How failure can make you a better entrepreneur

Adopt a ‘try, try again’ philsophy

3-minute read

Every entrepreneur feels it at some point: The fear of failure. Only half of new businesses make it to their fifth birthday, and that can cause entrepreneurs a lot of stress. However, experts say failure can actually lead to major accomplishments.

In fact, failure has been a key ingredient in some of the business world’s great success stories, says Michel Bergeron, BDC’s Chief Strategy Officer.

“Canadian entrepreneurs and the public at large need to be more forgiving about failure, Bergeron says. “Failure—and learning from mistakes—is often an important milestone on the path to success. We have to change our perception about failure in order to help business owners stay in the game.”

Bergeron shares these thoughts about the role of failure in business success.

Learn, adapt and succeed

No business is too big or too small to confront roadblocks. Bergeron cites the example of Groupon, the giant deals website.

The company got its start as a social media site called The Point, which was created to help people connect for social activism purposes. After a year of effort and US$1 million in operating costs, the start-up was going nowhere.

“The founders shifted gears and turned their offering into the discount coupon service Groupon. They learned, adapted and made a fortune,” Bergeron says. Two years later, the shift in focus proved profitable. Groupon ballooned from a few dozen employees to 10,000 and was the fastest company in history to make US$1 billion in revenue.

Adopt a “try, try again” philosophy

Bergeron advises entrepreneurs to adopt a “try, try again” philosophy.

Learning from mistakes and showing resiliency is a business approach that’s growing in popularity in today’s rapidly changing economy, he says.

Instead of the old model, which emphasized extensive planning before launching a new venture—by which time technology and markets may change substantially—the new approach favours a lean and nimble approach.

The idea is to engage customers early with a basic product, even if you haven’t worked out all the bugs. Learn quickly from customer feedback and missteps. And then constantly refine your efforts. The final secret ingredient? Don’t give up.

A new take on failure

How do entrepreneurs turn failure into success? “They have a knack for seeing failure as an opportunity or challenge,” says BDC’s Michel Bergeron.

“When solution ‘A’ didn’t work, they tried solution ‘B’ if they were still convinced there was a need. Or they decided to meet a different need and, in the process, found a new path. The setback helped them identify a weakness, and they fixed it.”