In a conversation today, I heard a surprisingly rare comment from an entrepreneur. In describing his background, he talked about a previous startup he founded in which he "made a bunch of mistakes" that lead to its failure. Sadly, this admission is a rare one. I was reminded of the scene in the film The Shawshank Redemption in which Morgan Freeman's character, Red, admits to the murder that led to his incarceration. He describes himself as the only guilty man in Shawshank, referring to a previous scene in which he compared Andy Dufresne's claim of innocence to every other inmate's version of "didn't do it." Similarly, when entrepreneurs typically describe their past failures, they often attribute them to a single cause: running out of money.
According to startup guru Paul Graham, there actually is one universal cause for startup failure:
"I think most businesses that fail do it because they don't give customers what they want . . . In nearly every failed startup, the real problem was that customers didn't want the product. For most, the cause of death is listed as "ran out of funding," but that's only the immediate cause. Why couldn't they get more funding? Probably because the product was a dog, or never seemed likely to be done, or both."
The truth is that most entrepreneurs, even successful ones, fail a bunch of times before they strike gold. And running out of funds is usually not the cause. The good ones embrace and learn from these failures, describing them with pride and gusto. More importantly, enlightened entrepreneurs can articulate what each failure taught them and how they've approached things differently since.
The same applies to non-founders. When I interview candidates, I actually spend more time asking about failures than successes. If someone I'm interviewing doesn't have at least a few, juicy mistakes that they can describe in painful detail, my assessment is that they aren't trying very hard. Moreover, they aren't very self-aware, as we've all made many, many mistakes. I don't see mistakes as signs of weakness or low ability. I see them as opportunities to improve, and I care about how a candidate capitalized on those opportunities.
Please share these 65 currently open positions with your talented friends and contacts, and be sure to follow us on Twitter for real-time updates on new jobs and other tech talent related topics.
Robert Hatta is Vice President of Entrepreneurial Talent and assists JumpStart client and portfolio companies in their efforts to recruit and retain entrepreneurial talent at all levels.