Is Accepting Failure Harmful to Young Entrepreneurs?

Is Accepting Failure Harmful to Young Entrepreneurs?

Failure

There have been many articles and blog posts in recent years addressing failure as part of the startup process.  I’ve written about it myself.  While failure is, to some degree, inevitable in entrepreneurial pursuits, as in life, it should never be expected or accepted as satisfactory.

Some people in the startup scene discuss failure as though it is required for future success.  It sounds like we are telling inexperienced entrepreneurs that they need to get their first failed idea, or two, under their belts so they have something to talk about and so their eventual story of success is even more compelling.  Let me be clear, failing is not some startup merit badge.  A failed startup is not a goal, it’s not a personal brand marketing strategy and it’s not a required milestone for success.

For the purpose of this blog post, let’s clarify the context of the term “failure”.  I’m talking about the ultimate failure of a product or failure of a company.  Failure of a company becomes even more significant when it has been funded by friends, family or fools, especially if those “fools” were local investors.  When investments by locals go bad, many entrepreneurs may never get a second chance with those investors.  If entrepreneurs have not developed a network of potential investors outside their local region, this could mean they will have to self fund any future startup efforts.

Entrepreneurs must use every resource at their disposal to develop products and services that consumers want, and then build sustainable companies around those products.  Failure is never a goal in this process.  However, when small failures occur, and they will in the normal course of events, they are important because they give us an opportunity to learn.  Failure is only a good thing if we squeeze all the learning out of it and then apply what we learned to improve performance and avoid mistakes in the future.  In that regard, failure can serve as fuel for the fire of success.

THE TAKEAWAY:  While small failures are a normal part of the entrepreneurial learning process and should be embraced as a potential learning opportunity, we should never expect it, accept it as inevitable, or become comfortable with it. Finally, I agree with the idea that “people don’t fail, businesses do”.  In my opinion, people can fail, but we do so only when we quit making our best effort to succeed.

Passion:  How important is it for young entrepreneurs?

Passion: How important is it for young entrepreneurs?

Inspiration

I’ll save you the suspense.  The answer is “VERY IMPORTANT”.  But what exactly does that mean for a young entrepreneur who is 13-23 years old?  How does their passion manifest itself in what they do and how they think?  How can they have a passion for something they know little about at that age?

Our experience with our own teen entrepreneur is very informative.  Joshua started tearing apart McDonald’s Happy Meals when he was really young.  This could have been viewed as destructive behavior and we could have made him stop.  However, his destruction of these toys was more like disassembly than tearing them apart.  He didn’t smash them unless it was his only option because his goal was to learn how they worked.  He did this, sometimes to our dismay, with lots of items including phones (wish he would have limited this to our old phones), cameras, speakers, computers, and electronics in general.  This activity, combined with the internet research he did on his own as he got older, was how he learned about electronics, printed circuit boards, power supplies, and how to program software to control the electronics.

That is what I’m talking about when I say passion is important for young entrepreneurs.  At a young age, with limited other skill sets and resources, their passions manifest themselves in what they spend their time doing.   When Joshua had free time to do whatever he wanted, he chose building or researching product development.  That’s when we knew he had the necessary passion to be an entrepreneur.

I had a passion for sports when I was young.  I started playing organized sports when I was 8 years old but spent far more time outside of team practice trying to hone my skills.  While it was fun, my passion didn’t match my natural ability and when I got to college, I realized I had reached the limits of my natural talent.  However, all that time spent on my passion for sports did not go to waste.  In the process of trying to be the best athlete I could be, I learned so many other things from sports including:

  • how to work in, and lead, a team
  • how to work with people you don’t necessarily like
  • work ethic
  • sacrifice
  • loyalty
  • discipline
  • game planning
  • how to perform under pressure
  • what my limits appear to be and how to push myself beyond them if necessary

While I didn’t realize I needed them, all of these are critical soft skills.  I’ve used them every day for decades now. Young entrepreneurs MUST learn these soft skills as well.  So I had a passion for something that I didn’t have the natural talent to pursue at some point, but, in pursuing my passion I developed these soft skills that are the core of who I am and what I do for a living.  I got what I needed, even when I didn’t know I needed it.  Funny how that happens.

The final point here is that passion can’t be taught.  As parents, it is our job to expose our kids to a variety of experiences so that they can sort out for themselves the things for which they have both natural talent and great passion.  Joshua was a gifted athlete but he did not have a passion for it.  He played a variety of organized sports from age 5 through his sophomore year in high school.  He enjoyed sports and, like me, learned many things from the experience.  However, he seldom practiced outside of an organized team practice.  That was a sign that he didn’t have the passion to pursue sports long term.  Remember the Malcomb Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory?  His passion for developing products eventually overshadowed his attraction to sports.  He dropped out of sports to pursue entrepreneurship.  That appears to have been a good decision for him.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Passion without talent will only take you so far.  Talent without passion is unfulfilling.  Young people, and especially young entrepreneurs, have to try out lots of activities to help them identify those for which they have a passion so strong that they will push themselves to develop the necessary level of talent to be successful.  Most people, it seems, never discover this intersection of passion and talent for themselves.  For entrepreneurs, finding this intersection is imperative for success because the passion required to sustain the effort is great, and the skill set is vast.

What do a COO, Offensive Lineman, and Jazz Bassist have in common?

What do a COO, Offensive Lineman, and Jazz Bassist have in common?

skills

Almost every company, even early stage startups, has someone with the designation of Chief Operating Officer (COO).  While everyone assumes that the CEO is the articulate visionary and the CTO is the technical guru, the position of COO is less clear.   So the COO, like the offensive lineman in football and the jazz bassist, is the person who is not suited for one of the so called “skill” positions, the glamour jobs, like running back, wide receiver, lead guitarist or vocalist.  Let’s take a few paragraphs to explore the actual skills to fill these positions in their respective industries and why these positions, despite their relative anonymity, matter to the success of the group.

First, how may I speak with any degree of authority on these positions?  Well, I’ve been in a COO role many times in my so called career.  I played the offensive lineman position in high school for about 15 minutes in college before I realized I was out of my league and a walk-on scholarship was not in my future.  I’m also a drummer, which means I’m in the back with bass player while the spotlight shines on everyone else.

What do these positions have in common?  The the primary similarities are that:

  1. When performed well, they establish the foundation for team success
  2. Few people understand what it takes to do these jobs
  3. When performed to perfection, few people notice.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN –  Relative to the “skills players” on the team, they typically aren’t the best passers, they are slower, less agile, not as quick, and don’t catch the ball as well.  However, they usually are the biggest, have the greatest overall body and hand strength, operate as a unit, are intensely loyal to each other and the team, and are the best communicators.   If they do their job to perfection on every play, the skills players get an opportunity to advance the ball down the field, everything works, and no one notices them.  If they don’t do their job on any one play, the play usually falls apart, players on their team are at greater risk of injury and everyone knows they failed.  They are the silent partner you can’t do without.

JAZZ BASSIST –  While the piano player is running up and down the keyboard, lead guitarist is jammin’, and the lead singer is belting out the vocals, the bass player is in the background laying down the bass line.  Most bass players usually aren’t flashy, stand virtually motionless in the back of the stage, and make what they do look easy.  The truth is, despite all the impressive instrumental and vocal runs, and solos, it all comes back to the bass line.  If it isn’t steady and consistent throughout the song, everyone else in the band is off and the song just doesn’t reach its potential.

COO – COOs must have a broad set of skills.  While they may not be the visionary, the most charismatic, or have deep technical knowledge, they must have a working knowledge of functional areas like finance, marketing, HR, legal, and external relations, to name just a few.   Essentially, all the not so sexy stuff required to operate the business day-to-day.  In addition, COOs must have viable skills in strategy and pro forma development, communication, process development and assessment, and motivating and leading people.  It takes years of training and real world experience to acquire this vast set of skills and knowledge.  Despite the relative anonymity of the COO, the company will never reach its full potential if the functions of this position are not performed well.

For the odd man out in an early stage company who may have found himself or herself with the title of Chief Operating Officer, it is critical to be brutally honest in assessing what it takes to fill this position.  For the new COO with the right aptitude and attitude, it is important to be very intentional regarding knowledge and skills acquisition.  Initially, you must identify the things you can do, the things you can’t, and the resources to help you get things done in terms of advisors, mentors and vendors.  In addition, and this should be no surprise, YOU NEED A STRATEGY for acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge.  The most pressing needs get the most immediate attention.   Lay out a strategy and schedule for when and how you will you will get the education you need.  It may be in a formal classroom, an online course, attending regular sessions with a mentor or advisor, or self-directed research couples with practical application.  The success of the company depends on it.

THE TAKEAWAY:  In a team, especially a small one, every positions counts and lofty titles are irrelevant if you can’t fulfill the requirements of your position.  COOs, like offensive linesmen in football and jazz bassists, are typically in the background doing the hard work that facilitates success in other, more noticeable areas.  Leading and being good at your craft in these positions means that when you do your job well, few people will notice you.  A vast skill set, strength of character and humility rule the day.