Napoleon Hill, one of the greatest writers on success once said that “every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success“. And so follows an endless chain of famous quotes that dance between notions of defeat and triumph. No doubt, the world’s most accomplished people failed countless times before conquering all. Yet, why is failure still stigmatised? And what really constitutes “failure”?
Berlin entrepreneur Shermin Voshmgir, founder of the now-defunct independent film makers’ platform cinovu, speaks candidly about the notion of “failure”. With it – her renewed sense of determination, a stronger armoury of startup experience, and her new-found pearls of wisdom…
There is no such thing as failure
In fact, I claim that we should ban the word failure from the dictionary altogether. Of course this is impossible, and it wouldn’t really solve the problem, because the notion of failure has ingrained itself too deeply in our view of the world, especially here in Germany.
For example: I participated in the TWiST Berlin competition last February, pitching my former startup cinovu. Out of 19 startups, five made it to the finals. I came in at third place and got to pitch in front of Jason Calacanis and was consequently invited to Silicon Valley. It was a great experience. After the show, I was interviewed by a ZDF journalist, and when he wrote about me in his piece the next day, he referred to me as “Verliererin Shermin Voshmgir” which translates to “Loser Shermin Voshmgir” Seriously? I laughed so hard, I almost fell off my chair.
Fear failure? Best not leave your home
By the definition of failure, if you don’t want to fail, it’s best advised that you never ever, ever do anything with your life. Because if we have a “winner takes it all” world view, then of course anything and everyone who doesn’t come in first, or is the biggest, or has the most, must by definition be a loser, or to put it in other words, a failure.
This creates a lot of very unhappy and self-conscious people and subsequently leads to burnout. Studies show that more than 30 per cent of the workforce today suffers from burnout. Not because they work so much, but because no matter how much we work, it’s never seems to be good enough. It’s a logical consequence of this black and white world view of winning and failing.
I choose to have a different view of the world. Life in general and business in particular is a series of trial and error. There is only so much you can learn in theory. Real life is much more complex than any theory.
At FailCon Berlin just a few weeks ago, a co-panelist said: “In Germany, when you make a mistake, people tell you that ‘you should have thought of that before’.” Yes, I’ve heard that line many times. Coming from Austria, it’s not much different there. But here’s my question: How do you avoid making mistakes if you’ve never done it before?
Starting up your own business, especially one with a disruptive business model, is hard to stick to the textbook way of doing things. You read, you consult with savvier people, but eventually you have to start doing. You can’t wait until you have all the possible information to make your business decisions, otherwise you will never even make the first step in creating your own business.
You call it a mistake, I call it learning
The only way I learn and grow is by pushing my boundaries and making “mistakes”. I try something – when it works out, I continue; if it doesn’t, I deviate and iterate and try somthing else. The trick of course is to find out when to stop and iterate. If you stop too fast, then maybe you didn’t try hard enough. If you hold on to it too long, you run into the wrong direction and lose money. But remember, losing money is part of the game. You just have to protect your downside.
For over a year I worked on a startup called cinovu. As it often happens with startups, we had to stop operations this summer. It wan’t easy, but we had to make that call. Today I am working on a new startup called ISPYFILM. All the so called “mistakes” that I made are valuable learnings for my new venture. Back then, when I started working on cinovu, I didn’t have the experience and information that I have today; so no, I couldn’t have done things differently.
I didn’t fail. I tried.
If you never try to pursue the things you dream of, the things you want to do, then that’s when you’ve really failed. So please, do yourself a favour… get out there, start making mistakes and learn from them!
For related posts, check out:
Entrepreneurs, skip these 4 common startup screw-ups
The secrets of my failure – why “winning” is not our natural state
“Fake it until you make it” – Eileen Burbidge’s astonishing tale of Skype’s early days