In America they won’t take you seriously until you’ve failed in business. I didn’t believe this myself until I went there on a trip in 1996 to find some equity investors. I set up lots of meetings and at every one of them, one of the main questions was: ‘what was your last failure?’ At that point I didn’t have any failures to report. So I didn’t get any money. At the time I thought they were all bonkers! Surely, it’s success that they should be interested in?
Now, of course, after more than 20 years in business I know what failure looks like. I have experienced both success and failure and whilst I celebrate them both, I celebrate my failures with more passion. I now understand why the Americans were so keen to see any history of business failures because they knew that unless I’d failed, I hadn’t really and truly succeeded. More importantly, I hadn’t learnt the lessons necessary to avoid failure in the future.
Out of everything that I’ve done and achieved, I know, deep down, that my failures have been my greatest personal successes. That seems counter-intuitive, but actually you can never fully succeed unless you’ve also failed. Failure teaches you how to succeed. You don’t truly respect anything, including businesses and money, until you’ve lost them. You can find out about my highs and lows in business here.
Entrepreneurs are a group – a community. We need to celebrate failure. We need to ask each other not ‘when did you make your first million?’ but ‘when did you have your first failure and what did you learn from it?’ Success breeds egotism but failure breeds humility and gives you the knowledge to go out, try again and really succeed.
The global economic crash made people realise that money without failure breeds shallowness, a form of emptiness. When an entrepreneur succeeds the first time without ever having failed it’s like a car journey to a new holiday destination. It’s all about getting there – making the money. You never look left or right out of the car window. You never watch the scenery or enjoy the view – getting to the destination is the only thing that matters. Once you’ve experienced failure you realise that it’s the journey itself that is the most important and beautiful thing; you take your time; admire the view; stop off on the way to visit new places and have new experiences. You appreciate the journey so much more – and because of this, you are a better and ultimately more successful entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs are very bad at taking advice but it’s incredibly important to learn from your failures and to surround yourself with clever, experienced people. British entrepreneurs tend to be solo operators unlike in the USA where, when a company floats, hundreds of employees share in the success. The Americans know that as an entrepreneur or business leader you need to be the string that brings together the chain of people that will make your company a success.
Celebrate failure, embrace criticism, learn from everyone you meet and remember – you can never spend enough money on getting good advice from experienced people.