How does an entrepreneur bounce back from failure?

By Desh Deshpande

(Editor’s note: This is Part-9 of the weekly video column with philanthropist and serial entrepreneur Desh Deshpande, with excerpts from his book “On Entrepreneurship and Impact.” This column appears every Monday.)

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

Desh Deshpande

It is common knowledge that failure is part and parcel of an entrepreneur’s life.

If you have never failed, then there is a possibility that you never tried to do anything that was on the edge.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of failures:

  1. a) You failed because of external circumstances on which you had limited control
  2. b) You failed because of your own flawed assumptions, decisions or actions

In both the cases, the consequences of failure may be the same. For example, you might suffer a financial loss, emotional pain and, sometimes, even strained relationships.

However, the way you approach failure is very different for each case.

Let me explain.

  1. a) Failing due to external circumstances beyond your control

This should rarely shatter you. This kind of failure happens and is  more common than you can imagine. As I said before, it hurts no matter what, but for this case recovery should be quick and fast. If you explain what really happened, people understand and will be supportive of your next adventure.

In my first startup adventure, I quit in the middle when I failed to convince my partner, Frank, that going to market quickly was more important than building all the features that we had been planning.  Although the product that I wanted to release was head and shoulders above the available alternatives, Frank was of the opinion that we needed a lot more features.

We clearly had a strong difference of opinion.

I quit and in the eyes of the society, I had failed.

The consequences and the pain was real.

Internally, it didn’t affect me much as I felt that I did the absolute right thing.

I recovered quickly and was able to raise venture capital for my next startup in the coming months.

  1. b) Failing because of you

When this happens, you clearly know YOU were the reason for that failure.

The first step is to acknowledge that fact and try not to blame it on something external.

The second step is to take the time to pause and reflect on what you could learn from this failure and actually make the necessary changes so that you become better the next time around. This requires a level of humility that is not very common. It is easier to get away by blaming something or someone.

The last step is to consciously rekindle the fire that started you on the entrepreneurial path in the first place.

Any kind of failure rarely shuts the entrepreneurial door permanently, unless you allow it to do so. Use your failures as stepping stones to emerge as a better-equipped person to take on the next adventure.

About Desh Deshpande:

During his entrepreneurial career spanning over three decades, Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande has built several companies. He has injected his passion for innovation and entrepreneurship into a number of social impact initiatives in India, the USA and Canada. He has been recognized for his entrepreneurial accomplishments by many institutions including being named co-chair of President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He currently also serves as a Life Member of the MIT corporation. He resides in Boston together with his wife, Jaishree.

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