While the adage ‘Nothing succeeds like success’ is reflective of the world around us, entrepreneurs are a breed of people who also dare to fail. Often, startup founders burn their fingers when their entrepreneurial journey starts with trial by fire. Even industry icons are not immune to setbacks and challenges.
Take, for instance, the supremely successful American investor Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. While the 89-year-old billionaire is regarded as one of the most successful and wealthy businessmen in the world, he is no stranger to failure. Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway was recently outbid by private equity firm Apollo Global Management that acquired technology distributor Tech Data Corp. for around $6 billion. Buffet’s failed buyout of Tech Data Corp. came under media scrutiny as it exposed the challenges the famed investor faces, including stiff competition from private equity firms. Despite the setback, Buffet has openly expressed that he is on the lookout for “an elephant-sized acquisition” to put his cash to work. The Oracle of Omaha, as he is known, has these words of wisdom to share: “You’re going to make mistakes in life, there’s no question about it … So there’s no way I’m going to make a lot of business and investment decisions without making some mistakes. I may try to minimise them. I don’t dwell on them at all. I don’t look back….”
Entrepreneurs big and small would do well if they were to follow and adopt Warren’s optimistic outlook to life and business. In this post, we look at why it’s all right for entrepreneurs to fail.
Failure offers a moment of epiphany
Reportedly, Oyo Rooms founder Ritesh Agarwal encountered several roadblocks en route to founding his budget hotel chain startup that checked into India Inc’s elite Unicorn Club in 2018. Agarwal’s maiden startup venture Oravel Stays didn’t hit the mark as it failed to understand the market and customer expectations. However, far from being deterred, the entrepreneur reveals that the experience helped him understand the value of building a good team that customers trust. Crucially, he also cracked the code for building a more sustainable business model.
Agarwal’s experience illustrates the fact that failure need not be fatal. He bounced back with a unique business model that has made Oyo one of the most important startup success stories today. Entrepreneurs, please note, starting a business can be frustrating and unpredictable. Not everyone has beginner’s luck and hits the jackpot early on. Sometimes, a fall can do wonders for entrepreneurs and set them on a new and inspired journey that is fulfilling in every respect.
With spectacular failure comes resilience and awareness
Who would have thought that a humble English teacher from Hangzhou in China would become a tech tycoon, currently worth around $43 billion? Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s stellar accomplishments didn’t happen overnight. From repeatedly failing in exams in school to getting rejected by Harvard ten times, to getting rejected for 30 different jobs, the entrepreneur had seen failure at close quarters. And through it all, he persisted and became aware of his strengths. Even after Alibaba hit a dark patch that almost made it bankrupt, Jack Ma didn’t give up. According to him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.” This philosophy enabled him to build one of the most valuable tech companies in the world.
Budding entrepreneurs should take a leaf out of Jack Ma’s book and show resilience when faced with adversity. If you’re resilient and mentally prepared for challenges, you can organically achieve professional growth and success. The lows will help you introspect and work hard on your weaknesses while your strengths will take you higher.
Be prepared to reinvent when you fail
Sometimes, entrepreneurs are pushed to reinvent themselves when faced with setbacks and challenges.
Tata Group Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata understands the power of reinvention. When he took over as chairman of the Tata Group in 1991, the intrepid business magnate grappled with the challenges of reinventing the iconic Tata brand to suit the requirements of a newly liberalised economy. He made the organisation leaner and more ‘global’ to adapt to an evolving business ecosystem. In the coming years, too, Tata embraced India’s booming startup culture by backing several startups both as an investor and mentor. Presently, in addition to championing startups, the business magnate is more focused on philanthropic deeds and in giving back to society through Tata Trust. As he says, “At 82, I’m still learning, so when you ask me to give advice, I feel like the ‘right advice’ changes over a period of time — but the one thing that remains unchanged is the desire to do the right thing.”
Aspiring entrepreneurs should always be open to learning new things and re-strategise their next move after a setback. The key is to understand that failure could even work to your advantage and be the stepping stone to new opportunities.
Failure is not the end. It’s the beginning of success.
The above philosophy can be best illustrated through the examples of two noted women entrepreneurs.
Anisha Singh, founder and ex-CEO, MyDala, recalls a time when her then-nascent startup was on the verge of folding up. Faced with this dire situation, Anisha took a bold step to switch her business model to a mobile-enabled one. The gamble paid off as the startup grew to become India’s largest local services marketing platform. According to Anisha, “What’s the worst that will happen? You’ll fail but that’s not all that bad, you just start over again.”
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon has also had to face her share of struggles as an entrepreneur. She has often shared the challenges she encountered while building her innovative business: from risk-averse investors and the conservative approach of people who resisted a woman at the helm of the organisation. Further, despite failing to make it to medical school and being denied jobs in the beer industry for her skills as a professional brewmaster, Kiran persevered and didn’t give up. She decided to turn the tide in her favour by becoming an entrepreneur and founded Biocon that grew to be a leading multinational biopharmaceutical company.
“Failures provide the experience that no amount of success can,” says Kiran. “I often say ‘failure is temporary’ but ‘giving up is permanent.’ When you fail, learn from it, instead of getting defeated and giving up permanently. Risk and failure are intrinsic to business and those that can manage these well usually succeed.”
Yes, you win some, you lose some. That’s the way the cookie crumbles in the fickle world of business and entrepreneurship. Startup founders who are attuned to this reality are the ones who will truly succeed in the long run. Like real estate mogul and Shark Tank star, Barbara Corcoran has admitted in an interview, she was able to taste success as it happened close on the heels of failure.
This is precisely why entrepreneurs should persevere and ‘fail’ their way to success.
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