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Business Psychology

The offensive F word in business

Failure – Part 2

Here comes the F bomb:  Failure.  I was recently talking about the subject of failure with somebody.  They stated that it is a strong word, and questioned whether it should be said.  “Can we not find another term?”  Fair enough, I thought.  I never liked hearing it when it was about me or my ventures. But, why is it such a harsh word?  I think it may be that stating something to be either pass or fail is black and white, whereas business situations are often in the grey area.  “Failure” suggests that it is a waste, rather than a stepping stone to success.  I have never heard a success story where everything was easy.  Rather, it seems as though things have a way of coming full circle.

f bomb

I usually call my failed business venture “an expensive MBA”, for a couple reasons: 1) I was either going to obtain an MBA or start a business, I chose the latter, and 2) I learned a lot more practical business lessons in the 3 years of bootstrapping companies than I ever would have in school (I’ll go into detail in a future post).  Sure, the expenses exceeded the revenues, but it wasn’t a failure for me as it helped me progress in many ways.

I invite successful entrepreneurs and professionals to share their stories at Biz Under 40 events called Bigwig Lunch Times (BLTs).  We have had great speakers with many inspirational journeys.  Pretty much every speaker had one thing in common:  they failed.  Another common trait was how they dealt with failure.  They didn’t dwell on it or continuously feel sorry for themselves. Instead, they learned from it and moved forward.

Stamp of Failure

Failure is not an F word stamped on your forehead.  It is a fluid stage in a project where a desired result wasn’t achieved.  There is a quote about success from Winston Churchill that I’ve always liked:  “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”.

What term could be used to replace “Failure”?  I suggest calling these situations a “wrap-up”. The end of the life cycle for an unsuccessful venture (i.e. opposite of a start-up).  You simply found that it was time to “wrap-up” and move onto something else.  No use dwelling on it, but grow from the learning lessons and work on another opportunity.

What are your thoughts on the F word: Failure?  Do you have another term you’d like to suggest? Please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.

Moving on from Failure

Failure – Part 1

I decided to write a 2 part post on the subject of failure.  This week’s post is the story of the abysmal failure of my first business venture, whereas next week I’ll outline some of my thoughts on success and failure in general terms.  Here goes nothing…

If you look at my LinkedIn profile, you will see that I have been operating WhatIsOnPEI.com for over 5 years.  However, this would be a false representation of how it has actually performed.  This could be viewed as a flop, a failure, a loser… but, this was my first IT venture, and I have learned a lot from the experience:

This business is no more! It has ceased to be.

This business is no more! It has ceased to be.

WhatIsOnPEI.com had a promising start.  For my entrepreneurship project at UPEI School of Business, we had 4 hours to start a mini-venture and raise as much money as possible.  It began as a simple idea: an Online Business Directory for PEI.  My group went around Charlottetown for 4 hours with a 1 pager asking companies for $100 to receive a webpage listing on our website for one year.  Within the morning, we made $1,500 which was UPEI’s record at the time.  My professor (being a serial entrepreneur himself) was very excited about the project and helped me launch the project into an actual company.  I was in my final year looking for a marketing position, so I figured I may as well launch my own business as I would employ myself, work in marketing, and grow my business network.

I was accepted into the Self-Employment Program offered by Service Canada (now Skills PEI), PEI Business Development (now Innovation PEI), and Career Development Services.  This was key as it allowed me to collect a paycheque for a full year as I worked on my business.  I’d recommend this program to anyone interested in starting a business as it helps to keep the lights on while you reinvest company revenue into your business.

I had some great mentors as I was getting going, but for the most part I was flying by the seat of my pants.  Every aspect of the business I learned as I went along (sales, IT, human resources, bookkeeping, etc).  Sure, I had a Bachelor of Business Administration, but a university curriculum doesn’t necessarily cover the knowledge needed for a bootstrapping entrepreneur.

Where did it go wrong?  Well, I made some good decisions, but I also made some bad decisions.  I’ve learned from my bad decisions to ensure the next endeavour runs more smoothly.  The problem that killed me was IT, however now I know a lot more about software development than I did when I started out.

Other major learning lessons (these are all cliché but it’s valuable):
Finances:  ensure accounting is up-to-date and review often. Gut decisions can lead you astray, check the numbers when making key financial decisions.
Human Resources:  hire slow/fire fast. Outsourcing to freelancers/companies can end up being cheaper, easier, and produce a better result.
Sales: under-promise and over-deliver.  It’s ok if someone says “no”, just keep going.
Product Development:  everything always takes longer than you anticipate

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash

Starting my own business had many challenges, and I had to give up a lot of my personal life in order to get pertinent work done, attend networking events to promote my company, and had lots of stress to stay above water with cash flow (the ol’ payroll sweats).  However, I believe that the experience helped me in many ways.  I grew a great network of business contacts, I learned many areas of business that I didn’t pay attention to in school, I challenged myself in ways I wouldn’t have imagined and when looking back I am proud of many things that I’ve accomplished.

WhatIsOnPEI.com

With WhatIsOnPEI.com, I had a really hard time letting go because I sunk so much time and money into it that I wanted to see it succeed.  I overcame the IT challenges that the website initially had, and I had a good social media following, but I knew that I didn’t have the time to give it the proper attention day-to-day, so I had tried to find others to partner with that would take over the daily management. I tried this for a couple of years but it didn’t end up working.  I decided to be at peace with letting go of this business that has been dying a slow death waiting on the shelf.  Everyone else has moved on, but it is finally time for me to do the same.  By letting go of this baggage, I will be free of that negative energy and will transform that into positive energy towards building something even greater.