures aren’t frowned upon and employees are allowed to take risks.
But his team wasn’t always like this. He relates, “Five years into my first business, I realized that things weren’t working out. I had eleven people working for me at the time, and nine of them were bad apples. I fired them all, though, because I knew that I had to clean house, and start fresh.”
Once he had his new team, Scudamore encouraged them to come up with new ideas that may give the company a boost. The employees are not reprimanded if their ideas fail.
7. Don’t rely on resumes.
When it comes to hiring people, you shouldn’t be easily impressed with what’s on paper.
Scott Ledbury, co-founder of Slinky Productions says, “In the early days of the company, we made some failures in hiring the wrong people. We didn’t screen their applications and CV’s properly.”
Ledbury notes that in the media industry, “A lot of graduates or juniors looking for work often inflate their own skill set and ability. For example, you can get Editors and Motion Graphics Designers that claim they’re 9/10 or 10/10 with using Adobe software, but in reality they’re more of a 5/10 or beginner level users.
It’s a problem if you employ people without doing a proper assessment because this often leads to them being assigned on tasks and projects where they will only struggle.”
8. Seek out those who came before you.
“I always dreamed of being a published author,” says John McDougall of Mcdougall Interactive. “My digital marketing agency was doing well but I felt it could do better if I had the credibility of a published book to back me up.”
McDougall spent a couple of years thinking about doing it and working through the table of contents and focus of the book. Finally, he approached an editor for help, paid her a good size deposit, and made it official.
His only regret was that it took him 3 years to publish a book. He says, “During the many years that I spent in a closet writing and taking time away from my business, I could have been publishing daily blog posts that would have given me immediate results.”
He admits that he could have made better decisions, such as publishing blog posts and then turning it into an e-book, if he had immediately sought out someone who had more experience with publishing and blogging.
9. Failing should make you feel like a winner.
Motivational speaker Denis Waitley said it best: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end.”
If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you must be strong enough to withstand setbacks that come your way despite your best-laid plans.
Don’t take it personally. Wantapreneurs give up at the first sign of failure. True entrepreneurs have the ability tenacity to turn something negative into a learning experience that will fuel their drive to eventually succeed.