For Founders
Lessons From Failure: What To Do When It’s Not Working

Lessons From Failure: What To Do When It’s Not Working

Written by 
Pilot Team
April 8, 2024
Lessons From Failure: What To Do When It’s Not Working

As a startup founder, it is crucial to acknowledge that failure is an inevitable part of the journey. A failed business idea does not mean you should give up on your dream of turning your original idea into a successful business. On the contrary, failure can be used as an opportunity to learn and grow as long as you develop resilience, build self-confidence, embrace the benefits of failure, use failure as motivation, and process your emotions properly. Furthermore, failure can help avoid making the same mistakes in the future and open doors to new opportunities that wouldn't have existed otherwise.

Steps to Learn From and Overcome Failure

Develop resilience.

Bouncing back from failure is essential for any founder and comes with practice. Unfortunately, you'll have plenty of opportunities to fail in your first few years as an entrepreneur—and even more after that—so you'll need a thick skin to survive long-term.

Build self-confidence.

If you lack confidence in yourself or your business idea, every setback will feel like a significant blow that could destroy everything (which isn't necessarily true). Building resilience means learning to accept failure and use it as fuel for improvement and growth; instead of seeing each failure as evidence against yourself or your company, see them as opportunities to grow and improve.

Embrace the benefits of failure.

For all the dread surrounding failure, it offers many benefits. It often leads to opportunities that wouldn't have existed otherwise if you didn't fail. That's why many successful people attribute their success in part or whole to their failures. 

Use failure as motivation.

Success is a journey, not a destination. If you try to change the world one way or another, you will fail sometimes, and you should embrace that. Adopting the mindset that failure is part of the journey will make you a better founder and business person. 

Failure allows us to learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them in future ventures. By accepting failure as inevitable and using it as motivation for success in future endeavors, founders can achieve great things despite the occasional setback.

Process your emotions. 

The consequences of failure are often emotional and can be challenging to process. But it would help if you processed them properly so that you can move on and take the experience and invaluable lessons with you. What sort of emotions will you feel when faced with failure?

Disappointment: You may feel disappointed in yourself for not meeting your goal or accomplishing what you set out to do. This feeling is normal—and it's important not to let it consume you or prevent future success by making self-doubt an issue in future ventures.

Criticism: Some people may criticize your choices even if they don't know everything that happened with your business venture. It's important not to let these criticisms get under your skin; instead, try responding with kindness and understanding when someone offers an opinion on something directly or indirectly related to your failed venture.

A Founder's Perspective of Failure 

Hans Robertson, Executive Chairman and Co-founder of Verkada, knows a thing or two about overcoming failure. Below, he shares insights into what it takes to build a company from the ground up—even after dealing with failure—including having a successful sales quarter, making personnel changes, downsizing, and pivoting when things aren't going well.

1. Check-in regularly.

Paying attention to your sales metrics throughout the year—rather than looking for big spikes at the end—will help you build a sustainable business. Regular check-ins are vital to keeping up with sales trends. The data from even a month or quarter can be revealing, especially concerning how the rest of the year may go.

Experienced founders know that if the first six weeks aren't looking like they should, it's improbable that weeks 6 through 12 will also go the way you want. Paying attention to your data from the beginning will tell you everything that is happening and where inefficiencies lie. You have to be willing to listen.

2. Take responsibility. 

Usually, a business's failure isn't entirely due to a macro event—it can often be traced back to company-specific causes, including poor management decisions and unclear goals. Poor strategy and execution are also significant factors in bad earnings for a business. It's essential to understand all the possibilities and not simply conclude that it's a macro problem.

Business leaders should acknowledge their mistakes and refrain from blaming others. If you are honest with your investors, they will respect you more than if they feel you are shifting some of the blame away from where it belongs and onto them or somebody else's shoulders.

Learning from failure means identifying mistakes and taking responsibility for your actions and their consequences, and this involves reframing failure as a learning opportunity, not a defeat.

3. Give honest feedback.

If you want people to improve their roles, you must give them honest feedback—most people won't know how to self-correct. Naturally, most people don't want to be rude or unpleasant, especially in the workplace, but in the end, withholding candid feedback is a disservice to whoever's working for you.

Don't avoid confrontation—it is unfair to your employees and bad for business. Instead, praise them honestly after they have done something well (or provide constructive criticism when they haven't). Be honest about your criticism, but share it in a way that will help them grow.

4. Be willing to move on to plan B.

When a project looks as though it is going badly and there is a strong belief among the group that you should try another approach, it's reasonable to move on to Plan B or implement it alongside the original plan.

It can be challenging for entrepreneurs to let go of their dreams, but sometimes you have to move on after failure—if Plan A doesn't work out, it's time for Plan B.

Acknowledging your mistakes and admitting that things aren't working as they should be is uncomfortable, but it's better than wasting time trying to ignore problems. Your board will respect this transparency.

6. Find people smarter than you.

As a business leader, it's your job to help others solve problems—whether you understand them or not. For this reason, one of the essential things wise founders do is seek out experts for issues they don't understand.

The key to being a good leader is finding smart people and getting them working together toward a common goal. Your job isn't necessarily what you know; it's in surrounding yourself with the right experts so that they can do their jobs while you focus on yours.

In summary, failure is a part of the journey toward success. Therefore, accepting and learning from failure is essential for any founder to grow and succeed long-term. By developing resilience, building self-confidence, embracing the benefits of failure, using failure as motivation, processing emotions, and addressing warning signs early on, startup founders can achieve great things and build sustainable businesses.

Watch our on-demand webinar
Get more insights on overcoming failure and pivoting when something isn't working.
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Watch our on-demand webinar
Get more insights on overcoming failure and pivoting when something isn't working.
Watch now
Watch our on-demand webinar
Get more insights on overcoming failure and pivoting when something isn't working.
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