A quick glance at the search results after Googling “Entrepreneur success stories” (29,700,000) and “Entrepreneur failure stories” (5,440,000) points to a dangerous disparity between the reality and coverage of innovation. Growth Science, an organization that keeps database records on more than a thousand corporate ventures, reports that 78 percent of them fail (cease to exist) between seven and ten years after initial funding. Yet, based on media coverage, non-entrepreneurs might believe most ventures succeed.
So, do aspiring entrepreneurs need stories of failure to offset the misleading pile of success stories out there?
Yes, I think so, and so does Matt Hunt, CEO/founder of innovation consulting firm Stanford & Griggs. Recently, I stumbled across an interview series he hosts called “Failure Forums” that addresses -- in detail -- the why and wherefore of shuttered business. Its purpose is a noble one – to air out mistakes in public, to stare them down fearlessly and glean lessons from them rather than wallowing in embarrassment.
It’s not that the topic of failure itself is taboo. It certainly isn’t absent from business media. We often hear about the necessity of risk-taking and mistake-making, and we’ve been soothed and/or motivated by tales of historical figures who ended up shaking off the stigmas of loserdom. Forbes is fond of talking about failure, too, but it’s usually conceptual, not concrete.
So where are all the modern examples of failure? In hiding, apparently. That's why this series was so refreshing. Hunt’s interviewees reflect on the arc of their failed business, from initial idea to eventual liquidation. The first one is about Orango, an automated kiosk that sold used consumer electronics in public places like grocery stores. Innovator Jeff Stratman explains the moment he realized Coinstar, the venture company behind Orango, was too service-oriented to tackle a true retail endeavor. He's quite savvy and comes across as positive rather than downtrodden --which is whole point.
“While the initiative may have failed, that doesn’t mean that those who led the work were failures,” writes Hunt.
So, I say: let the examples flow. You can submit your own to Matt Hunt -- if you're fearless enough, that is. Or, if you have a staffing-specific failure story, feel free to send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.