Failure...in a good way

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“I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.  One of the most famous quotes in history about failure by Thomas Edison, one of the World’s most prolific inventors(entrepreneurs) of all time and holder of nearly 1,100 patents. Thomas Edison didn’t sit down one day, come up with the idea for the practical electric light bulb, design it, build it and turn it on. 

Failure was part of Thomas Edison’s everyday life and is a testament to the determination, motivation, inspiration, patience and tenacity that drives most entrepreneurs in the equivalent modern day, regardless of industry, product or service.

I myself fail daily.  It’s a very humbling and at times infuriating experience to fail. However, I posit to say, it is our ability to detach the emotional and crippling feeling of failure with a self driven empowerment to overcome adversity and achieve your intended goals and objectives.

Whether you’re a founder and CEO of a startup or an employee of one, you have and will continue to fail...but in a good way.  When we are faced with failure, either infrequently or daily, there are ways to proactively and positively address each failure in ways that help turn failure to success or at the very least, progress I have outlined several examples below that have helped me in my career:

1.    Acknowledge: Acknowledging failure is paramount. If you can’t acknowledge your failures, you will never be in a position to prove success either to yourself or others.  “I failed to deliver the sales and revenue numbers for this quarter”. Don’t blame SDR’s (SDR:  Sales Development Rep whose primary responsibility is to use phone outreach, typically making up to 100 calls a day, to prospect targets and buyer persona's with the sole intention of setting up meetings/demo's for the AE's (AE: Account Executives are typically sales resources responsible for conducting sales presentations/demo's of the product or service offering and also doing high value target outreach to decision makers at prospect companies.  These are also REPS.), your dog or the tooth fairy for failing to achieve your quarterly sales numbers.  You’re the CEO, VP of Sales and the failure was yours.  Did you have the right team? Were they sufficiently trained on the product/service? Did they have the right quota? Were you involved in closing important deals?  Acknowledging failure and proactively taking steps to rectify it is critical.

2.    Address/Action:  Acknowledging failure is the start, addressing it head on is the next crucial step. How important is this to address now? Very.  By deferring or putting off action items to resolve failure for a later date/time merely masks the fact you are not taking steps to correct the failure by kicking the can down the road. 

3.    Anticipated Results:  Once you have addressed and put into action solutions you believe will have a positive impact on previous failures, it cannot be a “feeling” of success.  You must provide a set of metrics and anticipated results you want to achieve.  “Rep1 will have a 50,000 Euro booking quota, Rep 2,85,000 and Rep 3, 100,000, SDR’s will be trained to hit 50 calls/day and 100 emails/day up 33% from current performance, X Rep will be let go by next Friday and I will take x,y,z deals to close this quarter”.

4.    Analyze:  Hold everyone, accountable for the anticipated results and monitor throughout the quarter, making changes as required to positively impact the goals and objectives you set based on the data.  “We’re going to be able to achieve our SDR productivity numbers across the board and I can take the 5 deals now in the pipeline that are over 100k Euro.”

5.    Achieve/Again: Failure again. Revenue numbers not met.  Go back to step 1 and repeat.  Or, perhaps you achieved the revenue numbers but have identified further areas of improvement during the quarter to accelerate revenue in the upcoming quarter or better yet, year.

These steps not only help you address failure head on, but take a methodical set of proactive approaches to reduce the risk of failure in your everyday business life.

As investors, it is our responsibility to work with CEO’s and founders to help them identify and work through failure, given industry averages have 75% of all startups “failing”.  CEO/Founders are rightfully skittish about discussing “failure” with their investors and Board.  However, I have found that with a deeper level of transparency between the founders and investors, it has helped more often times than not and allows the company to work through issues impacting “failures” in the business without a lack of confidence from your investors and Board.

It’s all about transparency and expectation setting and that cannot be done at just Board meetings or annual reviews.

By Scott Sorochak, Partner-Blarney Ventures