Foundry Group’s Brad Feld is one of the country’s best-known venture capitalists, the co-founder of startup accelerator Techstars and an expert on building startup communities. But he’s had his share of failures, too, and he encourages other entrepreneurs to put setbacks in their proper context.
Brad took a few questions from Thinking Bigger Business on failure and why it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. (Read more about learning from failure in this month’s lead feature.)
Why is it important for entrepreneurs to talk to other entrepreneurs about failure?
Failure is an integral part of the entrepreneurial process. Every successful company I’ve ever been involved in has had multiple near-death experiences, so if you don’t have a complete failure, many aspects of the entrepreneurial journey include failure of projects, people or initiatives. For most entrepreneurs, the experience of creating companies is not a “one-shot deal,” and many great entrepreneurs have had multiple failures on their path to ultimate success. Understanding failure, how to deal with it, how to bounce back from it and recognizing its place in the long arc of an entrepreneurial life helps any new entrepreneur have a healthy perspective on failure that—in the absence of hearing about it from other, more experienced entrepreneurs—might be devastating and fatal.
What kind of advice would you give a founder whose first startup has just failed? How can they put it in perspective?
First, take a deep breath. You are not alone. My first startup—Martingale Software—failed. And I can give that founder a long list of other successful entrepreneurs whose first startup failed. Next, take another deep breath. Your life is not over. You just had a powerful experience. While it didn’t end the way you wanted it to, it ended. When you are ready, you’ll start the next thing. But rather than starting from scratch, you’ve just learned a lot, both about what to do as well as what not to do, and that’ll serve you well as you continue on your journey.
You’ve had several successful ventures—and you’ve had some tough setbacks, too. Is the old saying true? Do you really learn more from failure?
Absolutely. While I’ve learned from my successes, and I treasure the joy of success, I’ve learned much more from my failures, and many of the decisions I’ve made that have lead to success come from doing something different than I previously had that resulted in failure.
You’re one of the country’s best-known venture capitalists. Are investors more or less likely to invest in a startup if one of the founders has been involved in another project that failed? Are there benefits to having someone onboard who’s been around the block?
I don’t know that there are any truisms around this, but I personally prefer founders who have had both success and failure in their past.