Accepting Your Own Failure As A Success

I read this great article recently on Fundera about business statistics in 2019. In it, they state that about two-thirds of business survive two years in business, half of all businesses will survive five years, and one-third will survive 10. These can be daunting numbers if you’re thinking about starting your own company. 

I got lucky with my first business. We are entering our 21st year! Of course, how do you get “lucky”? You work your tail off! And I did. I recognized an opportunity in a very busy market. I saw a void. I took HUGE chances – I was in my late 20s and often seen as too young. I was often the only woman in the room because I worked in tech. I was told my concept of allowing people to work from home was too risky.
But I was also adamant about why it would work. I was clear on our differentiators and our value proposition. I took “No’s” and turned them into “Yes.” I offered trials and had faith that they would turn into long term clients. I hired smart people and let them do their job. I never stopped pursuing new relationships. I took risks. I asked for mentors and I followed and engaged with people smarter than me.
It hasn’t been without challenges. As we grew, human resources become more complicated. Insurance was expensive. Taxes across different states were daunting. Two recessions caused a lot of heartache. Laying off friends and family caused even more heartache. Employees who believed they knew better often cast doubt on my choices. Pure hatred from some was a tough pill to swallow.
But, like life, business is up and down. I’m proud to say that we’ve prevailed and survived. We’ve navigated unchartered territory and come out alive. We continue to work with amazing global clients and have expanded our services, keeping the job interesting and fulfilling.
_If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative._ (1)

In contrast, my spinoff software startup lasted five years. The challenges between a product company and a services company were profound. I did not pursue funding for my first company (services) and I didn’t pursue it the right way for my second (software). I was again very often the only woman in the room, with a nearly all-male team and usually all-male VC teams to which we were presenting. This never bothered me but it was an interesting dynamic.

I put myself out there and took a risk, founding another company in my 40s. There were a lot of differences from the first time around, not the least of which was that at the time of its founding, I was the breadwinner, now a single Mom supporting my family, and my self funding could only go so far. We had some bad hires. VCs kept indicating that we needed to put “skin in the game,” and I felt like I had already done so. We had a minimum viable product (MVP). We had paying customers. We had a robust product roadmap. We had the same functional offering as that of a direct competitor (founded by men, interestingly enough) and we even won some big deals over them. But we didn’t have enough, apparently. Which is super frustrating when you see guys with ideas on napkins and only a sketch of a product get venture capital funding. But, I digress. We all know that story.

And I’m not here to lament on that chapter. I’m here to share “Wednesday Wisdom” about failing and continuing on. About taking chances. About starting that business you’ve always dreamt of. About accepting yourself if it doesn’t work.

I made the difficult decision to stop self funding and close the company after five years. It was sad. I felt I was letting down a great team who believed in me and my ideas. It was embarrassing. I felt my enemies snickering from afar.

But as we all know, everyone gets knocked down. No one is immune to failing at something. It’s about how you react – how you get up, as the saying goes.

In the past eight years I have failed. My first marriage failed. My startup failed. I was sued. Some of my friendships failed (mostly as a result of those first two!). I’ve faced major controversy in my business and personal life. I’ve lost a lot of money to legal battles. I considered giving up my business career to work at Starbucks. Not kidding.

But I didn’t. As I said in my “Battered, Not Beat” Hubspot speech years ago, I had some good cries. I ate ice cream. I drank some wine. And then I dragged myself up and got back on track. I realized that just surviving was a success. Starting was a success. Having the strength to do both was a success.

I relied on my amazingly giving network. I asked for help. I reorganized business and professional relationships. I am now remarried and recently rebranded my first company, still going strong and working with global clients and partners that provide phenomenal opportunities and collaborations. I’ve been offered a book publishing deal. I teach a graduate digital marketing course at Northeastern University. I have a third startup underway and am on the Board of several others. My children are thriving. It’s all very exciting, although it’s been a long road. And as we know, hills and valleys continue throughout life.

Admitting failure is tough. But I’ve realized that it’s ok. It’s part of our larger success story! What matters is what lesson you take from failure and how you turn that lesson into your next chapter. Today might feel bad, but tomorrow the sun will rise again and a new day will dawn, with a myriad of opportunities there for the taking. Failure at one thing does not indicate failure in another. So don’t give up. Recognize the attributing factors and pivot on your next try.

To fail is to be human. To admit it with grace is to be real. And in this day and age of filters and bots, fake news and trolls, Real Housewives and college admissions scandals, being authentic is perhaps the best thing we can be.

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