From Failure to Success

Written by Liz Derks on the 6th of April, 2017

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We all heard that failure is a key part of the startup journey. But how do you pick yourself back up after a big rejection? And can fear of failure cripple an early stage startup?

“The most heartbreaking reason I see startups fail is because they are so scared of rejection that they don’t even go out and sell.”

To find out how to turn failure into success, we sat down with BlueChilli‘s CIO Colette Grgic to hear her insights on startups failures and how to learn from them.

What are the most common reasons startups fail?

There are many reasons why startups fail – the wrong team, the wrong product, not having a sustainable business model or being in the wrong market at the wrong time. But the most heartbreaking reason I see startups fail is because they are so scared of rejection that they don’t even go out and sell.

How do you look at failure when it comes to the startup journey?

At his 2006 address to the Stanford graduation class, Steve Jobs said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever…. have the courage to follow your heart and trust your intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

This is a poignant and very relevant statement for many startup founders.

The vast majority of startups really have no clue about where their dots even are, let alone how their dots will connect.

In order to map out their journeys, they constantly have to experiment and test the waters with new tech and new ideas. So it’s no surprise that every new startup has a 90% chance of failing. Now, that statistic would scare the daylights out of most people, but that depends on how you define failure. Is a baby a failure if it tries to walk and it falls? If you have a play with a new yoga pose and you fall, does that make you a failure? So why do we place such emphasis on a startup trying something new and finding it doesn’t work?

What have your own experiences taught you about failure?

Almost 2 years ago I shutdown my first company. It was quite devastating, especially because all three co-founders had a die-hard belief that the company would be a global success. It was a website that connected travellers directly to locals for unique experiences. We had 150 hosts in 16 countries, we had great conversion rates on the website, we had an international investor, and a great team. But after 14 months the numbers didn’t lie and we didn’t have a business. I had to go drown my baby in the creek and it was tough. It was like having a phantom limb for the next few months – I couldn’t stop thinking about it, worrying that we gave up too early, that there might have been another way.

But in hindsight, it was just another dot. A great dot, yes. A valuable dot, sure. But just another dot.

What I’ve learned is that the most memorable “dots” on my map were the things that scared me most. The times I had to push myself beyond myself. Where I had to learn. I now think that if I haven’t failed by the end of the week, then I haven’t lived enough. I’ve missed out.


Want to see more SheStarts conversations around startup resilience? Watch a panel discussion on this topic here: Turning Startup Failures into Success: The Science of Resilience with a presentation by Nicola Hazell, SheStarts director, followed by a panel discussion with experienced, successful entrepreneurs, who have gone through the wall of rejection and come out the other side.

To catch up on all the episodes and watch next week, stay tuned here!

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