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WHY FAILURE ISN’T FATAL

by Alice Gallop

 

UK entrepreneurship is booming. Self-employment in Britain is at an all-time high, with 2016 set to be the third successive year in which a record number of businesses are launched.

Yet Britain lags behind many international competitors when it comes to entrepreneurial spirit. Amway, the online health and beauty goods supplier also produce a Global Entrepreneurship Report, showing Britain performing below the global average for ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. Of 44 countries in Amway’s survey, Britain comes in at number 24. That’s well behind the three top-ranked countries, India, China and Thailand, but also trailing behind many of our neighbours including Slovenia, Finland, Denmark and Ireland.

After the performances on “sensational Sunday”, GB ranking below average for almost anything seems pretty unbelievable.

Even more shocking, the overriding reason cited by Amway to explain the shortfall is the simple fear of failure. The report claims that 70% of would-be entrepreneurs are daunted by the possibility of not succeeding. That’s right; the country that invented the internet, gave birth to Harry Potter, and DNA profiling, the country that is that good it is even referred to as ‘Great’ by name, is scared of failure.

Now we can’t escape the truth — a large proportion of new businesses do fail. The infamous statistics speak for themselves and any would-be entrepreneurs who don’t at least consider these eventualities haven’t done their homework (or their dog conveniently ate it again).

However, the fact that a number of small businesses fail should not be a source of shame, or even a reason to doubt your ability to pull off your next venture. Ask any seasoned entrepreneur and they will tell you that failure is an inevitable part of business life and, most importantly, part of the learning process that eventually leads to business success.

Even Richard Branson, the founder of one of the world’s biggest brands, with a string of success stories in travel, music and financial services, has had his fair share of ventures that didn’t fly: think Virgin Cola and Virgin Brides.

Yet Branson is far from discouraged by these mistakes, saying ‘we’ve never been 100 per cent sure that any of the businesses we’ve started at Virgin were going to be successful. But we’ve always stood by our motto: ‘Screw it, let’s do it’. While this attitude has helped us build hundreds of companies, it hasn’t always resulted in success”.

The Virgin businesses that failed did so for a variety of different reasons but, once these were identified, they became powerful learning experiences. N.B. you will be pleased to know that Branson has now left his bridal modelling days very much in the past.

A recent study by economists from Stanford and the University of Michigan found that entrepreneurs are far more likely to be successful in their second businesses than first-timers. The researchers found that entrepreneurship is a learned trait, rather than an innate talent, therefore it comes as no surprise that not all entrepreneurs get it right the first time.

What we are trying to say is that failure isn’t something to be scared of. In fact, in the words of Robert F. Kennedy, ‘only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly’. If you are one of the lucky entrepreneurs that strikes it rich first time around, then I take my hat (or thinking cap) off to you. But, if you’re not, then you’re in good company because neither was James Dyson, Vera Wang, Arianna Huffington, Jeff Bezos or Peter Thiel, to name but a few.

Failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. Some of the mistakes that lead to failure can eventually become the making of a successful business. As serial mistake maker, Henry Ford, remarked: ‘failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely’.