Failure. It’s a word everyone is terrified of, but for entrepreneurs and CEOs, the word probably ignites more anxiety and fear than usual. But it happens -- even to brightest, most successful entrepreneurs. And I can assure you that I’ve had plenty of my own failures.
Failure can drag you down or lift you up. Does failure stop you in your tracks and riddle you with doubt? Or does it cause you to examine yourself and apply those lessons to what’s next? It’s all about your approach to what happens next. For every person on the planet, failure can be one of the greatest lessons -- not just in business but life in general.
Here are some important lessons I’ve learned from failure and by heeding these, you may stop failure before it happens.
1. Failure forces you to think differently.
Without failure, we’d all keep doing the same thing over and over. What reason is there to change? But if you’re using the same approach for a problem that you’ve employed since the beginning, you’ll be keeping your focus on the same tools and tactics that have always worked without the need for radical change. However, your competitors will be problem solving in all sorts of different ways to eclipse you, because they’ve already encountered failure by being behind you in the market and feel the need to innovate. The unintended consequence of failure can be game-changing innovation.
2. Failing in one area may mean winning in another.
As entrepreneurs, we often spend our time obsessing about being “first” or having the biggest market share in a particular industry. But the truth is, from what I’ve seen both in the startup world and with big companies, failing to be the market leader in a chosen area can lead to great outcomes in other areas.
For example, think about early search engine wars. There was a time when Yahoo was poised to be the biggest company in the world, lead by their search engine. However, Google came along in 1998 and rose to prominence in 2000 with a streamlined interface and simple design. Yahoo’s momentum halted, and eventually they abandoned the search engine market to focus on content. Despite being one of the earliest and biggest search engines, they failed to a superior product. However, they pivoted and are now one of the biggest content providers in the world.
3. Product marketing is just as important as the product.
Unfortunately, history is filled with instances where the better product lost out in the big market wars. Betamax was technically stronger than VHS. The Microsoft Zune was considered better than the iPod in many ways, yet it never even dented Apple’s stranglehold on the market.
You can have the most robust specs, the sleekest design, the best connectivity and yet your product may not win. I’ve been in head-to-head competition with competitors, knowing full well our product was superior, but for whatever reason we lost. Failure of this type shows us that marketing in all of its ways is just as important as the actual product.
4. Unless you give them a reason to be, customers aren't forever loyal.
You’ve had your big breakthrough: reviews are great, funding is coming in and your customer base is building up. Now that you’ve got those customers, how will you keep them? Forgetting to maintain customer loyalty in between product milestones, launches and releases is one of the most common failures in business. However, in the digital business world, there are many avenues for you to learn from this lesson. Engagement is as important as innovation, and simple things like maintaining social-media accounts, creating infographics, posting helpful articles and other inbound marketing methods will help you maintain this connection and serve as a consultant and thought leader in your space.
5. What you don't do matters as much as what you do.
Overthinking is a common fault of many innovators -- and a common cause of failures. So is the “too many cooks” syndrome, and the result can be over-designing or integrating too many features or watering down the value of your product. Other times, this syndrome can slow down the process and mire it in development hell. The phrase “keep it simple, stupid” is something that just about every company wishes they could apply hindsight to for a failure at one point or another. Sometimes, abstaining from overthinking, overreacting and over-designing is the best path to maintain integrity and value.
One of my favorite mantras is "fire quick and hire slow" because as a startup you simply don’t have time or money to waste. And that goes for basically anything that seems like a failure at first glance. But don’t let your ego get in the way. Admit fault quickly and then move on!
In retrospect, it’s all of these small “failures” that often open the door to the next big thing.