Entrepreneurship: What Is Your Definition Of Failure?

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Thanks to social media sites like Stumble Upon, Digg and Reddit, I’ve been able to easily find and read more than my fair share of articles on entrepreneurship in just this past month. I really love reading about entrepreneurship because entrepreneurship emphasizes taking action through self-motivation.

There’s no better way to push yourself to pursue your passions than to read about other people doing the same. Listening to their stories also reinforces the need to overcome your fears and make mistakes.

In fact, every article I’ve ever read on entrepreneurship emphasizes failure at some point, but failure is rarely defined. To an entrepreneur, what does failure mean exactly? What the heck is appealing about entrepreneurship if all it’s about is failing?

Do entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs have different definitions of failure?

I was extremely curious so I asked several people what their definitions of failure were. Of the 5 people I asked, 3 were self-proclaimed entrepreneurs and 2 were people holding regular day jobs.

Failure is just another cell on my Excel spreadsheet

Failure is like a video game. When you see “game over”, you insert another token and start over again.

Failure is when your initial plans don’t pan out.

Failure is when your business doesn’t make any profit and you have to shut it down.

Failure is when you run out of money and have to close up shop

In case it wasn’t obvious, the first 3 quotes above were spoken by entrepreneurs and the last 2 were from people holding regular day jobs. Could you tell the difference?

The definition of failure to the 3 entrepreneurs didn’t really resemble failure at all.

Failure to the entrepreneurs was analogous to an experiment gone wrong. Based on my experiences, I then asked myself the same question. Here’s what I came up with.

Failure is an attitude

If an idea or business plan doesn’t work out, you can’t just sit there, feel dejected and pity yourself. You have to find new markets to pursue and new ideas to try. You have to feel confident, even borderline cocky that eventually you’ll find the missing ingredient for the success of your business.

There were many businesses that didn’t pan out for us. When we unsuccessfully tried to open a Kumons, my wife and I were extremely dejected.

We had our hearts so set on opening this franchise that it was a big letdown when it didn’t happen. Emotions spiraled to the point where we discussed not even trying again and started to cut back our spending so we could afford for her not to work.

I’m not sure what happened next, but we eventually got our groove back and found our niche. When things started to click, we developed a certain swagger, an attitude for success.

Failure Doesn’t Exist Unless You Give Up

When it comes to entrepreneurship, I no longer like to speak in terms of failure. Instead of looking at things in black and white, I now rate my business ventures in terms of varying degrees of success.

It’s really how you want to look at it. Of the 5 businesses that didn’t pan out for us, a lot of them actually made profits and were viable business models, yet I used to consider them failures.

When I bought electronics from Craiglist and sold them on Ebay, I was actually pulling in $1400 a month which isn’t a bad sum of money for a side business. In the end, I decided that there were better ways to devote my time. You might call this venture a failure, but $1400 a month wasn’t too shabby in retrospect.

Failure Is An Experiment

The common underlying theme of all of the entrepreneurial quotes above is that failure is just a test. It is a test to see if a business idea is viable. It is only through a series of tests that one can eventually find the sweet spot.

My wife and I can totally relate to this concept. We used Ebay to test the market for new products to find the sweet spot for our niche. We came up with hundreds of failed products but eventually found the ones that sold well with the maximum amount of profit. In a way, all of our failed product ideas were just “cells” on our excel spreadsheet.

What Is Your Definition Of Failure?

So the next time you hear an entrepreneur talk about his/her failures, take what they are saying with a grain of salt. What they consider a failure could actually be construed as a success for a majority of people.

Conversely, what most people consider as a failure is often construed as just another data point for entrepreneurs.

What is your definition of failure? Do you think like an entrepreneur? I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

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13 thoughts on “Entrepreneurship: What Is Your Definition Of Failure?”

  1. Great post. I think the definition of failure related to your attitude as was pointed out in the article. I would find it hard to think of something I truly failed at. It would have to be something that I really didn’t learn a single lesson or that I gave up on.

    Its important for entrepreneurs to relax their view on failure. Everything can’t be focused on monetary value or many things you do will probably be failures. Entrepreneurs have to focus on learning and progressing with every project or venture they take on.

    Here’s a short post I made about this topic



  2. Long before I considered myself an entrepreneur I was taught that the only failure was to quit trying. It wasn’t until I started my own networking marketing business that I realized that an attitude of not quitting is one of the key points that sets successful entrepreneurs apart from those who go back to being an employee. For me, failure is simply another opportunity to tweek it and get it right.

  3. Hi Susan,

    Thank you for sharing your definition of failure. It seems as though your definitions of failure are inline with my own. Congrats on your networking marketing business!

  4. Try, fail, adjust, try, fail, adjust, try, fail, adjust, try, fail, adjust…try and succeed!! Failure is a necessary part of the learning process. Our society today teaches that failure is bad so many have been wired to never try anything new because they might fail. Entrepreneurs look at failure as a stepping stone to success. Thomas Edison failed 1000’s of times when trying to make a lightbulb and with each failure he was one step closer to success!

  5. Very true that failure does not exist … not unless you give-up…nice post.

  6. Great work, most people haven’t realized that failure is just inevitable. Its part of life and that is what makes life interesting. Please do i have the permission to share this post on my blog, i will surely link to you.

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