Stop Focusing on Failure, Study Success.

You hear it all the time: "Fail Fast", "Celebrate Failure" and "Learn from Failure."  But is that really what matters?  Does knowing what doesn't work actually help you get significantly closer to what will work?  Are we predisposed to rationalize failure, because we don't want to feel like the insane work hours of a startup were a waste? I don't think we should ignore failure, but we need to do more to study, and immitate success.  There is 100X more to learn and gain value from success. 

Let's examine this topic...



1) You never hear about a "<Company X that failed> Mafia"

A "Mafia" in this sense is when a company has a group of employees that go on to start companies of their own successfully. Whether you just read the awesome TechCrunch article about the Facebook Mafia or are more familiar with the famous PayPal mafia, you'll find that the mafia's that form all come from massively successful companies.  I believe this is because these companies find a system of leadership, product philosophy and culture that works so well that their employees can replicate it and apply it to their own startups.  The Facebook Mafia article even identifies some of those characteristics. 

2) Boston Needs to Study Success More Closely

There are always going to be parts of a business that companies and leaders won't want to share (ie- their "secret sauce"), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask.  There is so much more to be learned about what works versus what doesn't. We've celebrated numerous post-mortems in this community and while there are certainly lessons in learning what made a startup's not nearly as valuable as learning what worked at a startup that grew and became successful.  I would trade 100 great post-mortems for just 1 "How I did it" on a successful startup.

Last Spring, MassChallenge threw an awesome event on "Hiring and HR" with Paul English. This is exactly the kind of events we need to learn what works.  Paul gave great advice and while it really didn't give away any "secret sauce," it did provide a framework for hiring that is much smarter than what I think a lot of especially young entrepreneurs are doing today. Another great example of this is the annual Momentum Summit, which brings in successful Boston CEOs to be interviewed by local entrepreneurs.  Let's do even more of this on a position by position level. 

3) Create a Culture that Celebrates Success

I don't think it was ever the intention, but Lean Startups has unfortunately glamourized failure.  The fact is, failing is not the goal of Lean Startups; the goal of Lean Startups is to find product-market fit faster, through iteration.  

Thomas Edison tried hundreds of versions of his light bulb design before he got the right one.  I'm sure he used the scientific method to iterate on each of those steps, but it really doesn't matter what he did for attempt #33 or #75; all that matters is that he found the right design and now your house is lit at night thanks to him.

Reflecting back on my own failed ventures...the most important lessons are all about what actually worked at the startup; it is those lessons that I can actually immediately implement at my next startup.  Anything that failed at previous startups just means I still haven't found what works; whatever I try at the startup is just that: trying something else hoping it will work better.  

4) We should share success more

Did you know that Elias at Performable spends over 75% of his time talking to customers?  How many startups have their engineers EVER talk to customers? Did your startup find product-market fit as fast as Performable? I didn't think so.  Sharing tactics is something we need to do more of; it doesn't give away your secret sauce. Instead, it makes every startup more intelligent in Boston and more startup wins in the area is good for everyone.

There are tons of first time entrepreneurs in Boston. Most of their startups are going to fail.  Do we want them to spend their time learning the basics from scratch or do we want to create an army of battle-hardened veterans that have experience in getting their startups truly off the ground?'s first time entrepreneur is tomorrow's high value early stage employee.

The best example of this is what John Prendergast has started doing with his blog.  First he saved a young entrepreneur months of failure by giving him the real blueprint for getting his startup off the ground. Then, he shared awesome tactics in how BlueLeaf learns quickly from their customers.  

Now imagine if every startup was sharing some of this advice and their learned successes? Also imagine if those of us that don't have a lot of advice to share yet helped point more struggling entrepreneurs to this sort of content (I sent the Letter to a Young Entrepreneur to a Babson student just this week).


So let's talk less about Failing and more about what's working.  If you're thinking something you're doing is wrong...ask around to others in a role similar to yours and focus on what's working for them.

Forget Failure. Study Success.



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