How To Fail … Fast

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak to a group of entrepreneurs about the key traits of successful startup founders. With the topic phrased so broadly, it would be easy to spin all over the place, trying to cover all the bases. Should I talk about this? No, what about that? But wait, isn’t the other thing really… Hours later, I would’ve been no closer to a topic, no content created and absolutely nothing accomplished.

Instead of getting sucked down into a broad, potentially endless set of topics, I recognized the issue and framed it up simply: I needed to hold myself accountable, get the information out for consumption, and do it fast or I was not going to hit my target.

This, at its root, is the heart of starting a new venture. Define your idea, prove someone cares, outline your targets (or plan) and go get it done. Move fast, fail fast, revise, repeat.

If you pause and really think about that logic, there is a subtext that’s important, but requires a bit of setup. Founders who have tried this at least once know that starting a company, especially in the earliest stages, can be a lonely experience. At best, there are a few of you in the effort together, digging in and driving towards an MVP. More often than not though, you are all alone. You may be doing this on nights and weekends while working for someone else to pay the bills. Because it’s early in the process there isn’t a lot of money available, which means this might be happening in a coffee shop, at your kitchen table or in your basement.

You are dependent on yourself (and maybe your partner) to execute the plan you put together to keep things moving forward. If you don’t, the mantra of failing fast to prove or refine your idea is not going to happen. You must have a clear understanding of the need to define and hold yourself accountable to drive your idea forward. Without that plan and drive, you will fail very slowly—and by the time you know that your idea doesn’t work, is irrelevant or you are out of funds, you will be done.

It’s with that very candid observation that I give you my tips for generating forward momentum … towards rapid failure:

  • Don’t just build a grand end plan. Identify the small steps along the way so you know where you need to go next.
  • Organize your week (and the days in it) to get you to that next step in the plan. If you are going to fall short, figure out why and rework how to get there.
  • Don’t just define the target, know how you are going to get there. If you don’t know how to get there, reach out to someone who can help you understand, so you don’t get caught in analysis paralysis.
  • Track how many times you fall short of your targets. If you continue to miss, deconstruct why and how you are going to solve for it.
  • If you aren’t making traction and continue to miss your targets, isolate if it’s a company issue (need to do more work to get there) or a “you” issue (holding yourself accountable to completing the task).
  • At the end of each week/month, assess how far you’ve come and how far you must go. Use wins and losses to refine your plan or your expectations.

For founders who are just getting started, this discipline empowers you to create a structure that will hold you accountable. As you get your product out into market and you continue to drive engagement, these behaviors will become second nature. It’s your ability to build the skills of honesty and accountability early that will help you navigate startup life and grow the company you want to have. Most importantly, while this can be a lonely journey, it’s important to know that you are not in this alone. Peer groups of other founders, the mentors and advisors at JumpStart, and personal development organizations in the area are all here to help you drive forward and succeed. We are always happy to chat.