For some, failure can mean the end of the road on some activity, venture or goal. But that is only true if you give up and just stop. For me—and for many others like me—failure in some area can act as a valuable learning experience that further enables success. This new series of blogs will illustrate, with my own experience and observation, how learning from failure is possible.
My PR Bungle
In 2012 when I first brought Pipeliner to America from Austria, the first advice I received from people was that I should immediately engage in heavy PR activities. The reasoning was that PR is far less expensive than marketing, and I could get the product and company known quickly and broadly.
This advice wasn’t necessarily wrong generally—but it was wrong for me. Before you start enticing the media, you have to have a story to tell. You have to have a company in place, a corporate identity, design and message. None of these things had been accomplished at that time.
In addition to jumping right onto the PR train, the other mistake I made was to immediately engage the services of a PR agency—something else I was advised to do. After I had reached out to a few of them, I contracted with one that, as it happened, wasn’t even in my industry. But they gave the right pitch, sold me on the idea and signed me up.
Fortunately I was smart enough not to jump in with both feet. Instead of the year contract that the agency was insisting I needed, I only signed up for 6 months. On top of that, I made sure the contract contained a clause that allowed me out of it after 4 months if I was unsatisfied, and also defined additional requirements on both sides. I also talked them down to half of what they wanted to charge me.
These were all a good things, because the agency didn’t produce results for me at all. I ended up terminating our relationship at 4 months.
As I said, I didn’t yet have a story to tell. The story itself has really evolved over the last 3 to 4 years. It has bloomed, become deeper and more profound. The PR message I have today is far different than what I had 3 to 4 years ago. Additionally the agency wasn’t in our industry so never reached our target audience.
Lesson Learned—and Seen Elsewhere
The lesson I learned out of this failure was this: Everything has timing. Someone may be attempting to force you to act too early or too fast.
A prime example is something that is routinely pushed through the VC industry into companies today—that a company, to succeed, must be the fastest and the first to market. Tempting though it is, I’ll avoid dropping foul language into this article, and just say that this is pure poppycock.
There are many, but one total standout story that disproves this statement is that of Google. When Larry Page was courting investors, AltaVista was the clear search engine leader. The response he got everywhere he went was along the lines of, “Oh, no! Not another search engine! We already have 8 of them!” Page ended up making some 350 pitches before he found investment.
Google was certainly not the fastest nor the first to market. Yet today it is one of the biggest companies in the world, and the world’s 2nd most valuable brand at $82.5 billion. So this “must be first and fastest to market” mandate has been completely disproven by Google alone.
This demand on a company can be highly destructive. It can have the same effect as demanding that a first-grader learn to speak 3 languages, excel in higher math skills, and be expertly proficient in arts as well. The child is going to cave under such pressure—and so is a company that is being pushed to be something it clearly isn’t, well before its time.
Companies, just like people, need to grow through stages. Certainly they should grow as fast as they can and make it to market as soon as possible. But they shouldn’t be forced before they are ready.
It is my opinion that venture capitalists have ruined a lot of companies by trying to grow them far too quickly and by forcing them to be what they weren’t well before their time. A prime example is the story of Zenefits, a company that was pushed hard by its investors to build a high-octane sales force before it was ready, and ended up practically doing itself in. Today the company is but a shadow of its former self.
Patience and Faith
Of course we can always look to nature for lessons. What happens when you pick fruit before it’s ripe? It’s bitter. You wouldn’t want to eat it, let along sell it.
2 virtues are needed to properly grow a company: patience, and faith. You need the patience to get a company up and running, and to wait until it is truly ready before pushing it to the next level. And, you need the faith in yourself, and in your team, that you and they will be able to get it there.
What have you learned from your failures? I’d love to hear about it! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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