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The Importance of Embracing Overnight Failure

The day to day grind and hyper focus on making it often prevents startups and bootstrappers from embracing and leaning into small failures.  And modern media doesn’t help at all.  Shows like American Idol, and Shark Tank dupe the startup into believing that the only type of success worth having is the “overnight” type. However, in reality most of the people, and businesses we think of as overnight successes were actually overnight failures first.

For example take Steve Jobs, Apple, and what’s possibly the greatest corporate comeback story of all time.  Before Steve transformed Apple into the Apple Computer Company we know today he was booted out of the company he helped start, and during his absence Apple came close to going the way of the DoDo Bird.

How about James Marshall.  I know you’re thinking who is James Marshall.  James is better known by his stage name Jimi Hendrix.  Jimi is widely considered one of the greatest influences on modern guitar playing, but before Jimi Hendrix was “Jimi Hendrix” he failed over and over at becoming a solo artist in the United States.  Not only was he reduced to only playing as part of concert bands for popular acts, his playing style was so odd the bands didn’t allow him solos (except the Isley Brothers).  It’s even rumored that Little Richard found him to weird and booted him from the band.  Imagine that too weird for Little Richard.

It wasn’t until he decided to leave the U.S and give his artistic talent a try in London did a chance encounter with Paul McCartney give the world a taste of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Today we can’t imagine a world without iPads, and iPhones but they almost never happened. And, we can’t’ envision modern music without the Purple Haze of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but we almost didn’t hear his train a comin’.  If you’re a real hipster you might have picked up on why Prince had Purple Rain…it’s always hazy before the rain.

A Better Way For Startups To View Success

A better way for startups to view success is through the lens of small steps, and small failures.

There’s an old African proverb that goes like this…How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  The principal to grasp here is that if you sit down and your intention is to eat the whole elephant you will fail because there is just no way to eat a whole elephant in one sitting.  However, if your goal is to take just one bite at a time until you’ve eaten the entire thing you succeed with each small bite.

In addition to taking small bites, or steps towards success Seth Godin offers excellent advice when he says…

The goal, I think, is to be an overnight failure, but one that persists. Keeping costs low, building a foundation that leads to the right kind of story, the right kind of organic growth.

3 Things Startups Should Be Doing To Embrace Failure

  1. Push the envelope by venturing only into projects that might not work.  Because if you’re doing something guaranteed to work then there’s a whole bunch of people already doing it.
  2. View small failures like Edison did…simply as one more way not to do it.
  3. Stay motivated by knowing the true stories of other startups, and not just the hype.  Read books, and articles about fellow bootstrappers and entrepreneurs like Startup Grind’s founder Derek Andersen.  How they started, failed, and started again over and over.

Your goal should be to succeed by failing small, forward, and often.  By small I mean not so large that you can’t play anymore.  By forward I mean in a manner that takes you one step closer to getting it right, and by often I mean seek it daily.

Finally, if you’re a startup, or bootstrapper take Seth Godin’s advice and focus on being persistent, operate at low cost, and constantly work on building a foundation that leads to fundamental growth (eat that elephant one bite at a time).  

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