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Reading a Map

As the New Year approaches, I find myself embracing the cliché and reflecting on 2013.  Over the year, I have seen some striking successes such as companies receiving funding, products launching, and new teams coming together.  I have also witnessed the failure that is inevitable with those who attempt to do what is new.

In most cases, I watched those who failed over the past year be consumed with their troubles…they let their failure own them.  They entered that dark world where they think they cannot come back from their situation.  The solution is not to focus on what went wrong, but rather what they need to understand from their failure.

This message is addressed to those people who need to understand the value of failure.

There are three things that we should all try to remember about failure:

Failure should be embraced.  Its necessary to grow.  I believe that most fail before they succeed in business.  The more adept people learn from those failures and call them lessons…occasionally, they might refer to their failures as an expensive education.

After failing over and over again to perfect the light bulb, Thomas A. Edison stated “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Failure is about discovery and understanding would you would not do again.

Failure is about strategy.  I have failed over the course of my career many times but I have learned that the key is to leave yourself with options to recover.  In other words, it is important to have contingency plans.

I learned this lesson the hard way

While working at Kadoink, we found ourselves running out of cash.  During the 2008 downturn, there was a pullback from one of our financial backers and we were forced into a massive downsize and ultimately the sale of the company.  The lesson learned from this is that we should have cultivated more alternatives for financing and been more sensitive to the economic environment.  The other lesson I learned from Kadoink is that revenue is the best Venture Capitalist.

Try to look at each decision point and ask, “What will I do if it does not work out?”

Failure is a good roadmap.  If you look out to the universe of companies you are competing with, you will generally see a landscape dotted with failure.  Facebook stuck with a one size fits all solution, opening the market up for vertical solutions like Pintrest to come in and win market share.  Similarly, Apple’s recent announcement to launch a low cost consumer phone (5c) is now diluting its premium brand while lowering the overall cost of its products and leaving the company vulnerable to low-end competition.  Microsoft is focusing its advertising campaign for tablets on Apple rather than Samsung, leaving the majority of the market un-countered.

Looking at the companies around you, you will see failure everywhere…and you will see opportunity.  Use the failures of the other companies in the market to avoid the same pitfalls.  Let their disasters be your education, your roadmap and ultimately your success.

I wish you all a happy holiday and hope that you will learn from failure and find success and the market of your choosing.

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