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Often when you hear about startup failure, you hear the about failure in the light of later success. You hear the retro-fit story of what happened, what happened next, and how success when it came, arrived through struggle, serendipity and sheer hard work. What you hear is the “grand narrative of failure”. These grand narratives are seductive. They draw us in because they offer what all good stories offer – a beginning. A challenge to overcome. The struggle. The stumble. The final success.
But these stories are hard to tell in-the-process because failure is almost indistinguishable from success. After all we just need one more. One more week. One more client. One more opportunity. Investment. Developer. Or chance.
Sometimes, the founder will snatch success from the waiting jaws of failure. And they do so by having a relentless focus on not just a “grand narrative” but on the next small step.
What does that look like?
Take a look at this video. Watch the precision. The rework. The focus. Watch how each next attempt is based on a learning that has come from failure. It’s what it takes to truly #flearn.
When commitment pays off…
Posted by Extreme on Sunday, 19 July 2015
Yesterday at our Pollenizer weekly standup, I told a quick story of my epic JFDI Flearn over the past few days. It’s well worth a clearer retrospective.
- Last Monday ‘we’ set Clare Hallams weekly goal of getting 300 followers.
- To make sure she got there, but mainly as a prank, I decided to use Fiverr. The first offer that came up was 20,000 followers for $5. I paid it.
- Clare got 20,000 followers overnight and was understandably furious.
- I realised what a big mistake I had made.
I knew instantly why it was such a dumb thing to do and why Clare was so angry with me. I was devastated.
Much of my weekend was spent worrying about what I’d done and working on trying to fix it. Including 8 messages to the Fiverr service provider, posting an ad on Freelancers, speaking to a contractor I know and emailing Twitter.
From this, I’ve learned some big lessons.
If Stimulus equals idea then think else flearn
The most important lesson was that our ability to do good work is a factor of our influence over our decisions. If we purely respond, then we are not very influential. I had an idea and acted on it without thinking through the consequences.
What about JFDI?
JFDI is not acting without thought. It’s acting without fear. You have an idea, you quickly think through the intended consequences and consider any unintended consequences and then you act. You don’t wait till it’s perfect or risk free. But you certainly take a moment. If I had taken a minute, then it all would have been avoided.
Two quick questions I will now ask myself before JFDI’ing:
- Can this be easily undone? A JFDI tweet can be deleted. 20,000 followers aren’t as easy to fix.
- Does it personally impact anyone? The account was Clare’s private account. Something I had no right to JFDI with. I would have been insulted if someone did that to my account and that should have been my ‘check in’ test before acting.
Very luckily, the process was reversed and Clare’s account is back to normal. A huge thanks to Clare for being so understanding and helping me flearn.
The Australian “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is powerful and all pervasive. We like people to succeed, but to be grounded. We like people to earn their way but not to be ostentatiously wealthy. And we want our heroes to be likeable – we want them to be the kind of people we would have a beer with.
The only kind of elitism we can stomach is the kind exhibited by high performing sportsmen or women. But even then, it can be a tightrope to walk.
In almost every other field of human endeavour, Australians tend to like our heroes humble, honest and down to earth. This is equally true in the world of startups.
But I wonder … do we also like our failures to be humble? Do we have an ear for their stories? Do we want to hear of the great turnaround – of snatching funding victory from the jaws of startup defeat? Do we only crave the grand stories – or is there something that we can learn from the small failures, the personal catastrophes and business losses? And if so, what do these sound like?
For clearly, it’s possible to fail from anywhere in the world.
The folks on the Attendly blog have captured a series of Stories of Failure and Redemption. And while I was reading I was struck by the other worldliness of the stories. They seemed out of context. Out of reach.
And then about halfway through I came across this:
mmMule is a social travel network connecting locals who want stuff with travelers who can deliver it. In return for delivery travelers are rewarded with fun, local travel experiences.
Avis Mulhall – Co-founder of mmMule
Our biggest failure was a near-death experience. Shortly after arriving in Sydney and during the creation of mmMule, I became seriously ill. So ill in fact that I nearly died – enduring four months in hospital, 3 major surgeries and even now I have an ongoing battle with Crohn’s disease.
At some point we really felt that it could be the end of the road for mmMule, things seemed really dark. But throughout everything, I had a single-minded vision – you could call it blind faith or you could call it stupidity – all I knew was that this was going to happen, that despite everything, we’d pull it off and get to launch.
You can read the full article on the site – and learn more about Avis’ unique story of failure and redemption. But the most exciting aspect was to read a local tale. To know that you don’t need to travel to #flearn. And that such opportunities exist right under our noses.
But what about you? What have you flearned? And more importantly, what can you share.
I was working on a Physio Rehab Mobile Application that would allow Physio’s to assign exercises to their clients. Clients would then get reminders about when to do their exercises and shown animations on how to do them properly.
I thought it was a great idea and I believed it would have so much value until I spent some time talking to my trial customers and learning more about what they do and how they work.
- What I found was that they already had existing systems where they record all the information for their clients and that they would need to have a person replicate this data every time to signup a new customer on my website.
- There was also an issue of receiving payments for small amounts. How do we take the credit card and would people be willing to give up the credit card for a $2 payment.
- There was also a problem that each treatment room didn’t have a computer with internet so they could access the website to set the exercises.
- We also found the Physios were so busy that they didn’t have time to use the website and it would slow down how many customers they could see each day.
The Flearn here was that you will always have assumptions or hypothesis but in the very beginning you need to talk to your customers and understand their daily lives, existing systems and how they are currently solving the problem in order to understand whether they will ever use your great product!
To boost the amount of great failure in order to embrace the learnings and explodify the successes, we came up with the following hashtag;
Of course it’s a combination of Fail plus Learn.
- Australia doesn’t embrace failure because life is so darn good why have the ambition to bother trying and even risk failing.
- We want a great startup industry here so we want more good failure.
- Some great peeps ran Failcon in Sydney and we all got jazzed up.
- I ran a final session on turning the ra-ra into action.
- We started a shared spreadsheet with fail ideas and owners of them.
- We followed up with a brainstorming session at Pollenizer today with some people from a co-working Jelly jumping in.
- Right at the end when we almost gave up, Ross Gerring suggested flearn. Great work Ross and team!
What a great story – so much good came together!
So why use it?
- Most importantly because you will always fail and learn your way to success so embrace it.
- To give us a comfortable language in order to share our failures.
- To bring failures out to the world and stop them being hidden under the rug.
- To have a way to search and find good stories when we’re feeling bad (or complacent).
How to use it?
- Easy – just whack it on the end of tweets
- Use it in blog posts
- Pop it in presentations
- Add it to your LinkedIn profiles (Like me)
- Write about it in your magazines and newspapers if you’re a journo (hint!)
- Say it out loud.
- Use it at a task, project, business or life level – all learnings from failings are beneficial.
- Share it and share it and share it.
- “Oh god, zero responses, what a epic #flearn”.
- “Server not responding… umm, #flearn”
- “So the customer said to get lost, he’d never pay me ever. Great #flearn”
- “We just stuck it up there and tried some different options. Super fast #flearn”
Some of my proud #flearnings:
- Blowing up 5 monitors I was trying to sell when 19.
- Trying to sell advanced technology to governments when I was 24.
- Trying to sell disruptive technology to big corporates at Kazaa when I was 26.
- Getting a lift with guys I’d just met in Tanzania. Big #flearn kids.
- Going against my gut instinct just because someone was more ‘experienced’ than I was. #zapr
- Not saying someone should not doing something because it would hurt their feelings.
- Doing far to much at once. #tangler
- Launching to the world when you’ve only got 10 customers. #posse
- Thinking that because I convinced someone to do something that they really got it. #manytimes
So go and #flearn as fast as you can.