Why you shouldn’t necessarily avoid failure

growth growth journey learning & development Dec 17, 2022

Failure. Just reading the word may make you tense up a bit. From a young age, we’re indoctrinated with the notion that success = winning and failure = defeat. 

And it’s not necessarily wrong to avoid failure. We certainly don’t want to fail as we’re, say, driving to the store (since failing could literally lead to serious injury or death). 

But failure in business, while sometimes catastrophic, can also become the source of major transformation and even, yes, success.

Certainly, I’ve made mistakes throughout my journey as an entrepreneur, and while working for startups. At every juncture, though, I’ve sought opportunities to learn from those mistakes and use them as learning experiences. 

Failure, though, isn’t quite the same thing as a mistake. Mistakes can lead to failure. They can be indicative of problems that may result in failure. They are most definitely intertwined. 

Failure can lead to success

For Susan Tyrell and Kala Liebe, it was a failed merger that seemed to signal the end of their startup dreams. Sometimes things can seem to be headed down the right path, only to blow up in the end.  

But for Susan and Kala, that failure turned into a major success in the long run. Susan and Kala shared their story with me during an interview for Hardwired for Growth.  In that interview, they dig into the topic of failure, along with some additional core lessons they’ve learned through the growth of their company. 

Right now, though, we’re talking about failure. Whether you’re petrified of failure and are trying to avoid it at all costs, or you’ve come up against a pretty big failure and need some advice or even positive thinking to get out of it, here are some important takeaways and pieces of advice Susan and Kala learned from their own failure:

Don’t feel like you have to be a part of EVERYTHING.

It’s tempting as founders to dip our hands into every facet of our businesses, especially in the early days. But when you are ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING, especially as you grow, it’s impossible to maintain the highest standards and focus on the big decisions that will help you grow. 

For Sue, this led to, in her words, “epic failure.” Whether you have a business partner, like Sue had Kala, or whether you have assembled a team to handle everyday tasks, it’s imperative that you trust them. Otherwise, you’re not only setting yourself up for personal failure, you’re dooming your startup. 

Realize that the grass isn’t always greener

When Sue hit Founder’s Capacity as so many startup founders do, that feeling of being stuck and unable to scale reared its ugly head. Sue had been taking on so much of the daily tasks for her business, so the idea of a merger with a bigger company — thereby reducing her need to do everything — was incredibly tantalizing. It would have freed her to focus on the parts of the business that she enjoyed most, while theoretically allowing her business to scale and grow with the additional resources provided by the new company.

Except, of course, it didn’t work out that way (or I wouldn’t be talking about it in this post!). 

When you’re in the weeds, drowning in the day to day, it can be easy to focus on that “one thing” that will solve your problems and get you past Founder’s Capacity and to that next level of growth. It’s just unfortunately never that simple. There’s not a “magic solution” that will come in and make things better. And as Sue learned with her experience, seeking that magic bullet can lead to failure. 

Relationships are critical to growth and success

While the merger seemed to be the quick solution to Sue’s growth challenges at Founder’s Capacity, the greatest resource that was introduced was Kala, who was brought in to help facilitate the merger and help the two companies combine seamlessly. 

Kala left her job to join the newly merged company and help create a strong culture and brand. Her and Sue quickly hit it off and worked extremely well together.

But as I mentioned in the last point, the grass isn’t always greener. When they faced significant challenges, it was the strength of their relationship, and the acknowledgement of how well they worked together, that fueled the next step in their journey. 

What can you learn from failure? 

Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but there’s almost always tremendous opportunity in your struggles and failures. For more on Sue and Kala and their growth journey, check out their Hardwired for Growth interview. And check out this post to learn more about Stage 2 startups, Founder’s Capacity and what it can mean for startups