Given the slight chances of success, it’s a marvel that entrepreneurs are still pursuing their dreams. It’s a good thing. You shouldn’t give up just because you have witnessed too many failures or have seen others fail too many times in the same industry or niche you intend to pursue.

There is no blue print for success. What may work for Zuckerberg may not necessarily be worthwhile for Reid Hoffman. If you are wondering who Reid is, he is the founder of LinkedIn. The fact that they are both in the same social network space does not necessarily mean they could win with the same business models.

If you’re scared of failing, you’re going to be miserable as an entrepreneur. Failure is practically a rite of passage for successful entrepreneurs. Valuable lessons can be learned through the experience; You’ve probably heard that some VCs won’t invest in an entrepreneur who doesn’t have one failed business under his or her belt.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. — Helen Keller

If you’re anxious about what might happen, think about the worst-case scenario. If your business or app falls flat on its face, how long will it take you to recover? How long will it take you to find a new job? Start a new business? In most cases, the worst case is not as bad as you may think.

Separate yourself from your projects. Your new business may have failed but you always have an option to try something new. You are not stuck. You have just found one or two ways that doesn’t work. Failing a few times can help, you get used to it.

Successful businesses that were not first time successes.

The concept of the first time success is very rare and somewhat of a myth. Most successful entrepreneurs have been trying for a very long time but you only get to hear of that one project that shot them to stardom. For all you know they have been trying out different project for a very long time and are probably used to failing and starting over. These are a few successful ones we know.

Twitter: This originated as Odeo, a podcasting company (and was still being worked on when I was renting a desk in their offices in Jan 2007). Ev decided Odeo wasn’t working and Twitter was born from a hackday at Odeo. Going further, Ev’s previous success with Blogger was born from another project he was working on, project management software, which didn’t work out but morphed into Blogger. Even prior to this I believe he’d started other companies/products that didn’t succeed on a Twitter-like scale.

PayPal: Max worked on a bunch of ideas pre-PayPal that didn’t work (he talks about this in Founders at Work). Even PayPal itself continually morphed, the original idea was beaming payments via palm pilots which didn’t take off.

Facebook: When Mark spoke at YC he talked about how he’d been hacking on projects for as long as he can remember. He had hacked up a Hot or Not type app at Harvard which was arguably the origins of Facebook but that was shut down.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing. — George Bernard Shaw

Harford’s three principles for failing productively (as originally share on 99u)

You have to cast a wide net, “practice failing” in a safe space, and be primed to let go of your idea if you’ve missed the mark.

Try new things.

“Expose yourself to lots of different ideas and try lots of different approaches, on the grounds that failure is common.”

Experiment where failure is survivable.

“Look for experimental approaches where there’s lots to learn – projects with small downsides but bigger upsides. Too often we take on projects where the cost of failure is prohibitive, and just hope for the best.”

Recognize when you haven’t succeeded.

“The third principle is the easiest to state and the hardest to stick to: know when you’ve failed.”

Failure is not the end of your entrepreneurial journey. It shouldn’t stop you from trying out something new. It makes you stronger and better prepared for new projects. Yes, failure is undesirable.  Yes, failing is never what we plan for when we pursue a goal.  However, more than likely, you will recover from failure.  Once you’ve recovered, you are better equipped to chase after more dreams, more secure in knowing that you’ve survived a failure.

Always remember: You will stumble, you may fail, but you are not your failure!


  1. Hi Thomas,

    Great blog, first time commenting. What makes this post resonate with me are the examples you gave. Too often I go to events or read an article on a site (like Entrepreneur) where all the content written/spoken acts and caters toward all entrepreneurs in one way, when in reality it is so flexible and different from case to case.

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