The CEO and founder of Las Vegas based ecommerce site ecomom killed himself last month. His start up, for which he had such high hopes, has failed and is being shut down. I read this with great sadness, as I see young entrepreneurs every day of my working life and am increasingly concerned that we only hear about entrepreneurial success stories in the media.
Programmes like Dragon's Den and relentless press coverage of Britain's most celebrated entrepreneurs leads young people to believe that all you have to do is have an idea, set up a company and you're on your way to fame and fortune. Not only is it not true, but we are in danger of creating too much pressure on young people which leads them towards depression and even suicide if they then fail to deliver.
I was delighted to see that the next leader of Britain's top public schools, Richard Harman, believes that instead of hothousing children, schools and parents should be helping them to handle failure. As a life skill this will, he argues, be far more valuable than pushing for that extra A * at GCSE.
At the New Entrepreneurs Foundation we place very significant weight on learning to cope with failure and shoring up the necessary resilience to make it as an entrepreneur in the long run. I see this as a skill which is every bit as important as having a great idea to start with and being good with numbers, because without it, you are likely to fall at the first hurdle.
My own attempt to set up a business failed gloriously. I spent a year and a half with the most fantastic business idea that I tried to sell to hundreds of investors. No one agreed to finance it. At the time, I felt demoralised and rejected as though it was me and not the business plan which was being spurned. However, as an experience, it was extremely useful for several reasons. There were three of us involved in the potential start up and it required very close and effective teamwork throughout. It meant that we talked each other out of depression and kept the momentum and enthusiasm going. When we finally decided to give up and do something else the experience, connections and networks that I had built up over that time enabled me to get a fantastic job. So the lesson for me was about turning failure into success.
On our programme at the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, we drum it into our candidates that it is okay to fail once, twice, many times because you will learn something from it each time. Learn, move on and apply what you've learnt. Secondly, we look at how to acquire resilience. We teach people to recognize the symptoms of stress and then address them.
Over the year long course we have many eminent guest speakers and one thing we ask all of them to talk about is their biggest failure and how they coped with it. I often find this the most inspirational part of a talk and only last week heard Malcolm Bell, CEO and founder of Zaggora hot pants, exhorting young entrepreneurs to "Go ahead and fail because only by failing will you really appreciate success".
Shahbaz Ali, the founder and CEO of multi award winning data storage firm Tarmin inc. talked to our young entrepreneurs recently about the biggest disaster in his life when his first company was forced into liquidation by one of the investors and he was then blocked from buying the trading name to start again. He had his name vilified in the investor community and felt he had lost everything. However, because he had resilience, he decided not to give up, challenged the decision about the company name in court, won the case and started again from scratch to build Tarmin which is on track to be a very successful company.
Robert F. Kennedy famously said "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly' and in the case of young entrepreneurs this is absolutely true. Most start ups fail. That doesn't mean your own start up will never succeed, but it probably won't be your first and possibly not your second either. So to all young, aspiring entrepreneurs out there, I urge you to think about how you will deal with failure just as much as how you will deal with success when it comes.
In my next blog I will share some tips on how to deal with failure, how to recognise that you are stressed and what steps you can take to manage it.