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You didn’t fail, you gave up – how to beat the biggest entrepreneur problem of all

Sometimes we tell ourselves that we failed, but the truth is often very different. We just gave up. And the idea that the legendary entrepreneurs we read about somehow arrived at success without hundreds of failures is of course not true.

In fact, many entrepreneurs who built their startups into major corporations revel in their past failures – seeing them as a mark of their tenacity, rather than them doing something ‘wrong’.

So let’s look at five examples of those who failed but just kept on going. And what you can learn from them.

  • The ups and downs of Apple
  • Staying the course with Airbnb
  • Embracing failure with Dyson
  • Re-thinking with Oracle
  • Lessons from Hogwarts

 

The ups and downs of Apple

Apple is a great examples of success and failure, and how a company can often toggle between the two. It’s not always a case of failure first then fantastic non-stop success after. It can come and go.

After a strong start and the creation of some industry-changing products Apple started to go downhill. A few key products were failures in the market. When Steve Jobs left the company, their fortunes fell even further. So after an amazing start, it all went wrong. By the time Jobs was re-hired in the late 90s, the company was operating at a loss and the future did not look good.

What Jobs was able to do was return to the company with fresh ideas and a new approach and pull it from this series of failures into a much stronger position. It was at this point that he rebranded the company, launched the iMac, and really looked into what consumers wanted. Or rather, thinking far enough ahead so he could imagine what a customer would want in the future. Then he delivered on it.

After a great start, then a decade of failures, Jobs led Apple as the company became one of the most successful in the world.

Staying the course with Airbnb

When we think of Airbnb, we think success. It was as though it came out of nowhere and went to immediate market domination.

But in fact when Airbnb started it didn’t make much of a splash, and struggled to find investors who were interested in the idea. In the early days, the founders had to come up with all kinds of ideas on the side in order to fund the company and keep it going.

By staying with their original concept, and not giving up, they eventually found an investor who was willing to give them a shot. But this investor was in the minority, with the rest turning them down or simply not responding at all.

The founders could have easily given up when their initial push to get investment didn’t work out. But by continuing to work on their idea, and look for other avenues for funding to keep them ticking over, they were ultimately able to find investment and build Airbnb into what it is today.

Embracing failure with Dyson

For Dyson, failure is not just part of the process, but it’s integral to making any kind of progress. The company has had so many failures en route to producing their market-leading products that their founder has even argued that they haven’t learned much from success, but have learned a lot from failure.

Seeing failure as simply a problem to solve, the company takes an engineer’s approach. Going step by step to try to achieve what is required, rather than giving up at the first (or fiftieth) hurdle. They just keep working on it. This is where creativity comes into play, coming up with new ways of tackling obstacles and creating great, perhaps left-field, solutions.

The key for Dyson, though, is to silence the criticism that will come your way when you decide to try a radically different approach to solving a problem. It may work or it may not, but being too afraid to try is not an option, and there will always be plenty of people warning against your approach.

Re-thinking with Oracle

Only a few years after the company went public, it hit some major obstacles. One of the largest global software developers found itself in a position where it had to lay off a number of employees. Things were not looking good.

What followed was a complete change to how management was functioning (or rather, not functioning), looking carefully at where the problems had arisen in the sales team (which had caused the financial crisis in the company) and correcting them.

This approach has stayed with the company and remains today – to deal with each problem as it comes up, without resorting to panic. Just systematically figuring out each issue and then keeping moving.

It would have been easy, during the difficult times, for Oracle’s founder to jump ship or start a new venture. But by staying the course, the company is still a huge global name today.

Lessons from Hogwarts

It might be strange to think of an author as an entrepreneur, but essentially what JK Rowling did was build an entire enterprise from her original Harry Potter story.

But her own story was not an easy one. She initially started working on the idea but there was always something more important that got in the way. So progress was slow. After a series of personal setbacks, she found herself as a single mother and was struggling with depression.

Strangely, it was during this tough time that she found solace in returning to her writing, specifically the Harry Potter characters, famously writing much of it while sitting in cafés. When she submitted her finished manuscript, it did not set the world on fire. She received rejection after rejection.

But she persisted, and eventually a publisher picked it up. Fast-forward and she is one of the most influential authors of all time, a multi-millionaire, and her original story is at the core of books, films and numerous off-shoots.

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