Gini Dietrich

Failure In Entrepreneurship: Is It Okay?

By: Gini Dietrich | September 8, 2011 | 
87

It’s Facebook question of the week time (clap, clap, clap!).

I’m coming to you today from a social media day that Porter Novelli is putting on for one of their clients. It’s a pretty cool concept; I’ll let you know how it goes and if I think it’s an idea some of you should adopt (er, steal).

Christopher Barger and I are both speaking. I finally got to meet one of my brain crushes in real life…and he’s just as smart as I imagined. Be jealous.

Now on to the question of the week.

Autumn Thompson asks:

I am working on my masters degree in entrepreneurship and we talk a lot about failure and how it should be embraced. I guess my question would be…do you agree? Failure in your own business can catastrophic to your whole life. What are your thoughts.

Oh boy do I have some thoughts! This is a really good topic. One that we’ve talked a bit about here before, but it’s worth repeating over and over and over again.

My thoughts are in the video below (if you can’t see it in your RSS feed, click here and it’ll magically appear). I’d love to read your thoughts on failure…and I know Autumn would too. Who knows? Maybe she’ll use us in a paper or something.

Before you go to the comments, don’t forget to head over to Facebook and leave a question on the wall. You, too, can have fame and fortune. Well, really, just a mention in a coming video.

Go ahead! We’ll wait.

OK. On to to the comments!

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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87 Comments on "Failure In Entrepreneurship: Is It Okay?"

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KatrinaLaflin
KatrinaLaflin
4 years 8 months ago

Gini, you pointed out the key to why failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing…the lesson learned! That is why we fail, to learn lessons life has to teach. If we don’t learn the life lesson the failure will keep coming until we do learn what life has to teach. The big question is always, “what can I learn from this”? And even better if we can borrow lessons from the mistakes of others! Hope those allergies calm down…we have the same issue with fall allergies here and you’re right, it does suck!!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@KatrinaLaflin Hi Katrina! Weird…you popped into my mind just the other day. I hope you’re doing well!

It’s so true about learning from our failures. We don’t learn from our successes…do we?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@KatrinaLaflin Hi Katrina! Weird…you popped into my mind just the other day. I hope you’re doing well!

It’s so true about learning from our failures. We don’t learn from our successes…do we?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@KatrinaLaflin Hi Katrina! Weird…you popped into my mind just the other day. I hope you’re doing well!

It’s so true about learning from our failures. We don’t learn from our successes…do we?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@KatrinaLaflin Hi Katrina! Weird…you popped into my mind just the other day. I hope you’re doing well!

It’s so true about learning from our failures. We don’t learn from our successes…do we?

rhonda hurwitz
rhonda hurwitz
4 years 8 months ago

I’m with you … it sucks, but it’s how we learn.

PS love the term “brain crush” … gotta borrow that one

PaulSegreto
PaulSegreto
4 years 8 months ago
I’ve been asked time and again to post the following article that I’ve written about my own personal experience as a multi-unit franchisee where I succeeded at first, only to crash and burn later on. This article has been posted on several of my blogs, and picked up by numerous other blogs and online magazines. I have received numerous comments and inquiries about the article, individuals sharing their personal experiences and requests for assistance. Although I cringe at the thought of any business failing, I admire and respect the fact that franchisees and franchisors alike know when to put their… Read more »
T60Productions
4 years 8 months ago

Hi Gini… I’ve been a part of a failed attempt at entrepreneurship, and now I seem to be a part of a successful run at entrepreneurship. I think the key goes back to what you talked about in terms of looking at failure as an opportunity.

As long as a person isn’t crippled by failure and uses the experience as a learning tool, it’s possible to bounce back stronger than ever.

–Tony Gnau

jsimmens
jsimmens
4 years 8 months ago

Failure is OK! I think John Maxwell addressed it best…we all fail on a continual basis and failure is never the problem, it’s how we respond to the problem that either hirts us or helps us.

TheJackB
4 years 8 months ago

I am the guy who thinks that we need to teach our children how to fail gracefully so that they can develop coping skills to deal with adversity. So my answer is that even though failure can be quite painful it doesn’t mean that life is going to end or that success will never be found again.

Lori
4 years 8 months ago

Augh Gini – I didn’t know your story – what a horrible Christmas that must have been (all failure-is-good-stuff put aside for the moment!) And then to have to lay off staff! – Yikes!

is failure Okay? Failures is the sign-post that says, “You’re going the wrong way!”, at least it has been for me! Sometimes this has meant doing something different within that business, and sometimes it’s meant starting a different business! There’s no adventure quite like the adventure of being an entrepreneur, is there?!

EricaAllison
4 years 8 months ago

@TheJackB Yes! I look for ways for my oldest to fall down or make a mistake so that we can have something to learn from. It’s hard, but it’s best!

EricaAllison
4 years 8 months ago

As Autumn well knows from working with me, failure this past spring is what helped me grow and helped me refine my business. Had I not felt that, in a very painful way, I would not have a better understanding now of how to move forward, how to make it work with less and how to better attract and screen my clients so that we work well for the long term. I think every business owner must experience some level of failure (catastrophic sounds so finite!), in order to be a better business owner.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 8 months ago

My sympathies for your ’09 experience. Having to lay that much of the staff of your own company has to be really demoralizing. I went through a similar experience in ’04, having to layoff almost all of our developers, designers, & engineers after a merger — many of them good friends. However, had that been my own company, I can imagine how much more difficult that would have been.

On a lighter (?) note, if you collect enough of these “Success through Bankruptcy” stories, you could have an instant best seller 🙂

TweetShannonNow
TweetShannonNow
4 years 8 months ago

This is great advice! I guess I’ve never really thought about failure being an option but that is unrealistic of me and can sometimes be very dangerous. This broadened my horizons and opened my eyes. Thanks for posting!

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
4 years 8 months ago
There is a misnomer on ‘Failure’ because in Silicon Valley VCs are more likely to invest money in start ups with people that have failed vs people who have never tried. And that is what people zero in on. Of course they leave out if you succeed you are even more likely to get investors! But forget starting a business. If you are afraid to try new things you will never know if they work. And until you fail or succeed you don’t know the answer. And @johnfalchetto will confirm you can not be paralyzed by fear of trying. And… Read more »
joelfortner03
4 years 8 months ago
@ginidietrich Sure we do, Gini! We learn from our successes and failures and other’s successes and failures. For instance, I will never ever borrow money for my little business. It’s been proven to me it can be done. I know of too many businesses that came apart due to debt because the always lingering money owed forced them into bad decisions when without the debt they could have weathered the problem and lived to see a better day. Sure, there are plenty of businesses that borrow to get going but those that will succeed long-term work their butts off to… Read more »
wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites
4 years 8 months ago
Gini, of course, none of us would ever wish bankruptcy on everyone but I’ve known several people who have gone through it and are thriving now. (They all recommend getting a good lawyer, of course). I’ve never been through that but have shut down my freelance business to take full-time jobs a few times when times got tough. I remember feeling like a failure when that happened but now I really question the idea that making a necessary change in my career should be considered a “failure.” It was just an ending. I think all of us could stand to… Read more »
ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg
4 years 8 months ago
@TheJackB I grew up playing lots of sports and failure is part of the game, but it isn’t the end of the world. I have failed plenty of times and after a mourning period I move on, usually wiser. I agree with Jack that failure shouldn’t be eliminated by giving everyone trophies, because that isn’t how life works. I set a goal of selling 400 copies of Henry Wood Detective Agency my first month. I sold 84. Failure. But I learned what didn’t work too. I will do better with Henry Wood 2, 3 and 4. Success is built on… Read more »
jeanniecw
4 years 8 months ago

Here’s the thing about what feels like failure: the most painful, heart-wrenching times in life are often the ones rich with lessons. But it can be hard to see that at the time. Perspective, time, reflection and good friends can help us when we fail to see the next chapter that awaits us. Nicely done, Gini!

TheJackB
4 years 8 months ago

@EricaAllison It is better for them to learn under our guidance when we can manage things. I want my kids to experience failure so that they can appreciate what it means to get back up. I just don’t want their self esteem to be destroyed in the process.

That balance is important.

TheJackB
4 years 8 months ago

@EricaAllison It is better for them to learn under our guidance when we can manage things. I want my kids to experience failure so that they can appreciate what it means to get back up. I just don’t want their self esteem to be destroyed in the process.

That balance is important.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg
4 years 8 months ago

@TheJackB@EricaAllison Without the failures, the success wouldn’t be so sweet.

TheJackB
4 years 8 months ago

@ExtremelyAvg Success is built on the shoulders of failure. I like what Edison had to say:

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

KevinVandever
KevinVandever
4 years 8 months ago

Great comments below and much along my line of thinking. For me, failure provides an opportunity to learn and grow as an entrepreneur. I realize that failure is not a necessity for growth and I also realize that just because an entrepreneur experiences failure does not guarantee he or she can or will learn and grow from it; however, if dealt with correctly and handled with the proper attitude and perspective, failure can become a vital step in entrepreneur’s growth. I agree that it should be embraced.

fitzternet
4 years 8 months ago
Awesome question. Awesome answer. My two cents: Failure is a numbers game – if your business fails, it isn’t something you should take personally. But it’s still a very very bad thing. It can destroy your life, ESPECIALLY if you take it personally. Fear of failure is much worse than failure itself. Fear of failure seems to (usually) consist of a variation of three components: lack of understanding of what failure really is, being unfamiliar with the far-reaching ramifications of failure (it really does destroy you for awhile, regardless of how you ultimately climb out of it) and an inability… Read more »
glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 8 months ago

@joelfortner03@ginidietrich Amen to that, Joel.

fitzternet
4 years 8 months ago

*CORRECTION:

“In other words, if you’ve NEVER failed…” (left out the word “never” and it’s an important one!)

Lisa Gerber
4 years 8 months ago

You made me realize, after listening to you, that’s it’s all in how we react to it. If we choose to learn from it and turn it into an opportunity, then it’s not a failure at all. But it does suck in the midst of whatever that failure maybe. It is debilitating, keep-you-in-bed kind of stuff. and it’s all the more strengthening and character-building when you overcome it.

Lisa Gerber
4 years 8 months ago

@jsimmens ha! I didn’t see this until now and I said what you said.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell
4 years 8 months ago
@Lisa Gerber I guess a lot of this has to do with how we define failure. Bankruptcy implies you’re out of business, but Gini laying off half her staff still left her to fight another day. Gini defined that as a failure but changed her behavior as a result of it — which made it a great learning experience. I used to like the old “fail but don’t crash and burn” saying. But that only makes sense if you can actually limit your risk in business. 2009 made it clear that sometimes the outcome is something that no one expects… Read more »
Lisa Gerber
4 years 8 months ago

@TweetShannonNow I love that, though! I don’t think it’s dangerous at all.

bdorman264
4 years 8 months ago
It’s ok, but not necessarily good. Of course it can be very traumatic if it occurs and especially when people are counting on you for the roof over their head and food on the table. Fortunately I have never had to experience it, but I do have a friend who was been bankrupt twice and it wasn’t because he did anything wrong per se. However, he rose from the ashes both times and from all outward appearances, he is doing extremely well. Some of these life lessons can be very hard, but like I commented at @TheJackB place today; if… Read more »
autumnmthompson
autumnmthompson
4 years 8 months ago

@TheJackB We have also studied Edison and all of the patents he holds. His failures are massive but he never let it bother him. If he failed, he learned something and how to better his inventions. If I remember correctly, he has the 32nd patent for the lightbulb. He didn’t invent it, he invent how to make it affodable.

autumnmthompson
autumnmthompson
4 years 8 months ago

What great insight from everyone! I’m honored to be the FBQOTW. Thank you Gini! Can’t wait to write a paper and use all of your opinions. It amazed me to be taught how to fail at your business and adjust. We have studied numerous companies and their complete failures and their successes. It has made me think long and hard about what I want to do and how to make it succeed.

PS…I have a brain crush on several people and I am jealous you got to meet one of yours!

ExpatDoctorMom
4 years 8 months ago
Great little video Gini! You didn’t sound stuffed up! I think through failure you learn, quickly of what not to do. So although you didn’t technically fail Gini, you did things different from 2009 on. The first group I join: failed after being open for more than 30 years. There were some things in the contract that allowed for distribution of the debt in an unfair way. So I have learned what not to do. I read any work contract thoroughly, have my attorney read it and then simply don’t sign if the contract is not kosher. This allowed me… Read more »
ExpatDoctorMom
4 years 8 months ago

PS, I worry about my children’s failures… No one wants to see their children suffer but know that they too will be stronger because of it. @bdorman264

fitzternet
4 years 8 months ago

@TheJackB Agree 100%…

fitzternet
4 years 8 months ago

@ExtremelyAvg@TheJackB Those are good failures. Your result (84 sales) wasn’t what you wanted, but you still sold 84 books. It doesn’t take much effort to see that you were successful by selling 84 books.

Had you put yourself in a position where you HAD to sell 400 books or else you were facing financial disaster, well, that’s a much different story. I did that once (actually, twice)… It’s all about managing your expectations and failing gracefully… and then learning from it.

And I think you’re right – sports is a huge part of learning to deal with failure.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg
4 years 8 months ago

@fitzternet@TheJackB You make a valid point and I do feel very proud of getting the sales. I am quite sure that the 2nd Henry Wood will build upon the 1st one. 🙂

delwilliams
4 years 8 months ago
Failure to me is when a business KNOWS things are changing and refuse to change to stay profitable. Failure to me is not changing course when all signs point to it. Failure is taking the easy way out when a little more elbow grease could turn it around. Failure for a lot of online businesses seems to be having all their eggs in one basket or running after the new shiny thing instead of sticking with what works. Failure is not the end, though it may feel like it, especially if we are heavily emotionally invested in what we are… Read more »
Ameena Falchetto
4 years 8 months ago

Failure is subjective. Admitting defeat is not failure. Making it open doors means it was a cross roads. Not failure.

Ameena Falchetto
4 years 8 months ago

Failure is subjective. Admitting defeat is not failure. Making it open doors means it was a cross roads. Not failure.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@Ameena Falchetto Just like anything else in life – success also is subjective.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@delwilliams Failure, to me, is walking away from $6B and then violating your quiet period so the SEC pulls your IPO.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@ExpatDoctorMom We were talking about failure among today’s kids because they’re not really taught it in school anymore. They all get trophies, even if they didn’t win. I think that’s doing them a HUGE disservice.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@autumnmthompson I just saw an email floating around that had 10 people who have failed. The guy who invented FedEx? He presented the idea in a business class and got an F that semester.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@bdorman264 By no means do I think it’s OK to go bankrupt. But, to me, that used to be the ultimate business failure. And then I experienced it by watching my friend and I realized, as much as it really sucks, it’s not life-ending.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@glenn_ferrell@Lisa Gerber It’s funny you say that, Glenn, because Lisa and I just had that conversation. We were talking about when we’ll add staff and I commented that we’re going to run super lean. I’m a little skittish about hiring, especially when my current staff isn’t at full capacity. So I’ve changed the way I manage the business to accomodate.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 8 months ago

@fitzternet Another thing that this makes me think of is the idea of getting too much advice. I think that is debilitating, as well. Sometimes I find it harder to take risk and make decisions when I know of EVERY pro and con. Ignorance truly is bliss in some cases.

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