Posted on 08/24/2022
The newsletter of August will always be about entrepreneurship because that is when I opened up my own law practice three years ago in August 2013.
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx (a women’s apparel company) said, “Growing up, my father used to ask my brother and me what at the dinner table what we had failed at that week.”
Before she became the billionaire founder of shapewear company Spanx, Sara Blakely failed a lot. She always wanted to be a lawyer and failed the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). Spanx would not have existed if she did not fail the LSAT. All that training proved useful when she cut the feet off her pantyhose one day and realized she had a viable product: a slimming, seamless undergarment that no one would know you were wearing.
“One of my greatest weaknesses is also one of my greatest strengths: being underestimated,” she said.
The most successful people will tell you that at some point in their careers, they thought they were going to fail. Not because they didn’t have enough confidence in themselves, but because they had risked everything. The difference between these successful people and those we never hear about again is that the former kept going.
“I’ve looked failure in the eye, and just kept right on going,” says Cindy Gallop, founder of Make Love Not Porn. As Ben Horowitz says in his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building A Business When There Are No Easy Answers, “Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, ‘I didn’t quit.’”
For many entrepreneurs, the fear of failure is rooted in a fear of being perceived as a quitter. The truth is that if you have poured your energy selflessly into an endeavor, only to walk away after extinguishing all options available to you, you will have earned infinitely more respect than those who have never tried.
Everyone seems to want fewer entrepreneurial failures. A recent Fast Company article asks, “What if we could cut the 90% failure rate in half?”
This view that failure is bad is missing the point. A high failure rate means that entrepreneurs are willing to pursue their dreams. Starting a business means that people feel optimistic about themselves, their market and their country to invest their time and money, and maybe create jobs and wealth. Very few people start a business in the middle of a war zone. We want more people to start a business because it reflects optimism about the future. Let’s celebrate this—and the failure that accompanies a high entry rate.
What they—and all of us—need to realize is that having a track record of trying, failing, learning, and then succeeding is part and parcel of being an entrepreneur. It’s estimated that between half and 90% of startups fail in less than five years. Typically, we celebrate success and frown deeply on failure, dividing the world into winners and losers but that is NOT the way successful people see things.
Bob Caspe, who started three high tech companies and is the founder of the International Entrepreneurship Center in Newton, says from his perspective, failure—and, for that matter, success—are just moments in time or highs and lows on a continuum.
In the 1920s, the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company was over 60 years. Today, it’s 15, as the fates and fortunes of entrepreneurial companies and founders ebb and flow at an accelerated pace.
Even the best-laid business plans, smartest technologies, and savviest investors frequently get it wrong. Until a few years ago, failure was a forbidden topic among entrepreneurs. “I think companies fail, people don’t,” says Scott Bailey, who advises entrepreneurs not to take failure personally, but do take it to heart.
Confidential mid-figure settlement for an employment case in federal court. Wrongful termination. My client was terminated when on a brief medical leave. The client came to me after the one-year FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act) statute, so there were no attorney fees or FEHA causes of action.
“So, so many people don’t take risks for fear of failure. They don’t start the business, they don’t go create the art they want to create, or they don’t go try out to be in the play or whatever it is, for the fear of failure. Once you redefine that for yourself and realize the failure is just not trying, then life opens up to you in many ways.” ~ Sara Blakely CEO and founder of Spanx