This is a guest blog post written by Jan Brinckmann, Professor at ESADE Business School and member of the Delphi study developed under the FACE Entrepreneurship programme
We celebrate the big successes of founders of Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp, Tesla and the creators of a new breed of unicorns, the recently founded firms that in no time achieved the magic number of one billion Dollar (or Euro) valuations. As more of these species appear it seems easier to succeed. The “new normal” in startups and entrepreneurship world appears to be the launch and growth of new firms that within months achieve the unimaginable über-success.
What is muted during the celebration of the “new normal”, is that in this rockstar business, for every firm that achieves “success” there are maybe hundreds of firms that will not make it. And then the reality hits in:they have to lay off people, cannot return the money they borrowed, they have to find sotutions to pay off debts, etc. However, you seldom hear about this other reality, one where most new ventures will not survive the first few years.
In public, failure is treated as a taboo. You don't talk about it or you only mention it if it is followed by success. People who want to start a company are aware of the risks and inevitably very much afraid of failure. This often leads to not starting at all, delaying or halfheartedly pursuing promising ventures. At a time where we need new businesses more than ever, this poses a problem. Europe needs to create attractive jobs, employment and the renewal and innovation of technologies, processes, products and services which are essential to keep the pace in an increasingly dynamic world.
To address this challenge, the European Commission developed and financed the creation of the FACE Entrepreneurship (Failure Aversion Change in Europe) project under Horizon´s 2020 programme. This initiative aims to promote ICT entrepreneurship among young Europeans by fighting against fear of failure and promoting a risk taking culture.The goal is to show aspiring entrepreneurs that failure can lead to new opportunities, by openly discussing on this topic, its implications and ways of overcoming it.
In order to fully prepare for the challenge, the FACE Entrepreneurship project brought together people from the startup world to exchange experiences about failure in the entrepreneurship domain. The result of these sessions is the Delphi study which identifies the main fears shared by European entrepreneurs. The key consists in acknowledging failure as part of starting up. Even the most successful founders have experienced dark moments. But failure does not mean the end. Failed founders can start, restart or join a new venture. High growth companies are seeking talented people which have started or led new companies. Even if the venture fails, founders acquire valuable skills that help them improve professionally and personally. Thus, failure in one venture is often a learning episode on a longer journey of living a fulfilling, rewarding and self-directed life.
As the author of the Delphi study, I attended the ICT Lisbon event. On October 21st, I took part in a panel dealing with the following subject: “Collaborative learning from failure in entrepreneurship and collaborative actions to bring entrepreneurship forward”. Together with Edite Cruz, Carmen Bermejo, Mário Mouraz, Joao Romao, Walter Palma and João Vazão Vasques, I engaged in an open discussion about failure with experienced entrepreneurs who have also faced failure. If you're young, European and thinking of starting your ICT business, make sure you register on the FACE Entrepreneurship website and you will discover all the stories of European ICT entrepreneurs! Remember, all founders have fear of failure.