I recently had a fascinating conversation with someone who started up a business. It was an exciting new venture stacked with a lot of ideas.
The proprietor is well-educated and has a sharp mind when it comes to data analytics, and they had been ‘dying to start a business’ as soon as the opportunity arose. There was only one problem: the business bombed before it got off the ground.
Around 98 per cent of businesses in Malaysia are SMEs, which shows that there’s surely space for start-ups in a developing nation that not only makes it relatively easy to set up, but also offers a lot of support to help businesses to thrive.
It’s estimated that around 30 per cent of new businesses fail within the first two years; 50 per cent during the first five years; and 66 per cent within 10 years. There are a number of reasons why start-ups fail, including:
- Lack of necessary skills or business nous within the founding team
- Little or no understanding of the market of operation
- Weak leadership and/or poorly-driven team
- Poor promotional, digital, and marketing strategies
- No idea of what customers want or need
What was interesting about my conversation with this ‘failed’ start-up owner is that, while there was obvious disappointment, they also showed incredible awareness about the lessons they had learned from ‘diving in, too quick too soon’.
“Starting a business had always been a dream of mine, and I saw so many people deliberate and procrastinate and analyse to the point of inaction. There was a lot I had to learn about business, but I figured that I’d jump in and try my best to figure out what I didn’t know as I went along. From the start, I knew it could turn out to be a disaster, but it was a risk worth taking, as I knew I’d learn a lot from the experience either way.”
Starting a business might be easy, but getting it up and running is challenging. As I listened to this story – and compared it to similar others I’d heard in the past – there were some moments where it would’ve been easy to focus on the rashness of ‘diving in’ or fixate on the obvious missteps.
Read: The Harsh Truth About Being an Entrepreneur and Why Everyone Won’t Become One
Instead, I found myself captivated by the willingness to be open to and learn from failure. At some point in our lives, many of us have taken risks and decided that a leap of faith was needed to get things moving. Sometimes, it works out and that’s awesome. Other times, we fall flat on our face. But, if we pay attention and reflect on our experience, there are plenty of valuable lessons to be gained from failure.
By listening to stories over the years from people who found resilience in the aftermath of their initial disappointment, here are a few insights I’ve gleaned from the wise teachings of failure:
1. We learn more about ourselves through failure than success
Failing hurts. Not only do our efforts seem to have been wasted, but there are always plenty of critics (from the safety of the sidelines) telling you how you should’ve done things differently. Failure shines a bright light on what went wrong, and how we can turn things around in future.
Maybe some people do get stuck in their analysis; perhaps they are indecisive. Does that mean the solution is to rush things on the strength of an idea? Probably not. No doubt, it’ll be a long time before you forget the consequences of diving in too soon.
2. Failure helps you to cultivate compassion
As the saying goes, if you’ve never failed at anything in life, you haven’t tried hard enough. Anyone with an existing business has failed at something before, or make a rash decision that led to failure. It’s part of the process, and one that helps you appreciate the situation others find themselves in whenever they encounter a setback.
Knowing what it’s like to fail, you’ll (hopefully) be understanding towards others when they come to tell you how they’ve messed up. No-one gets it right all the time, and the only time you should look down on someone is when you’re offering a hand to help them back up.
3. You let go of the ideal and start to enjoy the process
Having an idea for a new business is exciting. In your mind, you visualise the business taking off, everyone loving what you have to offer, and your bottom line flourishing. In failure, the bottom line you get is: life doesn’t work the way you want it.
Starting a business is worthwhile and definitely fulfilling; on the other hand, it’s not easy – it takes time to get it right. When you let go of the ideal of overnight success, you realise that it’s the cyclical process of learning and building that leads you to success in time.
4. Your ego diminishes
Granted, this requires a degree of self-awareness, but, assuming it’s there, failure will make you realise the foolishness of believing you had everything figured out. If business was as easy as your initial excitement led you to believe, everyone would be a successful entrepreneur.
Instead, failure introduces a stark reality, which is that we all have a lot to learn when we’re starting out. There are no magic formulas or short-cuts to succeeding. It takes time, commitment, effort, and a willingness to be open to the first and most important lesson: how to learn from failure.
This might interest you: The 4-step Guide to Starting a Successful Business