In startup culture, immature ecosystems view failure as a grossly negative thing. It’s not that you’re intentionally shunned, it’s just that no one knows what to do with you.
“Hi. What do you do?”
You start into your 2 sentence pitch about your startup only to realize it doesn’t exist anymore…
“Uhhhh…well…I’m sorta in between gigs right now…”
“Oh, so...what DID you do?”
Might as well just get this out in the open then…
“I had a startup, pie in the sky, then it flopped, failed, busted, went belly up, we screwed the pooch, flip-flapped, and…yeah…”
The world views failure wrong and so do most new entrepreneurs. We did.
The interesting thing is some of the best successes come from failure. Life after death kind of stuff. Not dying and then having an afterlife, but rather, death (or in this case failure) causing fresh ground that is fertile for new ideas to succeed.
Here are a few examples:
1. When a forest fire rages through the forests in the mountains, there are pine cones that need hot, fast moving fires to open and release their seeds. Without the scorching of the woods, new life (new ideas) aren’t released.
Also the fire causes the soil to be fertilized and enriched with minerals. Perfect planting soil for the opened pine cones.
But I’m no ecologist. (fact check)
Japanese Water Beetle
2. There are these nasty insects called Japanese water beetles. The exterminator told me that if you crush the beetle, it lays its eggs and re-hatches a thousand more. Cursed beetles.
But imagine, your startup fails—then BAM!—a thousand other startup ideas ready to take flight.
(I know you’re wondering, so I’ll tell you the only way to get rid of these critters for good is to gently smash them, then scoop them into a glass jar and freeze them. I started doing this and my wife freaked out because I had half-a-jar filled with dead roach-beetles in our freezer. I hear these types of things are a delicacy in Central Africa, so I’ll be bringing a few on my next trek North.)
3. The seasons. Think about the purple jacaranda trees in southern Africa or the beautiful autumn leaves in North America. As soon as the leaves disappear, the new blossoms almost seem to reappear.
4. The earthworm. You can chop the thing in half and it’ll regrow into two worms! Nasty but so amazing.
The Tail-less Lizard
5. The lizard whose tail falls off when you try to catch it. Then it regrows over time.
(Another crazy side story here, once I ran over a squirrel in the car. I was distraught, then I saw this little ground-hog running away from the car. When I ran over the squirrel, my car ran over his tail, but he kept running. So, his tail was gone forever, but he lived in a tree right by our house. We always got a chuckle out of the tail-less squirrel. Sometimes we need to keep running, leave some of the old baggage behind, and become a new person—move on down that road, Mr. Squirrel! I gave his tail to my dog.)
A mature startup ecosystem looks to get those who have “failed” back into the flow and culture.
- Hopping onto a new project that someone’s working on
- An interim project that the “failed entrepreneur” can get on board with
- A new team that’s raised financing and needs an experienced ‘trep who’s been down that road before
- Even coming to scheduled meet ups and educational events like 1 Million Cups or Startup Pitch Nights can get guys plugged back in
It’s important to get entrepreneurs whose companies failed back in the game and contributing their skills/gifts/talents to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in their community.
Next time someone asks what you do and you just failed, proudly proclaim it, then tell them one of the 5 examples of nature above. I bet it’ll make them view you and your startup "fail-cess" a little bit different.
New word of the day
Fail-cess: the art of conducting a startup that eventually failed. The fact that you did a startup is success in and of itself. So you didn’t really lose out, you just almost won.
(photo via justas c)