Why failure can be a step closer to success
Failure is a big part of our life.
Last week the cricket team that I captain occasionally was bowled out for just 19. The highest individual score was three.
It was the most humiliating experience of my 30+ year cricketing career and what upset me the most was I hadn’t been good enough to stop the capitulation.
In my job I’ve interviewed hundreds of people whose businesses have failed but I’ve never once regarded them as a failure.
Last month I was shocked to read that Manchester-based FinTech company DueCourse had gone into administration.
DueCourse, founded in 2014, raised £6.25 million in funding with backers including founders and investors in Zoopla, LoveFilm, TransferWise and LinkedIn. That’s what made its demise so surprising.
Its software platform allowed SMEs to get paid within hours after sending an invoice rather than waiting up to 90 days – unlocking money tied up in unpaid invoices.
It was a brilliant idea and BusinessCloud identified it as one of our 101 tech start-up disrupters to watch.
I don’t know what went wrong. One of the founders was Paul Haydock (pictured above), who previously found success starting My Parcel Delivery with David Grimes. The two split amicably and Grimes has rebranded the courier business to Sorted and made it a massive success.
Haydock went travelling and reinvented himself with DueCourse. He’s a clever guy but a lot harder to get hold of than the approachable Grimes.
I don’t know what went wrong at DueCourse but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the savvy businesses take every opportunity to promote themselves. Of course I would say that, but it was Bill Gates who famously said: “If I was down to my last dollar I would spend it on PR.”
Last month also saw the news that online dating comparison platform Queek'd had closed to make way for a “new, exciting business’ later in the year.
The Manchester-based firm was a free service which helped singles find long-term relationships, rather than casual flings.
Established dating sites such as eHarmony, Match.com, Elite Singles and Uniform Dating had signed up to join the comparison site.
Queek’d was founded by an impressive lady called Elisa Mclean, who hit upon the idea of using technology to advise people on the most suitable platform for them by asking them seven basic questions.
Dating is such a big market it’s difficult for a small operator like Queek’d to disrupt it. I thought the challenge would be monetising it and McLean has concluded that online dating simply “isn’t working” and has sensibly decided to change direction.
Does that mean Queek’d was a failure? I would argue not if she takes the lessons she learned into her next business idea.
What got me thinking about failure was a conversation I had with Juergen Maier, the hugely impressive chief executive of Siemens UK.
He thinks that on average it takes entrepreneurs four attempts to come up with the right idea.
“You can fail once but still have a go,” he told me. “Most people fail once, twice, three times and the fourth one is the one that really takes off. If young people have got that sort of drive and ambition to fail a few times and then make it, that’s amazing.”
Wise words from a wise man. The problem is that there’s a stigma around failure. Rather than seeing it as a step closer to success, people see it as a sign of weakness so don’t talk about it.
The other problem we have is we live in an age where people expect instant success. My personal opinion is that reality TV shows like Big Brother, Love Island and X Factor turn nobodies into instant celebs. However the fame is short-lived if it’s not backed by talent and hard work.
Business is the same. We see the Dragons on Dragons’ Den with their piles of cash but we don’t see the years of sacrifice and hard work that they put in to get there.
A mistake is worth making if we learn from it. The reason they put rubbers on pencils is because we make mistakes.
A failure isn’t a failure if we learn the lessons of why something went wrong – and this will form the basis of my team talk to my beleaguered cricket side in Saturday.