One of the most beautiful lines in English poetry is Lord Tennyson’s “Tis better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all”. In many ways, the same is true for entrepreneurship in business. Tis better to have tried than not to have tried at all.
I remember having to wind down one of my companies as if it were yesterday. First, there were the sleepless nights thinking about the legal and financial consequences of shutting down the business. There were tough discussions with my partners about how to divide the remnants of our company. We had to sit across the table from old war companions and fire them. We had to go hat-in-hand to suppliers and beg them to accept a fraction of what we owed them. Most ego-busting of all, I had to go back to the people who thought of me as a star and admit our business had failed. It took years to get rid of the little voice that whispered “loser” in my ear.
I often think of this moment many years ago when I see all the enthusiastic faces of our food entrepreneurs in the Stock Pot Malden incubator we run. Nobody goes into business to fail, yet many of them will. Sadly, this is the cruel way it has to work. Success grows from the compost of past failures. We learn from personal agony, and there’s no avoiding it. Our incubator can teach them about risk, but it will not have the same power as experiencing failure.
Today, I look for partners who have failed at least once. I like wounded veterans ready for another battle. The odds of winning on second chances are better than on first at bats. I like the grizzled faces, the battle scars, the stories of things that went wrong. I seek people who have fallen off the horse, yet want to climb back on it. It’s the circle of life in business.
Staying with Lord Tennyson, “knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” Failed entrepreneurs, you shall rise again.