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Why Failure is an Essential Part of the Life of a Startup

Start-up companies have a long and storied history that is almost as long as the country itself. Start-ups as an idea date all the way back to the Great Depression – with the humble beginnings of now major companies like Ocean Spray Cranberries and Yellow Book USA beginning around this time.

They can come in literally all shapes and sizes, in all industries and in all markets. But regardless of the specific type of business you’re talking about, at the heart of it all is an entrepreneur who started out one day with little more than a will and a dream.

The one thing all those entrepreneurs have in common isn’t only the quest for the Minimum Viable Product, but the long path of failure they’ve left in their wake.

Start-Ups Fail. A Lot.

One thing is absolutely certain: start-ups fail almost constantly. One study took a look at all of the start-ups that launched in the year 2000 and followed them for the following ten years. Of that total, roughly 21% failed within the first year of doing business. At five years – traditionally seen as something of a “danger zone” for many – only 48% of that original total remained.

Failure is a fact of life for start-ups. One study found that 21% of start ups fail in the first year. Click To Tweet

In 2010, just 33% of the businesses that were being tracked as a part of the study were still operational. All others had closed up shop.

But as an entrepreneur, whether or not your start-up can keep its doors open is often the least of your worries as far as failure is concerned. Economic uncertainty, the rising costs of health insurance benefits, new regulations, shifting marketplaces and others are all major challenges that you will face running a business on an ongoing basis.

All of these things can lead to failure – albeit not necessarily permanently – and all of these things are not going away.

But none of this information is intended to dissuade you from working on your own start-up, either by beginning a new venture or continuing on with your existing one. Far from it. As scary as it sounds, this is all meant to be encouraging.

The Path to Success is Paved With the Lessons of Failure

The most important thing to understand about failure is that while the event itself may seem harrowing and frustrating, the period immediately after is essential to your survival. Failure is about learning and learning, adapting and evolving based on these lessons is something that you will do every day as you guide your start-up over time.

Many people believe that learning from failure is as simple as looking at the facts, reflecting on what you did wrong and taking steps to avoid a similar mistake in the future. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Failure is an opportunity to go beyond the “blame game” and to deeply analyze not just the path you have set out for yourself, but the road you’re going to take to get there. It’s a perfect opportunity to get rid of old cultural beliefs and superficial notions of what “success” means and question EVERYTHING.

To that end, innovation is always born out of failure. There’s a reason why “trial and error” is such a widely used term – based on a system of consistently reported failures and the analysis of them, what you’re really doing is experimenting. You’re searching for new opportunities and answers to unknowable questions. It isn’t necessarily that you’re doing the “wrong thing.”

It’s that you’re testing yourself – and your team, and your start-up, and your market – for as long as it takes until the right action for the situation you’re in presents itself.

People Love Failure, Because People Love Underdogs

There is also another reason why failure is such an essential part of the life of a start-up that has little to do with the “teachable moments” it represents: people love it. Failure is dramatic. Failure is compelling.

Therefore, failure becomes an equally important part of the story of your brand – the story that you’re trying to bring to the widest possible audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about your pitch decks, your Infographics or that terrific new Presentation created with online tools such as Visme you just published to your website – failure is gripping in a way you can’t afford to ignore.

People love stories where others overcome adversity and documenting the failures that allowed you to arrive at your current status is the perfect way to provide not just an intimate look into your start-up, but a chronicling of the trials and tribulations you faced along the way.

Your start-up has a goal and for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it’s a noble one. Instead of using a tool like Prezi, Visme or other Powerpoint alternatives to create an Infographic about how great your product or service is on a cosmetic level, use these types of resources to dive deeper.

Don’t present the narrative of “look at how cool this thing we did is.” Frame it from a different angle: “look at how hard our goal was to achieve and despite all of this, we went ahead and did it anyway because it’s important.

It may have taken longer than we wanted and it may have cost more money or been harder and we were plagued with setbacks, but we did it – and we did it for you.”

One of those approaches is fairly straightforward. The other is powerful and difficult to ignore. Innovative thinkers know how to both learn from the lessons that failure represents and use them to present a fantastic narrative about their business at the same time.

The Road Forward

If you asked all successful entrepreneurs if they could go back in time and avoid the unbearable path of failure they had to face to get where they are today, most of them would say “no” – the smart ones would, at least.

This is because they understand that failure is critical. It represents the trials and tribulations that all contribute to taking the entrepreneur you are today and turning you into the wild success you’ll be tomorrow.

About the Author:

Payman Taei is the founder of Visme, an easy-to-use online tool to create engaging presentations, infographics, and other forms of visual content. He is also the founder of HindSite Interactive, an award winning Digital agency specializing in website design, user experience and web app development.