Inspired by entrepreneurs who have tackled failure head on, with the strength to get back up and persevere, here are a few stories to keep you inspired.
1. Steve Jobs, Apple
“The lightness of being a beginner again freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
Do you remember Apple I, or the Apple Lisa? Likely, you won’t because these were just a few of the products Steve developed that had failed before it even made it to market; mistakes that costed Apple millions of dollars. It was business decisions like these that got Steve fired from the very company he helped found.
Fortunately, he made a comeback and brought Apple through a period of record growth and innovation that continues to this day. In hindsight, Steve said, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”
Why? Well, he goes on to say, “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” Next time you hit rock bottom, take a fresh perspective and pivot, you might be surprised by what the new angle has to offer.
2. Jeff Bezos, Amazon
“As the company grows, the size of the mistakes has to grow as well. Otherwise, you’re not going to be inventing at scale that can actually move the needle.”
Before Amazon became a household name, Jeff had several failed ideas. One of the most notable was an online auction site, which evolved into zShops, a brand that, well, ultimately failed. Persevering through it all, Jeff repurposed the idea into what would eventually become the Amazon Marketplace. “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures and none of those things are fun, but they also don’t matter.”
Jeff believes that “what really matters is that companies that don’t continue to experiment – companies that don’t embrace failure – they eventually get into a desperate position.” If there is one thing you want to do right, that is being able to master to art of failure. “As the company grows, the size of the mistakes has to grow as well.” Jeff said. So do it right and make sure you capture your learnings, otherwise, you’re not going to be inventing at scale that can actually move the needle.
3. Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn
“Even negative feedback can be a gift. Take it seriously but don’t let it define you. Define yourself.”
Under his leadership, LinkedIn has grown to $32 billion in value, and his management insight has been sought after by some of the most powerful executives across the globe. Despite having a reputation as one of the most successful CEOs in the world, Jeff has insight to share around failing. “The most valuable lessons I’ve learned is what not to do. Without those experiences, I would not have learned what I learned and bring that to my company. Silicon Valley is littered with failures.” Most importantly, never stop learning and never stop growing. “Even negative feedback can be a gift. Take it seriously but don’t let it define you. Define yourself.” The same goes for failure as well.
4. Apoorva Mehta, Instacart
“Solve a real problem that you actually care about.”
Before Instacart gained the attention of top angel investors in the Silicon Valley, Aproorva had started 20 companies that all eventually failed – from building an ad network for social gaming to developing a social network specifically for lawyers.
“After going through all these failures, I realized it wasn’t that I couldn’t find a product that worked; I just didn’t care about the product!” Taking about the time he attempted to build social network for lawyers Apoorva said, “When I went home, I wouldn’t think about it because I didn’t care about lawyers. I didn’t think of what lawyers did day to day.”
So what does Apoorva care about? Well, he loves to cook! But living in San Francisco without a car made getting groceries for the week a challenge for Apoorva. “Especially if your local grocer doesn’t carry the specific ingredients you need,” he added. In order to alleviate his frustrations, Apoorva developed Instacart. Valued at over $3 billion, Instacart is an online grocery shopping service that operates in 41 big markets across the U.S.; allowing customers to select groceries through a web application from various retailers for same-day delivery by a personal shopper.
The takeaway? Solve a real problem that you actually care about.
5. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook
“Encourage people to take risks, we have to embrace and learn from failure.”
In her book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, Sheryl talks about failure – both at a micro (personal failure) and macro (company culture) scale.
Sheryl believes that though constructive criticism at work can be touchy as we don’t want to appear weak or less than, the best way to grow is to learn to listen to feedback. “Not taking failures personally allows us to recover—and even to thrive,” she explains.
In addition, work needs to be done at a more macro level to reframe how we look at failure. “Encourage people to take risks, we have to embrace and learn from failure.” She is a champion of this approach and stresses that “teams that focus on learning from failure outperform those what don’t.” So be sure to create cultures where “failure is seen as a learning opportunity” and where it’s “safe to talk about mistakes.”
6. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
“You don’t have to fail to be a successful entrepreneur but you certainly will have to have a positive attitude to failure and not be afraid to fail.”
Having built a range of business across multiple sectors, including music, travel, beverages and health and fitness, Richard opens up about his take on failure. With a sense of humour on this matter he says, “Learn from failure. If you are an entrepreneur and your first venture wasn’t a success, welcome to the club!”
Failure is an inevitable part of life and how you deal with it will ultimately impact your success. Like everything else in life, one’s ability to cope and learn from failure takes time and will get better with practice. “We have had many great successes at Virgin, but we’ve also experienced a number of failures. Every time something hasn’t worked out, we picked ourselves up, looked at what went wrong, and learned from our mistakes.”
Though you don’t have to fail in order to be successful, Richard stresses, “you certainly will have to have a positive attitude to failure and not be afraid to fail.”
7. Vera Wang, Vera Wang
“Know when to walk away, and when to start something new.”
To Vera, the most important thing is to know that it’s okay to feel like a failure and that sometimes it’s better to walk away and start something new.
Looking back at her own life, she details her experience as a child ice-skating prodigy with dreams of joining the Olympic team. “As hard as I worked, I wasn’t able to achieve the level that I wanted. Realizing that I was in my late teens and I was never going to achieve the results to make the Olympic team, I quit,” she says.
Vera then went on to be a respected editor at Vogue, but came up against a similar obstacle: “After 17 years with the magazine, I realized that my career wasn’t going to go any further and I wasn’t in line to get the editor in chief job. At that point, I felt there had to be more. So instead of investing another 15 years in a career that meant something to me, I left.” It was a painful decision at the time, but without pulling the plug, I never would have gotten to where I am today.
As a happy and successful designer, leading her very own brand, she tells other aspiring entrepreneurs to not be afraid to fail. “Not trying is worse than failing. Have the courage to try. Otherwise, what are we here for?”
There are countless qualities that unite entrepreneurs, but perhaps one of the more powerful attributes is having irrational level of perseverance in the face of failure coupled with the ability to accept feedback and learn.
Hit rock bottom? How did you get back up? What is something someone said? A story you heard? I’d love to hear from you!