Success and Failure in Startups

Some time ago, I was asked in an interview with SG Entrepreneurs:

What do you see as the three most important attributes for an entrepreneur?

My answer was:

First, I think an entrepreneur needs to dare to try. It takes a bit of a leap to go out and try to do something different, and you’ll never know if it’ll work out until you give it a go. So trying is the first step, and as easy as that sounds, it can sometimes be a huge psychological hurdle.

Second, and most people will say this too, is a healthy dose of self-belief and perseverance. A lot of people are going to tell you “no,” “don’t do it,” and “it’ll never work.” You’ll also go through rounds and rounds of disappointment as things don’t work out the way you hope. You’ll need to believe in yourself (and your team) a whole lot to get over them.

Finally, I think an entrepreneur needs to not be afraid of failure, because the odds are almost always stacked against you. But so what if you fail? Just pick yourself up, learn from it, and start over. I think one thing we’ve learnt is that it’s not that hard to start, and it’s not that painful to fail. It’s executing well that’s the difficult part, and that’s what you need to focus on the most.

I think not being afraid of failure is still incredibly important, and it’s what allows us to embark on a venture in the first place. But Jason Fried of 37signals presents a very interesting and relevant perspective to this idea:

What? Failure is part of the path to success? This industry’s obsession with failure has got to stop. I don’t know when it became cool or useful, but the industry has been steeping in it for so long that it’s become normal to assume failure comes before success.

Don’t be influenced by this. If you’re starting something new go into it believing it’s going to work. You don’t have to assume you’re doomed from the start. You shouldn’t believe your first idea won’t be your best one. And you definitely shouldn’t treat your first venture as a stepping stone towards something else. What you do now, what you do first, can be the thing you do well for as long as you want to.

Yes, starting a business is hard. And you certainly could fail. I’m not suggesting failure isn’t an option. I’m only suggesting that it shouldn’t be the assumed or default outcome. It doesn’t need to be. Have confidence in your ideas, in your vision, and in your business. Assume success, not failure.


Clearly, starting out thinking that you’re going to fail and that it’ll be a badge of honour to wear isn’t going to be very good for your startup. If you don’t believe in your startup, who else will? So how do we reconcile these perspectives?

Here’s my answer – I think not being afraid of failure is very different from assuming that you’re going to fail and treating it lightly. Before you start, it’s important to not be afraid of the possibility of failure, in order to get started at all. But once you start, a healthy dose of the fear of death is one of the things that will keep you doing everything necessary and possible to keep your startup from failing. Ultimately, that’s what we’re all aiming for – to not fail, that is, to succeed.

Which brings us to our other little recent insight:

Starting up is easy, knowing whether and when to quit is very hard.

One response to “Success and Failure in Startups

  1. i agree.and our teacher said that

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