Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.
Winston Churchill said that. He's quoted time and time again when it comes to failure. Churchill certainly knew about failure, having weathered his country through its darkest hours to a hard-earned victory. But Churchill's quote has always had people thinking about what it means to fail and whether he was talking about complete failure or those smaller failures that help us win in the end. And the concept of failure is something that many startups struggle with.
See there's a popular perception that once a startup crashes and burns, its founders will quickly raise from the ashes and make a comeback like Elvis from the dead. In other words, as Google Ventures partner Joe Kraus says, entrepreneurs tend to think that they learn more from the failure of their companies than if it they were ultimately successful. But that's not the case, Joe argues.
Joe doesn't quote Churchill, but a 2008 HBR study instead. And the numbers are telling. The success rate for first-time, venture-backed entrepreneurs is 18%. If they fail, their rate of success jumps up by only 2% ' to 20%. But if entrepreneurs win in their first venture, their chances of success in their next one is 30%.
For Joe, we learn more from our successes than our failures, that those who've won before are likely to win again. In other words, when you win, you've learned what it takes to win. When you lose, you've only learned that your choices were wrong. OK, that's probably a little too simplistic, but Joe is onto something when it comes to seeking failure.
We're Not Seeking Failure, We're Seeking Wins
We shouldn't be seeking failure, but, at ZURB, we accept that it's part of what we do. All of us, at some point, are going to fail. Failure, however, is not an excuse to throw up our hands and admit complete defeat, give up and quit entirely.
Sure, there are train wrecks behind every success. Even Steve Jobs had a flop or two. But those flops didn't cause Jobs to give up on Apple as a whole. When NeXT failed, Steve didn't give up on the software, which eventually became the basis of the MacOS.
Rovio didn't give up on itself even though it had 52 failures before hitting gold with Angry Birds. All those little failures added up into one big success.
Same with us. When we tried to get into the stock photo business about six years ago, making it a 'business within the business,' it didn't mesh well with our mission ' to help people design better products for people and faster. We worked hard for three years to make it work, people were interested, but it wasn't building any momentum for us. So we made the call to shut it down. However, we didn't call it quits on ZURB and applied what we learned to the larger business.
In so many words, we're in it for the win, not the loses, even if we hit a foul ball every now and then. We want to win and keep winning. That's what fail fast is all about and that's what Churchill was really talking about.