What You Can Learn from Failure
Failure, by definition, is not too enticing a prospect. In a society that puts its bets on school grades, salary scales and a supposedly prestigious sarkari jagir, how willing are you to fail? Everyone – almost everyone – cringes at the sheer thought of failing. The rest are called entrepreneurs.
Imagine investing your life’s savings, ideas and passion in starting your own business. Now imagine it failing miserably – all the hours you put in, the brainstorming, the energy, all gone. Your desire to succeed will bring you across situations like this for sure. Unfortunately, your failure does not get a warm reception in Nepalese society where your efforts and passion go unnoticed, and your potential is questioned. Your failure will serve as gossip fodder at family gatherings and draw sympathy at college reunions.
How then will you react? Will you be driven away or driven forward? Will you point fingers or gracefully accept it as a part of the process? Will you fall back and settle for the confines of a cubicle or persevere and plot a comeback?
When Metro, a free newspaper-style publication, failed in 2004, entrepreneur Suman Shakya refused to take it as a defeat. During the company’s incubation period, personal obligations required Shakya to stay abroad. Without a co-founder, managing the business remotely became increasingly difficult. Coupled with low demand for the newspaper, the company shut down within the first two years of operation and cost Mr. Shakya a large sum of money.
The story is no different for budding entrepreneur Deewaker Piya of Green & Green, a company that imports Electronic Catalytic Converter (ECC), a device for carbon emission reduction from engines. As with Shakya, Piya’s product was hard to sell particularly due to its unfamiliarity in the market, an aggressive approach and feeble financial strategy. In spite of reaching a point so low that he couldn’t afford to pay his staff, Piya decided to not let go of the company but handle it entirely by himself. And for the better half of 2012, he relentlessly pursued potential clients by marketing door-to-door to sell his product.
“The culture of being open to failure doesn’t exist here,” says Shakya, recalling his Metro days when even his nearest ones questioned his capabilities and labeled his past successes as flukes. “From an early age we are taught to win. While winning is certainly necessary, failing along the way is too.” On the contrary, coming from a business family, Piya had all the encouragement he needed from his parents, which he admits is not the case with all entrepreneurs. This reveals a rather interesting argument that regardless of tangible or intangible support – or none whatsoever – the likelihood of an entrepreneur to encounter failure cannot be overruled.
It was one common trait that deterred both entrepreneurs from giving up their entrepreneurial spirit: persistence. While Shakya, after a few years of reflecting, learning and regaining confidence conceived the massively successful company Digitainment, Piya resiliently revived his business and went on to sell hundreds of ECC units. Neither comeback was easy – there were several challenges the duo had to overcome in order to give their ventures the credibility they deserve today.
Failure is often wrongly attributed to weakness and a lack of skills. But the sweetest victory is often the most difficult one, which requires treading on unstable grounds with innumerable risks. But not all who dare can win, and not all who fail can learn. That begs the question: What is failure?
Failure is your greatest teacher, an entrepreneurial rite of passage, and a learning curve for success. Failure is a catalyst that drives you forward with stronger willpower to accept greater challenges. Failure is a process, not a result. Failure is inevitable and it is imperative.
Incredible success requires incredible risk, and with that, an incredible will to fail. Entrepreneurs and inventors, writers and actors, athletes and statesmen, and all who choose to think differently and live their lives differently constantly face undue skepticism, pressure and even harassment before they become successful. History bears witness to countless visionaries who took a fall yet kept fighting back. Names like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Donald Trump and Colonel Sanders don’t usually pop up when we talk about failure, and that’s not even scratching the surface.
If people are not laughing at your idea and failure, you’re neither dreaming big nor aiming high. Nevertheless, it is important to not let the negative overrun and discourage you; instead turn it to your benefit by developing a can-do, will-do attitude. Metro’s failure didn’t demotivate Shakya, instead it strengthened his resolve to prove skeptics that his failure was a mishap, and his success not a fluke. Similarly, when all employees quit, Piya looked at the bright side of things – he he didn’t have to worry about others and could focus all his efforts and budget on marketing the product, albeit by himself.
Failure indeed is an illuminating experience and a wealth of knowledge from which to learn a lesson. Shakya emphasizes, “Seize the opportunity to identify your shortcomings from what you failed at. Ask yourself what went well and what could’ve gone better. Keep improving.” Besides the inability to give Metro his full attention during its early months, Shakya points out that the team lacked complementary skills, resulting in a less than holistic business approach. Another shortfall was that he put all his eggs in one basket, and when things didn’t go quite as planned, faced incalculable loss. He says that Metro has taught him crucial lessons that no book and knowledge ever could. “I have no regrets with Metro. In fact, I am thankful because I doubt I’d be where I am today without it. Books teach you strokes, but to learn swimming you must take the plunge into the pool. Metro was my plunge into the pool.”
Likewise, Piya laments his neglect with Green & Green’s financial planning – the capital was almost exclusively allotted to procure ECCs, leaving little to nothing for marketing and other overhead expenses. Sufficient research regarding the market demand for the device could have sent warning signals about the aggressive sales strategy, which instead backfired. Further, having neither a business partner nor a mentor as a voice of reason led to the hardship he could have avoided. “I came to learn the hard way that you have to start small and work your way up,” shares Piya.
Once you’ve learned your lesson well, the time is ripe to zero in on success. This will neither be quick nor easy. As demonstrated by Shakya and Piya and numerous other local entrepreneurs, a comeback is a battle of determination and skill, the will to gain higher ground by constantly learning from your blunders. Piya alludes to the days of his solo marketing conquest and reasons, “Toil sleeplessly and push your limits to achieve your goal. However many times you may have failed in business, devote yourself to that goal. Leave nothing to chance, prayers or hope.” Shakya adds that it is important to be patient in pooling your experience and expertise for a second round. “This time, you’ll be better prepared and that much closer to achieving what you set out for. Follow your dreams but keep them realistic. Don’t forget that passion is only half the story and you must have sound knowledge of and experience in all elements of business because ideas alone won’t suffice.” Both took a hard blow due to their mistakes, but as competent entrepreneurs they endured through failure to rise up for a rebound.
Drawing inspiration from his own experience, Shakya explains, “The desire for success must be greater than the fear of failure. You must come to terms that you are susceptible to failure – perhaps repeatedly so – before you can reach success.” Indeed, their stories reiterate that with a positive outlook and motivation, you’ll be able to surpass fear however overwhelming, to accomplish a goal however daunting.
A fresh breed of entrepreneurs is needed to stride and debunk the fallacy of failure in our society that is obsessed with security, terrified of risks and drugged by short-term returns of a 9 to 5. Bear in mind that failure is a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to accept great challenges with unprecedented determination. If you’ve learned from your failure and mustered the courage to start afresh, failure has served its purpose because subsequently you will be rewarded with success.