Every Idea Is a Failure Until…
Previously I have written about the times I have failed in my life. Even as I have failed many times, I keep trying out new ideas – in tech and in the political arena. In the past months, I have started many new initiatives. As an entrepreneur, one goes into every new venture with utmost optimism. While thinking positive is good and even critical to attract talent and the first set of customers, the reality is that every idea must be assumed to be a failure – until it actually succeeds.
When an entrepreneur is birthing a new idea, the challenge is that the prospective customers are already using a different product or are set in their ways of doing things. What the entrepreneur has to do is to persuade them to switch – give up the old to make way for the new. This is never easy. Habits (and therefore products) are hard to change. The inevitable outcome of an inability to change can lead to failure for the entrepreneur. Therefore, the mindset of an entrepreneur must be that unless one can change minds (and therefore actions), the idea will fail. So, an entrepreneur must go to work daily to reduce the chances of failure by getting future customers to see the benefits in the new offering.
We remember the successes. Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Zoom have all made their way into our lives. They all succeeded in replacing the old way of doing things with their offerings. But there are many failures littered on this path of change. Yahoo, Friendster, Nokia, Segway, AOL, Netscape are all brands that promised a lot, even succeeded in capturing the popular imagination for some time, but eventually flamed out. For every success, there are hundreds of failures. Entrepreneurs compete with incumbents and other entrepreneurs to overcome the near inevitability of failure. Keeping this in mind is critical to ensure that entrepreneurs stay grounded even as their imagination soars.
I too have failed many times. Each time I had great hope but I could not manage to change enough minds and switch enough customers to succeed. In retrospect, most failures were expected – because that is the norm. What actually needs to be explained is success – because many things have to go right for an entrepreneur in the marketplace. Each time I have succeeded has been a combination of luck, timing and mistakes by competitors – a sequence of small steps that combine together a giant leap. There is no one path to success – the operating context for every entrepreneurial venture is different.
So, the next time you are starting off on a venture, accept the reality of failure – and then go out and work hard to reduce the risks every day.