Sunday, February 10, 2013

Revel in Failure

imageI often hear long discussions about the right time to found.  However, I truly believe the question is if not when to be a founder. The simple fact is startups are never worth it. The price you pay as an entrepreneur in time, energy, and stress is never worth the monetary rewards. A founder has to be motivated by a passion for pursuit. And if you have that passion – the right time to found is right now!

Founders are attracted to the challenge of creating something from nothing. The careers of serial entrepreneurs are marked by a continually escalating set of challenges – this is why we see Jeff Bezos of Amazon launching rockets and Bill Gates trying to eradicate malaria. Both of these founders have successes that will impact the lives of millions for generations. And yet, they are all still on the hunt for the next great pursuit.

A big part of escalating risk is failure. If the motivation is to seek greater challenges with unknown outcomes – failure transforms from a possibility to the inevitable. Love of failure is the hallmark of a serial entrepreneur.

Success just isn’t as interesting. When you’ve won the path forward is often smoother – and more mechanical. It’s just more of the same. And, if you keep consistently succeeding, it’s clear that the challenges you are choosing are too conservative. If you’re not failing you’re not taking on big enough challenges.

Failure is where the excitement is. I love this risk – and live for it. That’s why I’m a founder. I look back on the last three years I’ve spent building companies and I cherish every single experience – the failures even more so than the successes. The moment you know that it’s not working you get to look over the precipice, see all the options below, and leap.

The only reason to do a startup is because there isn’t another option. Founders need to imagine a future – and know they can be happy having taken a shot – without regard to the outcome.

If you’re considering a startup life, do yourself a favor and first ask: can I revel in failure?


  1. I've never felt so alive and in tune with all the history of humanity as the very moment I realize that I have poured my entire soul into something and have ultimately failed. It is a painful, brilliant flash of insight, growth, validation and call to action all in one. If you haven't failed, you haven't lived. Here's to the next one.

  2. I respectfully disagree. The successful founders I know aren't crazy risk takers, they're calculating risk minimizers. Many of the huge hits (Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Craigslist) were successful products before the founders decided to make them into companies. Most other successes I've seen or know of were started by people with the personal savings, connections, and experience to set themselves up for success. There is real risk - career, financial, and personal - in truly committing to a startup. Side projects or HBS deferrals are opportunities with very little downside. I would strongly advise most potential founders to weigh the "when" and "how" much more strongly than the "if".

  3. Point well taken Richard - when taking on that much risk it's key! I would agree with an HBS deferral - since you can really commit full time with an option to stay. However, building a startup is hard enough full time, that only working part time is rarely a recipe for success. That being said, it is a great way get a feel for the startup lifestyle that can serve as an on-ramp to a full on gig!