Fail Early | Fail Often

There is a quote I once read (I believe in a Jim Collins book) that says “If you want to double your successes, you need to triple your failures.” What I understand this to mean is that if you want to have success in your life you have to at least try; and try again; and try again. It is one thing to sit and ponder possibilities. It is quite another thing to give them a shot.

There are a lot of business books out there that suggest the true path to entrepreneurial greatness is to do what you love. These books sell a lot of copies because the paths to success proposed within them are “easy” – much like diet books that tell you you don’t have to exercise, you just have to stop eating bread seem to fly off bookstore shelves. But I believe the likelihood of a person actually being financially successful as a result of doing what they love is on par with the likelihood that someone who loves to play baseball will become a professional athlete. The chances are slim to none – but that doesn’t stop us from embracing Hank Arron’s story as if it were a real possibility for ourselves.

What I have learned over the course of trying and trying and trying is that being a successful entrepreneur is about finding the right combination of two things: 1.) A great idea, and 2.) A great opportunity. Great ideas will only be successful when they are accompanied by a great opportunity to deliver them. The matching of the two is not a perfect science. And the only way to find out if you’re on to something important is to create a plan and execute it. If the above mentioned quote holds any statistical merit, you’re likely to burn two or three businesses to the ground before you stumble upon something that just might work.


So if you can embrace the fact that most of your ventures will fail you can embrace the fact that some will succeed. But as entrepreneurs what we really want to know is when is it a good time to call a venture dead so that we can move on to the next failure? To do that we need a conceptual framework for quickly identifying failure. We want to fail early and fail often so that we can get going on the next venture that may pose an opportunity for success. So my question to you is “What are some variables that we can assign to a venture to quickly measure for failure?” Could these variables be time invested, money invested, sales figures? As entrepreneurs we should try and flush out as many variables as we can. Once we have established these variables we can start to work to identify indicators across them (or correlations i.e. when sales fail to reach x and investment exceeds y) that can serve as triggers to indicate failure and allow us to responsibly shut a failing venture down as quickly as possible. Discuss…

2 Replies to “Fail Early | Fail Often”

  1. You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. -Wayne Gretzky

  2. I would suggest from the start that “sales figures” are probably too mature a variable to do much good, especially if your production costs are really high – though their not totally invaluable. “Availabilty of Labor” could be good. Are there flat out enough skilled people around to do as much of the work that would need to be done to make this venture a home run? Or would you have to train people to work for you?

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