Any hardened startup entrepreneur will tell you that failure is simply the price of admission. Only those comfortable with a cold sweat run down their spine every now and then are likely to embrace this kind of challenge.
While failure acts as a barrier to entry for prospective entrepreneurs, it's not something to be feared. In fact, it can serve as an essential mechanism for providing clarity, and can be the catalyst for strategic pivots which can be the making of a great company.
Acknowledge mistakes. Building a sustainable startup means working closely with a team of individuals who share a common vision and goal. Within any team dynamic, there will be a variety of personalities, talents and egos. When these are aligned, they can be the most powerful thing in the world, when they're not – they're not.
Mistakes happen. Man didn't reach the moon without a few broken hearts and broken rockets. They did, however, reach the moon. It's nearly impossible to get it all right the first time, and anyone who does should make sure to bow each morning to the startup Gods. For the rest of us, mistakes are par for the course and a way to create new alignment, and also, accountability.
Without accountability there can be no learning. As humans, if we fall down a hole in the road, we'll instinctively look to understand why we didn't see it coming and amend our behaviour next time to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Within the business environment – without accountability – this learning may not happen quite so instinctively. For an entrepreneur, creating a culture of accountability means accepting mistakes are going to happen and finding ways to learn from them in a meaningful way.
The learning might involve a fundamental pivot in the business model, it may mean some corporate reorganization, or it may mean that people may lose their jobs. Whatever the result, without a culture of accountability, it's nearly impossible to create a situation where a startup can be strengthened from its failures.
Sustainable startups work to remove the luck from success, and rely on high functioning teams to deliver strategic discipline. This only works when team members know that fundamental accountability exists throughout the entire organization.
Do what it takes. Any significant successes or failures within a startup must be used as opportunities to grow. Pivoting is an essential part of a startup's success and is generally bred from a failure. Without an inherent discipline in the process of understanding why a failure and resulting pivot happened in the first place, there's little chance for future success, aside from stumbling over it in a fit of blind luck.
The art of capturing this understanding is tricky, but necessary. My personal technique is to find something to write on and just start documenting. Capturing what it is exactly that happened; from intended path and outcome, right up to the pivot and new direction, creates a strong foundation for understanding. By seeing the process in black and white, one can begin to identify more clearly the areas where problems began occurring and work to rectify them. Was it a problem with the development team? Were the timelines too aggressive? Was the target market hypothesized incorrectly?
Building a sustainable startup is similar to those first few attempts at riding a bike. Only the very lucky few get it first try. For the rest, there are inevitably a few bloody knees and some tough lessons along the way before that first solo ride.
To build any successful business there must be ownership and acceptance of mistakes made, and a conscious desire to learn and grow from them. In my experience, this is how the most successful companies are built.
'Doing what it takes' for an entrepreneur means creating an environment within their business where accountability is embraced and action is swift, strategic and born from learned insight.
Cameron Chell is co-founder and CEO of Business Instincts Group, a venture creation firm in Calgary that finances and builds high-tech startups. To learn more about his work with sustainable startups visit www.CameronChell.com