If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Me with Sauda — in Uganda in 2009 when I was running AGYA, my “failed” start-up.

dust yourself off and try again. If you recognize this lyric, then like me — you grew up in the 90s and shared an affinity for Aaliyah’s music. Her song “Try Again” was one of my faves. Me, my sister Kamara and my cousin Courtney would spend our weekends choreographing dances to this song. As I reflect on my career thus far, especially my entrepreneurial experience, I have had to try again…a lot. In the picture above, I was fully immersed in my work with the Amagezi Gemaanyi Youth Association in Kampala, Uganda. AGYA was a start-up non-profit that I co-founded with my (now) ex-husband. I was 21 when we launched AGYA. Despite many successes and significant social impact, AGYA was not financially sustainable after three years of operations. Although it was painful to close the organization and refer youth we worked with to orgs that were better-funded, it needed to be done.

As human beings, we are extremely self-centered and self-conscious. Anyone who has spent more than three days caring for a child under age three can attest to the fact that infants and toddlers are all about “me, me, me.” I am sure there must be some science that also backs this up. In light of this, it seems natural to highlight success and minimize or downplay our failures. But, in this post, I want to talk about failure.

MBA Mama has experienced some level of success in the 4 months since we launched. However, Nicole and I have constantly had to test and iterate to get to this point. We will have to continue this process as we move forward to build the brand. You may recall a few months ago that we launched “Ask An MBA Mama” — this was an idea that would bring the MBA Mamas of the Month and the pre-MBA women who make up the majority of our subscriber list together for an interactive Q & A about life as an MBA Mama.

Our first “Ask An MBA Mama” session — in June 2015 — was a disaster. Even though we ran tests in the days before the session, we could not figure out how to make the technology work properly on the day of the session so we had an awkward start. We had three panelists — Jane Bernard from University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business EMBA Program, Monique Benoit from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business MBA Program, and Erin Nilon from University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business. We awkwardly waited to see if anyone would log on and join the session. Several women had registered, but no one logged on. Not one person! We had worked really hard to coordinate a time that would work for our three panelists — all of whom are incredibly busy women. I felt like a huge failure and I was embarrassed. After apologizing to the three MBA Mama panelists, Nicole and I de-briefed and discussed what did and did not work. We committed to try again in July.

On July 16, 2015, Nicole and I attempted “Ask An MBA Mama” again. Our panelist was Danika Fry of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. The session was hosted on WebEx, a much better platform, but we only had 2 of the 12 people who registered log-in to the webinar. Despite low turnout, we pushed on and Danika shared some amazing insights. Even though Danika rocked it, we were disappointed that only 2 people logged on. We had spent a lot of time planning and coordinating and only 2 people participated. It felt like something was not adding up.

At that point, Nicole and I decided to press pause on “Ask An MBA Mama” so we could go back to the drawing board. We did not host an August session. We will likely not host another session until we can figure out a technological solution and logistics that will produce optimal results for future webinars.

This brings me to my main point and the philosophy we’ve adopted at MBA Mama: fail early, fail often. This is a mantra that many entrepreneurs ascribe to; however, it is very rare for start-ups to celebrate their failure, revel in it and talk openly and honestly about key learnings. At MBA Mama, we plan to do this in a way that is transparent, transformational and incorporates data analytics. In an introductory management class I recently took at Wharton, I learned about the concept of “intelligent failure” and it accurately described what we’re doing as we monetize and build the culture and brand of MBA Mama.

What we’re doing at MBA Mama in the most open, transparent way possible. | Image via failforward.org

If you support our vision, we invite you to take this survey that will help us strategize for a re-launch of “Ask An MBA Mama.” Click here to access the survey. We will publish our findings from the survey in the coming weeks as we re-calibrate and announce the new and improved “Ask An MBA Mama” re-launch. #intelligentfailure

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