I’ve been thinking about the mantra that all startups / entrepreneurs / venture capitalists use in every talk they give these days, “Fail often and fail fast”. It’s actually becoming over-played if you ask me, and I’m easily guilty as I seem to mention it in every other post.
The distinction that needs to be made is that its the scale of the fail that is critical. That’s why we say, “Fail often“. Failing often implies that you aren’t working for six months, then failing, in which case you’ve wasted six months time on something. Test, learn, and iterate as quickly as possible.
When I think back to the early days of growing our business, we failed a lot. We hired badly, managed our books badly, managed projects badly, really did everything wrong that you could have in those early days. True, we were 22-year olds, but we made a boat load of mistakes.
But we never failed in an epic way that caused us to close down. We came close, like the time we landed the big account, got office space, hired people and then the big client went bankrupt and we never got a dime (more on that story here). That was almost catastrophic but we made it through. Most of the other mistakes we made along the way were smaller and manageable and we became stronger because of them.
This is one of the biggest problems with large companies today. They refuse to allow failure to be a part of their culture. Because of this, they only fail big. They fail gloriously. And they struggle mightily trying to be innovative and are routinely passed up by smaller, more nimble, failure-embracing companies.
Fail small. Fail often. But don’t fail to…fail.