Failure is a word that apparently means different things to different people. Most entrepreneurs have experienced failure at some point in their lives; it is the successful ones that have the resilience required to bounce back.
There are two amazing stories of resilience that come to my mind. The first is a story of Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora Radio in California. Pandora was started with an initial cash injection of $2 million in 2000, but it went bankrupt in 2001.
Incredibly, the 50 employees at Pandora stayed with the radio station, after Westergren asked them to continue without a salary. For two years, Westergren met 347 prospective investors who did not support him.
A ray of light eventually shone on Westergren as he presented his business to the 348th potential investor who gave him $4 million. It was not the business model that caught the interest of the funder, but resilience and ability to convince people to commit to an idea without financial rewards. Today, Pandora is prosperous and listed on the New York Stock Exchange with a hefty market capitalization.
The next resilient entrepreneur is someone most would be familiar with: Walt Disney. He was fired by the Kansas City Star newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas”.
Disney formed his first animation company, Laugh-O-Gram Films, which did not succeed after an important distribution partner had to shut down.
He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. Actually, the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff. The movies and the theme park in the United States are now hugely popular and profitable.
Failure can be either humiliating or a catalyst to set you on a path of improvement. It is well known that Silicon Valley embraces failure. In what is probably the most innovative part of the world, it is thought that in order to succeed quickly, you need to double your failure rate.
It couldn’t be further than the attitudes you can encounter in Africa. On our continent, when you fail, it is as if you are cursed and business associates desert you. This is the reason many African entrepreneurs go back to being employees instead of trying again. If failure is not embraced by those around you, simply change your outlook. Only your view of failure can determine your approach to it.
Africa needs to embrace those who tried and failed. They need to be given a second, third and fourth chance until they get it right. If they know they won’t be punished for trying, Africa’s pool of successful entrepreneurs will start to overflow.
Nelson Mandela once said, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. We know that it can be done, because entrepreneurs have been bankrupt, only to return smarter and stronger.
There is one point, however, that is important to note. We need to be committed to building successful companies rather than being committed to an idea. Entrepreneurs can be blinded by their love of an idea, even if the market says otherwise.
If your goal is to succeed and change the world, you will move on to a business that works. It might mean that you have to change your business model, like American Express did when it switched from freight delivery to finance.
The failure of a company is not necessarily the failure of its founder, as they may succeed in something else. We need to stop confusing an experience with identity.
There is something about people who have repeatedly experienced failure. Once they get things right, their drive and vigilance make them remarkable. Steve Jobs, Arianna Huffington and Donald Trump are all examples of this.
An attitude of doing whatever it takes to be successful is crucial. Remember, barriers are only things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
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