No fear of failure

I recently spoke at the Entrepreneurship Guest Lecture Series at UCL on the subject of “No fear of failure”. I had 3 key points to make, which i think are so critical to entrepreneurs.

The first is that “Fear of failure” is a massive motivator. If you aren’t scared then you are missing a trick. I use the fear of running out of cash as a powerful force to make me challenge my own business assumptions. I am never content with where a business is. I am conscious that you are never safe until you exit. When we raised nearly £10m for eSubstance in 2000, little did we realise that we would spend 95% of it trying to establish the business. In the end we did, we bought a little company called Ink, which did Easyjet’s inflight magazine, changed our business model, pivoted the whole business and became the world’s largest publisher of inflight media. But it was touch and go. That fear of failure was critical to our ability to find the right answer.

The second is that “failure is a learning experience”, but that too many entrepreneurs only see that when they have exited or closed their business. In fact entrepreneurs can learn from failure as they go and not just with hindsight. Failure is a big word but every business has some bits that work and some bits that don’t. Every entrepreneur can dissect failure as they go. They can learn from specifics. This could be about the business model, the product, the initial customers, the market, timing etc.

The third point is that entrepreneurs should proactively think about and prepare for failure. People should consider how they will react if their start-up needs money to continue and none is available, when there are existing commitments and liabilities. Founders need to think through the consequences of their choice of business partners if it becomes clear that it isn’t working. Too often people don’t think about what to do when things don’t go to plan, as they so often don’t. But like any plan, considering the risks in detail and preparing mitigations early, is critical to success.

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