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MARK EVANS

Lessons I learned from three startup failures Add to ...

Over the past decade, I have been involved in five startups. The first three were out-and-out failures – businesses that did not attract enough customers or sufficient advertising to become viable.

But the fourth one, Sysomos, was a smash hit that was acquired by Marketwire in 2010. And the other, my startup marketing consulting business, is thriving and has seen strong growth over each of the past three years.

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While it is disappointing to be involved with startups that don’t work, each one provided important lessons. Frankly, most of these lessons had to do with what not to do from a management, operational, marketing, sales and financing perspective.

As I moved on to each of the next startups (and the work I now do with clients who are startups), I had a lot of valuable information, experience and insight that could be tapped to drive success, while avoiding big mistakes along the way

Many Canadian entrepreneurs have a troubling problem: They are afraid of failure.

To them, starting a new business is a glass half-empty proposition. Rather than believe they can be world-beaters, they cross their fingers and hope to attract just enough customers to establish a viable business. They don’t think big and they don’t dream big, so it is not surprising expectations are modest, at best.

U.S. entrepreneurs, on the other hand, embrace failure. It is not that they like to fail, but they are not afraid of it. To them, failure is part of the entrepreneurial landscape. It is not a reason to put their tails between their legs. It is not a bad or scary thing, but a reality of putting yourself out there. You can’t fail if you don’t play the game, and it is better to be in the game than on the sidelines.

As important, U.S. entrepreneurs see failure as part of the learning process. They try, they move on, and then capitalize on the lessons they’ve learned for their next venture – or the venture after that. Entrepreneurialism is a high-risk proposition so failure is an inherent part that should be embraced rather than feared.

In many respects, I see startup failures as being a sometimes painful and challenging education that helps entrepreneurs travel from point A to point C. While it obviously would be better not to fail, there are steps along the journey many entrepreneurs need to take before they discover success.

Rather than fearing failure, entrepreneurs should learn to accept it and recognize its silver lining. Failure is not only about bad decisions, mistakes and fumbled opportunities; it is about taking them in stride, learning from them, and then leveraging them down the road.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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