At the dawn of the web I launched one of the first e-commerce sites. I spent six months on research, perfecting the site, striving to get everything right. After six hours live I’d learned more from people’s actions and reactions than in those six months — and felt a bitter regret for the half year wasted. Now, as an investor, I occasionally see the same behavior, and finally understand at least one of its roots.
I sometimes find and fund founders that have never failed. For young, first-time founders, this often means they’ve never failed intellectually: they are top of their class, their country’s math olympian, the best in their unit or their country at something that requires an excessive abundance of grey matter. Sometimes these prove to be the founders most likely to fail.
They’re likely to fail exactly because they are afraid of doing so. They’re so used to winning, so used to the orderly, structured, achievable goals (math, code, chess) conquerable by brain power and effort alone, that they are ill-prepared for the entirely messy reality of entrepreneurship.
For entrepreneurs, failing (fast, and sometimes often) is an important part of the journey. Small failures are a reality on the journey to any big success; it’s how you learn what you thought to be true is not.
You have to launch to learn, and the sooner you do, the sooner you can improve. As my friend Reid Hoffman is credited with saying, “If your MVP doesn’t embarrass you, you spent too long on it.”
Small failures are a reality on the journey to any big success.
Entrepreneurship isn’t a formula you can solve. Sites and apps aren’t perfected in a dark, dank room rich with the scent of coders at work. Yes, success in the digital realm requires world-class code and a great metaphor, but it needs the polish and learnings of the great unwashed, the millions, and even billions, of people around the world that touch your beautiful shiny thing and make it better by showing you how they use it.
Entrepreneurship is a messy series of sprints and falls, hurdles and halts and all-out-exhausting-endurance races in an never-ending marathon that may or may not lead to success. But you have to launch and learn; share your precious thing with the world and let the world show you what it thinks.
Sometimes founders are so smart, perhaps too smart, they believe they can turn the journey into an equation they believe they can “solve” purely through strength of mind and lines of code. They iterate repeatedly internally, with only their team and selected friends allowed to touch their shiny thing, because they fear it does not shine brightly enough.
But this habit risks doing something they’ve never done before: failing. They fail not for lack of trying, but for trying too hard. They let their quest for “better” be the death of “good enough,” exhausting their time and capital along the way. They fail because they fear their product will fail, and they never give it a chance, or enough time, to win.
If you want to win big, you must embrace the risk, and small realities, of failure. Launch and learn my fellow founders, launch and learn.