I was recently asked to speak on a panel at a conference on Entrepreneurship put together by London Business School on the topic of perseverance. It's a personality trait that is often overlooked by the media who prefers to report on the more glamorous parts of seemingly overnight multi-billion dollar exits or cataclysmic failures - but nothing in between, which makes for the vast majority of business cases.
I could see in the audience these young would-be entrepreneurs dreaming about the big exits they'd realize from their business ideas without realizing the mental and emotional roller coaster they were about to embark on. I can certainly relate: I was one of them when I launched my business with my co-founder years ago.
What I've learnt is that perseverance is not simply just never giving up. Perseverance is a mentality. It is an acceptance of failure as a necessary evolution. As an entrepreneur who hits the wall (and trust me, 99% of you will), it's about learning from the mistakes you make along the journey and moving on.
Coming from a background in finance and investment banking, I was trained that failure was never an option for me and the armies of young analysts presenting deliverables to our superiors and clients. In that world, perfection was possible because everything was so formulaic and quite straight-forward.
I took that mindset with me when we launched Boticca. The business was the first of its kind - a curated marketplace for fashion accessories. In the first year, we had to define our customer acquisition model, which meant a lot of trial and error - something I was not accustomed to. And I must say, I took every little misstep terribly. I remember sitting in the office at night, brooding about these failures and hitting myself on the head for it personally. Instead of looking for a solution, I was sulking, which wasn't helping me or the business. I was pushing ahead (being "perseverant" some would say) without trying to understand these failures and what could be learnt from them. I was pushing ahead just for the sake of pushing ahead, not having really grasped the lessons I was being taught.
It's only when I accepted that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes that I started to evolve and learn from what went wrong in order to take the business forward. Acceptance of failure and its lessons is perseverance. When you're building the unbuilt, there's no roadmap for it. You have to make it up along the way and take note of everything that you learnt from each misstep. It's through those incremental learnings and changes that ultimately, you will find a way forward (which we ultimately did). And even if you don't, you will grow from it both professionally and personally.
Perseverance is the acceptance of a constant personal evolution.