How to Be Good at Failure
This past year has taught me a lot about failure. By all accounts, it’s been successful year. My business grew from zero to over 200 stores, we’ve been featured multiple times on national television and we just raised $500,000 in investment. At the same time, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t get rejected, by everyone from potential customers to buyers at national grocery stores.
When you shoot for the moon, you’re going to get battered by rejection long before you reach any stars. I’ve found that the key to continuing the journey is to not let failing make you feel like a failure. This is where optimism comes in.
Research has long shown that optimists are more successful than pessimists. People who see the glass half full make more money, have happier marriages and live longer than the cynics of the world. Optimism is a particularly important skill for entrepreneurs.
Starting a new venture is like riding the world’s wildest rollercoaster. One minute you’re on top of the world; the next you’re so deep in a hole that you don’t know if you’ll ever again see the light. Optimists bask in the glory at the top of the mountain and assume that the valleys will pass. Pessimists are more likely to dismiss their success as a fluke and blame themselves when bad things happen.
My company, Kuli Kuli, had a rollercoaster ride recently when we were featured on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show with only two days advance notice. We’d decided to test out a new product, our Moringa Superfood Powder, the week before to see how it sold online before releasing it into stores. The day we were featured on Morning Joe, we received over $30,000 in orders, most of them for our new moringa powder. At the time, we had 50 powder units in stock and were doing all of our order fulfillment ourselves.
The glory of being on national television faded quickly when I began receiving tons of angry emails from customers accustomed to Amazon-style two-day shipping. We source all of our moringa from women’s cooperatives in Ghana. Getting those moringa leaves off the tree and into our jars took longer than usual, given the large order and lack of advance notice. Add to that the fact that we’re a small team unaccustomed to fulfilling thousands of orders ourselves.
The pessimist might have said that we were over our head and should stop making big television appearances until we had our act together. But the optimist in me insisted that this was a learning opportunity. We worked closely with our suppliers to ensure that we would always have enough moringa in stock to meet demand. We also found an incredible fulfillment house that employs people with autism to fulfill our online orders — enabling us to respond quickly to large orders and keeping in line with our social mission.
Failing is absolutely the best way to learn. So much so that startup geeks call it “pivoting.” In order to turn a bad situation into a “pivot,” you need to catch yourself in a moment of despondency and re-focus that negative energy into realizing what you can learn from the situation.
Re-focusing your mind on the sunny side of things isn’t easy, especially when your prospects look bleak. But just as you can train your body to adapt to running long distances, you can train your mind towards positivity. For me, that means taking a moment at the end of every day to write down one thing that went well. One experiment showed that just doing this for a week boosted happiness for up to six months.
In a culture so focused on success, it’s easy to forget the importance of failure. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough. Learning how to be optimistic despite setbacks and turn those challenges into learnings is the greatest skill that any entrepreneur can learn.
I’d love to hear in the comments below, what has been your greatest failure?
This article was posted on Huffington Post, 10/3/14, updated 12/3/14