This may not go down well with some circles within the thriving startup ecosystem in the Middle East, but the time has come for us to collectively put an end to the glamorization of startup failures.
Sure, failure is always a possibility with every newly launched venture. And it sure as heck not the end of the road for a startup even if its initial efforts didn’t yield favorable results. As long as they’re learning from their mistakes and not ready to give up, it never is the end of the road for any entrepreneur.
Having said that, failure still sucks and should not be celebrated as glorified battle wounds entrepreneurs carry along with pride. There is a huge difference between seeing failure as a probable outcome and being okay with it.
On success and failure of startups, Mark Andreessen, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful and well-known venture capitalists, had this to say:
“We are biased towards people who never give up. That’s something you can’t find on a resume. We look for courage, and we look for genius. There’s all this talk about how important failure is, which I call the failure fetish. ‘Failure is wonderful, it teaches you so much, it is great to fail a lot,’ people say. But we think failure sucks. Success is wonderful.”
Today, we’re going to highlight three reasons why startup failures shouldn’t be celebrated if we want to establish MENA as the startup hub of the world.
1# Your failures don’t just affect you
Let’s begin with the pretty obvious: Failure is the worst possible outcome for a commercial entity given that its goals is to make money (hopefully profits) and get the most out of the time and money invested on it. Every time a business fails, the impact is not strictly confined to its founders. The fallout also spills over to investors, employees, and customers who chose to trust on the venture.
No startup approaches investors with a business plan that outlines how they are going to fall apart without ever really taking off. So if you didn’t start a business with the sole purpose of losing money or screwing over your employees, investors, and customers, failure is the worst possible place to end up in. Celebrating such an outcome makes no sense whatsoever.
2# Failures are acceptable only if you can bounce back
Imagine a sporting event at a huge stadium — let’s say a 400m sprint. There’s raw energy all around as spectators cheer for their favorite athletes. All of a sudden, one of the runners trips over and falls. But that’s just a for a second or two. She quickly gets back on her feet, resumes running as if her life depends on it, and finishes second.
The entire stadium, including even those who were cheering for her competitors, gives her a standing ovation — but only because she picked herself up and managed to achieve something. Nobody is celebrating her fall.
That’s the same with startups as well. As a startup founder, don’t celebrate when your ideas fail to gain traction, or when you lose money and things are not going as planned. If you manage to get over all the hurdles and smell the sweet aroma of success — well, now that’s something worthy of a big, fat celebration.
3# There’s no pride in getting things horribly wrong
Failure is acceptable under certain circumstances. For example, it’s understandable if you were experimenting with a new idea or innovation and things didn’t really work out well commercially. That’s fine — startups should occasionally step out of their comfort zone and challenge the existing status quo.
However, there’s no excuse for failure if you were operating under a tried-and-tested and risk-averse business model. There’s no pride in screwing up so bad that you took yourself out of business.
Failures in such cases should leave you bruised and battered. Of course, we’re not asking you to lose hope and give up on your entrepreneurial spirit. But you should not expect to come out a hero of that mess and celebrate the failure. Let that be a learning experience as you pick yourself up from the mess.
Going back to what Andreessen said, we should celebrate and glorify entrepreneurs who are not willing to give up rather than celebrating and glamorizing their failures. And that is precisely what we, the startup community in the Middle East and North Africa, should stick to in order to ensure that this weird and tasteless trend of celebrating failures doesn’t catch up with the region’s startup scene.