Why is Failure a Taboo in the Start-up Community? – Founders Friday
On Friday, 30th November, the Leeds city-centre was brought an incredibly miserable downpour of rain to usher in the festive season.
Inside the University of Law building, however, it was bright sunshine. As beers circulated at the final Founder’s Friday event of 2018, four incredible panellists prepared to share their comforting words to budding business-owners and start-up founders. Moderated by Emma Cheshire, Co-Founder of Leeds Futurelabs, the line-up was stellar:
- Georgia Halston, our founder
- Robyn Vinter, Founder of The Overtake
- Hannah Hosanee, Director of Consume Communications Ltd
- Jack Chamberlain, iOS/Android Engineer at Booking.com
The topic posed to the panellists was simple: how do you deal with failure?
Use Failure to Your Advantage
Initial conversation explored the panellists’ own personal philosophies in dealing with failure.
As a business owner, even the smallest setbacks can leave you with a sour taste, says Robyn Vinter, founder of The Overtake. But, by twisting her perception of failure a little, she began to see more of her efforts blossom. Rather than fearing failure and rejection, Robyn advised the audience to “get rejected from one thing every day”. The pay-offs for The Overtake, and for Robyn, were immediate.
Robyn’s advice wasn’t unlike that of her fellow panellist, Hannah Hosanee. Hannah, who runs a marketing agency that had previously seen darker days, says start-up owners can’t live in failure. “You’ve got to try to see it as part of a process,” she says – the statement rings true as she explains she had to witness the failure of her start-up to learn how to run things successfully.
Jack Chamberlain, previously of the now-unavailable app Zubble, and our founder Georgia Halston, reiterate similar optimistic outlooks. Despite receiving low grades in his A-levels, Jack has enjoyed a rich career in the tech industry.
“Every failure is an opportunity to learn and become an expert,” Georgia succinctly summed up.
An important part of owning a start-up company is having the ability to instil optimism, regarding failure, in your staff, the panellists agreed. As guidance, Robyn shared her loose attitude to staff mistakes.
“Obviously, I won’t let my team risk libel for the sake of learning a lesson, but you can’t tell how successfully a person can perform a task until they perform it. It’s good for people to make a few mistakes.”
Georgia takes a similar approach at Halston Marketing. Although it’s sink or swim in marketing, says Georgia, it’s just as important to leave room for improvement. “My team are great. They know how tough it can be. If they sink, I’ll be there to save them, but often, they come up with brilliant alternatives independently of my guidance.”
Alternatively, there are more structured solutions to handling failure within your team. At Bookings.com, Jack and his teammates share frequent “Retro” sessions. Short for retrospective, the meetings allow an insightful look into recent successes or setbacks – though it operates on a strict no-failure system. “If you start to blame people, they’ll stop trying out new ways of working.”
Failure Can Be a Sensible Decision
More pertinent to the issue as a whole is the philosophy of failure. Much like doing bad versus good, Emma says, there’s always a negativity attached to failing as opposed to succeeding. Jack perfectly summed his experience with start-up failure and how it helped to shape his personal beliefs:
“For one reason or another, building a start-up is really hard. At Zubble, we had set targets. The most important metric was the daily users, but we started to see them dwindle,” Jack says. “When we weren’t getting them in, we decided we didn’t want to continue to flog a dead horse. It’s important to know when things aren’t working in a start-up.”
Summed up: start-up failure doesn’t signify personal failure. Although Jack was irrationally afraid that people would “see [him] as a failure”, the truth was he had made a courageous business decision that not a lot of people would have dared to do to begin with.
“Shutting down a start-up before it burns out is sensible decision making,” says Hannah. “That makes your personal experience a success.”
As the event came to an end and it became clear that the panellists wanted to redefine failure, Emma asked her guests to dish their best top-tip for business-owners.
- Robyn insisted business-owners should get to the root of a problem before feeling it as a personal failure.
- Hannah didn’t want business-owners to feel alone – “ask for help and build a supportive community around you.”
- Georgia reminded the audience to take every mistake as an opportunity to become an expert.
- And, to end the session on an optimistic note, Jack repositioned focus onto the great things we accomplish when working in a start-up: “Make sure you see your successes, as well.”