If you’re results-oriented, can you learn from failure?
I’d argue you can’t, at least not as efficiently as if you were process oriented.
Here are three case studies to examine:
Pitching the company
KinoSol had made it to the final six companies of an elevator pitch competition while in Texas and we had a 50 percent chance at a larger payday. Mikayla (Sullivan) delivered the pitch just as planned, with poise.
Kinosol didn’t make it into the top three. When we had the time to sit down as a team and reflect, the first question asked was, “What should we have changed in the pitch?”
It’s easy to assume we did something wrong because we didn’t win. And while it’s much easier to remember when the pitch didn’t work, we had cashed in multiple other competitions, with that exact pitch.
Each semester I help students work on and launch their ventures through Iowa State University’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative Business Incubator.
One semester, a cohort member sat out to complete their early customer discovery. Their hypotheses were well thought out, and they had a strong starting point for who to interview. After a one-week sprint, their customer discovery was not going according to plan and they were beginning to become discouraged.
We sat down to talk about it, and I quickly realized they had only interviewed three of their ten target contacts. We reviewed their questions. Their process was above average for this stage. I nudged them to “get out of the building” for those final seven interviews on the week.
By semester’s end—and having stuck with their process—they had interviewed over 70 people; 45 had validated their hypotheses.
They’re still building their company today, because they didn’t let the 0-3 start stop them.
While at the final table of a larger online poker tournament, I found myself to be five of nine in chip stacks of the remaining players. If the tournament had ended right then, I would have taken about $4,000 for fifth place. But ninth place paid out a little over $1,000, and first place was over $20,000.
The player to my immediate right was someone who I had played against before; a fellow professional. He barely had me covered in chips, and currently sat in fourth place. It folded around to him in the small blind, me in the big blind; just the two of us. He shoved all in with a little over 20 big blinds to my 16.
With Ace-Ten, I quickly called. He had Ace Three, and he hit a three on the turn.
I was out in ninth place.
In that moment, my correct play was not rewarded. It’s easy to feel as if I had missed out on at least $3,000, maybe more. But it was the correct play, mathematically, and that would be just one of the millions of hands of poker I’d play in my career.
While it’s disappointing to work hard, only to see something pay off with failure, what does it mean to “fail fast,” “fail and learn,” or my personal favorite phrase, from mentor and AgEI Director, Kevin Kimle; “fail successfully?”
Maybe it’s simple.
Maybe we as founders should stop beating ourselves up over the results and trust the process more often.
Clayton Mooney is the co-founder of the Ames-based companies Kinosol and Nebullam and a familiar face in the Iowa startup ecosystem. Learn more about him here.