The Four Big Fails That Made My Business Succeed

World of Work October 26, 2016

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

Failure and Success are like two rivaling siblings that continuously squabble in front of every starting entrepreneur.  In starting my own business, I have not found a way of having one without the other.  It is no secret that you need to fail to thrive with your business and undoubtedly you have already caught up with a lot of such entrepreneurial wisdom shared in the media. 

Here is a list of my 4 biggest personal failures thus far that made my business a success (thus far…) 

1) I started only with good intentions
I started TeachPitch because I wanted teachers to collectively share the best online learning resources on a global scale. With one click on the ‘Share-button’ an educator from Detroit could easily help a peer in Delhi. 

Beautifully idealistic as this may sound, I did not think of why a teacher would want to click ‘Share’ in the first place. What is the incentive for a teacher to invite other educators to have a look at the online material he/she has discovered on our platform? 

We noticed that many in the TeachPitch community were very interested in searching, saving and using the content they found but not so much in sharing, rating and reviewing it. 

This taught me something very essential. When building technology, always be sure to ask the crucial, selfish question on behalf of the user: ‘What is in it for me?’

A recent article published in the Atlantic speaks further about these good intentions specifically characteristic to the Education market. Many companies in the sector have the initial intention to revolutionise the way we learn but not the priority to build a solid, scalable business. In order to sustain as an EdTech company it is crucial that you firstly look at what your clients want and what they are willing to pay for. 

My learning in the further development of our platform & products is not only to rely on the sharing of online learning content (for the wellbeing of humanity) but to focus on the total use of curated material that teachers work with. So when teachers and schools discover material we provide them with overall metrics on how often the material has been sought, saved, shared, rated and reviewed. 

If you want to build a successful business, find out as soon as possible what your users are willing to pay for.  You can only realise your good intentions if you are able to sustain. 

2) I overdid it in the idea-phase
I was always determined to start my own company and on the look-out for good opportunities to do so. 

However, in the initial search of starting my own enterprise, I stuck too long with an idea (and further polishing this in theory) rather than going ahead with its execution. As a result many of the ideas I had never went anywhere. 

My mistake was that I was too in love with the idea rather than how it was going to work. 

There are so many good ideas out there. Each and every day people come up with clever shortcuts, plans and concepts that many of us can use. However, if we over-focus on an idea and don’t take any action on putting it into practice, it will never materialise. 

Today I thoroughly believe that being successful in business is 20% idea and 80% execution but before starting TeachPitch I was convinced this balance was the other way around. 

This lead me to concentrate on the wrong priorities in the concept phase, spending budget on wrong things (think of trademarking, patenting, name/logo-development, website registration, etc.) before actually executing if the core of my ideas would work and whether customers would actually use it. 

If you want to start your own business, then make sure you are able to get there as soon as you can. 

Don’t overthink it, just do it!

3) I was thinking linear
Starting a business comes with many challenges. There is no magical formula to making your company a success and each endeavour has a set of unique struggles you need to overcome. Finding the right solutions to build a company requires a founder to work hard, to be resourceful and – above all – to stick to the belief that your product will become a success. 

For me personally such belief is built on exponential thinking. If I am successful, then the fruits of my labour will benefit hundreds of thousands and one day, hundreds of millions of people. You need to be very bold in your thinking and really allow yourself to realise highly ambitious milestones. No excuses and no barriers. 

Such thinking is what drives a founder. 

In the two years that I have been working on TeachPitch, I have encountered many people and organisations that gave me advice based on linear thinking. Their ideas are built on predictions, calculated risk forecasts and the latest academic management theories but sadly not too much on any real-life operational experience. 

Taking too much advice from entities standing on the sidelines can slow you down tremendously and paralyse you in executing in the very crucial phases of your company’s growth. 

In the very early days of TeachPitch I carefully listened to such people who told me that I ‘talked the talk, before I walked the walk…’  

After spending a considerable amount of time (away from working on TeachPitch) wondering what they exactly meant, I realised that such an observation is founded solely on theory and not on a single day of practical know-how. 

Another side to this is that as a company’s founder you hold the vision of what your products and company should look like. Some elements of your vision might not be a reality yet but that does not mean that they will not materialise. 

My learning from this is always to be cautious when talking to linear thinkers stood outside of your business. Even though they mean well, they are not in the same situation and might not share the same belief that your business will be an overwhelming success. 

Listen to them politely, but do not ever let them slow you down. 

4) I put all my eggs in one basket
I am not going to lie to you, the very early days of starting your own company are not easy. 

There is just you.  No e-mails, no phone calls, no colleagues, no desk, no investors, no clients and no monthly pay-check. The only thing you have is the idea and the determination to execute on it. You rely on your own energy to make things a success and often need to pump yourself up to stay motivated.

Your tenacity is tested time and time again. As a single founder I really needed to get used to my loneliness in my daily doings and make sure that enough of the TeachPitch idea was realised to get matters to the next level. 

I noticed that in these days I was quite fragile and very open to feedback of whomever I could share my plans with. In the very beginning you tend to put too much value in the opinion of the random people you run into and have tendency to make crucial decisions on the basis of their advice.

I remember having extensive conversations with one group of investors who felt that the only thing relevant for TeachPitch was to have a lot of users and not to develop a working business model. I was flattered by their interest and listened carefully to their ideas for too long, hoping that their input would also result into concrete investment. As our talks progressed I started to rely on the fact that they would lead to something positive for our company. 

Due to a variety of circumstances it sadly never went anywhere and I did not have too much time to be disappointed. 

With very little scope to undo my mistake of only talking to one group of investors, I quickly reached out to more people that believed in us who eventually came on board as new shareholders. 

This taught me to always be in contact with more than one group, relevant to grow your business. 

If you want to succeed with your own company prepare to get busy and always be in conversation with more than one customer, supplier, investor, future colleague or anyone else that could be relevant to keep your business rolling. 

It is very high risk to ‘put all your eggs in one basket. So make sure you get around. 

So these are my biggest failures that have made a success out of TeachPitch (thus far…)  I feel fortunate to have made them and very happy that they have contributed to making TeachPitch what it is today. 

As time progresses I am confident that I will fail many, many times more. I am looking forward to it.