Use Failure To Push Forward

By Victoria Cairl

It’s been over a year since I started working at a startup. I was one of the hardest years in my career, and one of the most fulfilling in my life, in that I’ve learned more than at any other job I have ever had.

The biggest lesson I took away this past year came from my boss, who told me, “Fail and fail fast”. For a person who is extremely self-critical and was pre-programmed to avoid failure at all costs, this advice seemed counter-intuitive, if not crazy.

But now, a year into this adventure, I see the benefits and understand how to use failure to move forward. Here are five things I have learned and will be applying in 2018.

 1. You learn more when you fail

It’s one thing to do something that has mediocre results and another when you see pretty quickly that your idea won’t work. I placed a couple bets on inventory last year that didn’t move. These bad bets were few and far between, but they helped me learn to gauge our audience’s wants in a clear way. Future bets I made were far more educated given this new data.


2. Innovate or die trying

Working in business development, I am only as good as my latest plan to make money. Not every plan worked. This forced me to come up with more ideas at a faster pace. If one idea didn’t work, I was on to the next one. I had to shelve many ideas that I loved, but learning to “kill my darlings” only allowed me to birth new plans in a less precious way. Often, using what we’d learned from one thing failing makes the next iteration better and more successful.

3. Honesty is the best policy

As much as you want everything to work out just fine with partnerships, it doesn’t. I decided to be honest about that fact. So rather than smile and say, “I can make this work” no matter what the reality was, I decided to be real about everything. Shocking, right? I knew my integrity was at stake, so to cultivate clientele or a potential partner, I would explain the situation: the timing wasn’t right or our audience we have wouldn’t go for their product, etc. This sometimes meant putting off a great partnership and potential income, but it also meant building relationships with people that would be built on fair ground, and hopefully would lead to working with them again in the future.

4. Save time and energy

“Sometimes you just have to call it”, I told my team. I could have wasted our time pushing to market a new offering, or I could tell us all to cut our losses and move on. I’d rather spend my team’s time and dedication to an idea we all think can go further, rather than waste their energy on something we can see has no real value. Your team will respect you more when you hold their focus on fights that are worth fighting.

5. It’s business, not personal

I still take too many things in business to heart. I am still learning to accept criticism in stride. I had days where I kept things too close to my vest but honestly, it doesn’t help anyone. Life is short and time is precious when you work for a startup. Close your door, hit a wall, wallow in self-pity in private and then come back to conquer the world. No one has time for your drama, everyone would rather have your mind at its highest level of capability, not obsessing about what could have been.

This year instead of hiding from my failures, I will own them like I own every success. Startup life isn’t about looking backward but thrusting forward.

One of the best gifts I was ever given was sent to me by a close friend when I started a new job. It was a thermos that had the following motto printed on it, “Onward and Upward”. Don’t let failure get the better of you or your self-confidence. Use it as a catalyst to get where you need to go in the year and years ahead. We all could do it by moving “Onward and Upward” every day.


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