A wise investor I know said something the other week which resonated with me: “We always reach the limit of one of two things: our ability or our ambition.” Some people have tremendous ability but are hampered by their lack of ambition. Others are super ambitious but hit the wall of their ability (or ceiling, as per the good old Peter Principle.)
Startupbootcamp has over 100 mentors per program and all of them were headhunted from our networks because they are super successful. When we select teams we look for people who ooze success. That’s what attracts talent to their startups, and certainly investors look at track record.
But there’s a case to be made for failure as well. Woody Allen said “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” Closer to home, one of the obvious European cultural lags vs. the US is that Americans celebrate failure whereas in Europe failing can still be career ending.
Some in the US are worried about the Series A Bottleneck and I’ve heard similar grumbling in Europe. This is driven by a growth in angel investments (+19% in 2012 according to the EBAN and partly fuelled by the explosion of accelerator programs – we should know!
There’s no doubt a great number of angel funded startups are going to fold in the next couple of years. Statistically that’s always been the case – smart angel investors factor that into their portfolio. And it will probably be worse in Europe because there’s a lot less follow on funding from VCs.
What is important for Europe is that we accept these failures. It’s vital that the founders of these companies are snapped up by other startups rather than outcast. Smart investors will recognise that these failures were actually accelerated startup education and that second-time founders will not make many of the same mistakes.
Answer truthfully: All things being equal (brains, competence, drive) would you rather hire someone who’s never failed or someone who’s had a massive failure? Who doesn’t have that little ping in the back of the head asking “is he/she damaged goods?”
We’re taking a small but concrete step to address this here at Startupbootcamp Berlin: this Friday we’re going to celebrate failure this with a Failure Lunch. We’ve invited Olaf Jacobi (partner at Target Partners) who is on a hell of run as an investor but also had a pretty dismal experience with a previous startup. We’re also being joined by a previous TechStars founder, Nate Abott, and an American ecommerce star. And lastly Oliver Lukesh will speak about his experience of bouncing from a failed startup (Weavly, Berlin 2012) to joining one of this year’s hottest Startupbootcamp Berlin prospects, Avuba.
Join us and let’s celebrate failure for a day!