The UK culture doesn’t value failure. Indeed, in today’s world, you’re often labelled a pariah by friends and family for having the temerity to even consider stepping outside the accepted norms to attempt to start a business.
Independent thought alarm!
In the States and in other countries, failure is built-in. You tried. You learnt. You probably won’t do that again. And hey, it didn’t work out, but what can we do together? That’s the typical view. You’re not judged negatively. You’re typically judged as experienced. There’s quite a difference to how we view things in the UK. This issue is especially acute in the world of new technology and particularly in the mobile world. For the UK to get anywhere meaningful, I think we need to change our perception of failure. And it’s in this spirit that I’m delighted to bring you this opinion piece from a regular MIR reader.
Have a read and let me know what you think.
Right, here we go:
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I’m a failure. Or perhaps more accurately I have recently failed. At least that’s what other people would say. I don’t see it like that however.
It’s true that I’ve recently had to close down a business, but to me that’s not failure. Like all those motivational quotes that you see on Facebook about sport – the only failure is in not trying in the first place.
You see I had an idea. I talked to a couple of people and they seemed to think it was a good one. So we mocked up a working beta to prove the idea to ourselves and then a couple of people bought from us based on that beta. And at that point we had a business and so we decided to run with it and see what happened.
The next few months were spent upgrading the product, defining our strategy and trying to get ourselves in front of potential customers.
We did all three quite well, but as is always the case with these things – slower than predicted. We won a few more deals but it was never quite enough to take things to the next level – we just remained in a permanent “hand to mouth” stage.
For a while that was fine, because we believed in the product, everyone we chatted to saw the value in it and perhaps most importantly we were enjoying what we were doing. However, we’re not kids, we couldn’t live on friends’ floors and eat cold baked beans while we waited for this new business to be revenue generating. Instead we had lives and families and responsibilities. Because there was no real money that we could take out of the business we had to reduce the time we could spend on it – so that we could spend enough time actually earning money.
This then became another one of those vicious circle elements. If we had spent more time on it we were all convinced that we could make it profitable, yet we couldn’t afford to spend enough time on it.
But still we persevered. And in doing so we learnt a hell of a lot. Not least:
The importance of getting the team right – this is even more important in a tight-knit, start-up environment and for us it made the difference between looking forward to the one day a week we were working on this together, or not.
Break-throughs are hard – all the prospects we gave a demonstration to loved it, but they still didn’t buy. For many it was just a bit too new for them. They loved it, but they couldn’t work which budget pot it should come from, or how to raise a PO, or even how to actually use it properly. So they didn’t buy.
Discipline and focus – with such a limited time to spend on the new business we realised just how easy it could have been to just tinker at the edges, and there were some days / weeks where that’s all we ended up doing. Instead we should have just got on with facing up to the big tasks.
Things cost a lot of money – when you don’t have much you realise just how quickly you can spend it. We were very careful with what we did and watched the purse strings very closely, but we wanted to be able to spend more and could easily have spent more.
In the end it was money that caused the end of things. We realised that we needed more money and couldn’t afford to sub the business with our own time and money any longer, so we started to look for ways to raise some extra money.
The route we settled on was to use Seedrs. We liked the mix of crowdfunding, but yet offering equity and thought that would help us to get more supporters and advocates for the business, as well as the extra cash. So we applied. But of course it wasn’t as easy as that. Never having applied for this kind of thing before it took time to fill out the forms, find the correct information and present the business in an attractive way for investors.
Not only that, but as a crowdfunding site, Seedrs suggests that you motivate your own network so that they will initiate the funding, making you look more attractive. So blog posts and emails and general interaction with our “friends and family” were added to our already full to-do list. Raising finance became our full-time job and for a while we had to ignore the product and the sales pipeline – which seems kind of ironic really.
Then Seedrs dropped the bombshell: they didn’t think we were right for their platform. With no reason given (including ignoring the emails we sent asking for more information) we were back to square one.
And at that point we lost any remaining enthusiasm we had for the fight.
It will be a great business at some stage, but we just weren’t the ones to make it happen. Is that failing?
In many ways it feels like it, but in many others it feels like a huge success to have managed as much as we did. In chatting to someone about it at the end they suggested that I “sell” them the business (I may have made enough for a whole pint of beer from this transaction), just so that I didn’t have the “failure” on my record. And although I thanked them politely I was quite angry that some people feel that this is necessary.
This particular business idea may have failed, but I don’t feel like a failure. In fact I’m stronger, wiser and better equipped now for another go. Very probably better equipped than someone who has had a lucky success and isn’t sure why. We should celebrate more than just success, we should celebrate the journey too.
And who am I? Well if you’ve read this far, feel free to say hello here.
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Thank you very much Patrick. I’m with you. It’s time to rebrand failure. If anything in Patrick’s piece resonated with you, I strongly encourage you to drop Patrick a note on Twitter to say so.