What failure is and isn’t


“Fail fast and fail often” right? “If you’re not failing you’re not learning”? How many of us have heard of quotes like this? While reading the story of Pixar Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (Co-founder of the company). I realise i’ve never actually understood “Failure”. I believe my thinking was along “Its ok if things fail, but I would just be so much happier if that doesn’t happen to me.” The fact of the matter is, deep down, I was thinking more like “Fuck no, don’t you dare fail! You are screwed if you do”, The whole thing where failure is somehow a badge of honour for startup folks is (IMO) absolute bullshit!

When we talk about failure, we tend to distance ourselves from it, we think of it as a potential outcome for other people and forget what failure actually means, its a badge that say you’re fucked! Now failing in big companies might be something entirely different all together, since I’ve never worked in that environment, I won’t be talking about that. What I’m talking about is what failure means to an individual on their own path to create something for themselves in the startup world.

“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” — Gena Showalter

My personal experience

If the above is true, what would you call it when you have no money left? when buying lunch becomes a problem? (I once had porridge for breakfast and lunch because i had so little money — I was also hiding this fact from my family, thats why I wasn’t eating porridge for dinner also)

I once had porridge for breakfast and lunch because i had so little money

What would you call it when you realise what you can give to your family is so much less because of how much you have risked and lost?

How about when you realise your friends and family has actually forgotten about you because you have missed so many gatherings. There’s also the realisation how far they have already moved ahead of you. Time doesn’t stay still, and as you have wasted x years your life chasing after an illusion, all your peers have moved on far beyond you. catching up feels impossible.

One of the most painful part might be when you have to accept you have been defeated and admit you have been wrong all along. That those who walked the 9–5 jobs were right, you may have learnt a lot on your journey toward your dream in becoming an entrepreneur, you might have had a great time with your team but you will also reach a point when you realise that actually mean very little in your everyday struggle.

Aftermath

What comes after is your realisation in your failure might the questioning of your very own abilities. After all, when everyone is “killing it” why are you the only one to fail, is it bad luck or are you just too dumb? Having no choice due to financial difficulties, it is going to hurt when you have to file up word again and look at your CV, something you thought you would never have to update ever again.

The next challenge come when you realise you have been out of the corporate world for so long you are just not sure what role can you try to apply for in order to salvage a vaguely normal path. Maybe you should apply for a junior role? you’ll be allowed to learn, but the money would be awful. What about a senior one, does your experience in the startup world count? What if you no longer know the latest on your previously chosen career path? Now what?

Understanding the risk

Failure in any sense is no fun, if you failed in your first startup, how likely are you family willing to let you take a second risk? What about investors? If your startup got funded and then failed? Good luck trying to get money from any investor, as VC Mark Suster once said “the Fail Fast mantra needed to die fast, because it was wrong, irresponsible, unethical & heartless. [sic] Tell that to the person who wrote you $50,000 of their hard earned money and entrusted you to try your best. Fail fast? How does your brother-in-law feel about that?” This also applies to incubator and accelerator programs, success means others would be a lot more open to allowing you to try more with their time and money. The opposite is also true.

Some say we should move full speed ahead even if we’re scared, and I actually agree with that! I just want to warn others to understand what potential failure could mean. Startups are a risk, one I personally feel every man should take at some stage. However, you need to understand the risk.

My biggest failure in life (so far):

  • Crashing my darling Ford Fiesta (Car) a week before my 21st Birthday
  • Missing a 1st class honors in BSc Multimedia Technology and Design at Kent University by 0.2–0.5%. (I literally cried when I saw my results)
  • Never winning any sports competition. Competed 3 times in different sports yet no trophies :(
  • Started a company with a friend and wasted a lot of time and money (Learnt a lot, but it’s still failure)

Why I’m writing about failures and fears?

TechCrunch, Inc, Fast Company and the likes are constantly talking about zero to hero startup stories. The failure stories are rarely talked about (maybe its because no one wants to hear about them). So this is my attempt at talking a tiny bit more on the other side

Further Readings


I first wrote this blog post more than 9 months ago
but never had the guts to share it