Facing “failure” in entrepreneurship

You have to see failure as the beginning and the middle, but never entertain it as an end.” -Jessica Herrin, founder and CEO of Stella & Dot

Growth Accelerator Malawi, a programme being implemented by Mhub and GrowthAfrica, recently participated in an event that focused on “Facing Failure” in entrepreneurship. This is one such event that is parallel to other “ecosystem outreach events” which target different parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Malawi.

The event looked at how “failure” can be a useful ingredient along an entrepreneur’s growth journey. Represented by our Project Catalyst in Malawi, Postar Chikaoneka, we also had a chance to engage other players in the ecosystem as well as to start building a ramp towards a platform for subsequent rounds of the Growth Accelerator.

Two entrepreneurs were engaged to anchor the discussions by sharing their experiences with failure along their journey. Here are some key take-outs from the discussions

Failure defined
From the conversations that took place, failure was framed as a temporary state in which something unplanned that threatened the sustainability of the business took place. Key to learning from it was to acknowledge that it was temporary and you have to take lessons from said failure.

Uncontrolled rapid growth 
Panellists and other attendants alike shared sentiments that rapid growth in the early stages of the business without the capacity to handle it led to internal conflicts which lead to significant problems.

External factors
It was acknowledged that external factors such as forex shortages and operating in an import-based industry can destabilise one’s business if you don’t plan for worst-case scenarios.

Impact on individual
Various failures take emotional tolls and coping mechanisms in the form of extended support systems such as family or cognitive re-alignment are necessary to overcome failure. A nice thought from one of the entrepreneurs, Siku Nkhoma was around differentiating the failure of ideas, processes etc. as opposed to internalising failure and thinking of yourself as a failure.

Role of purpose & underlying motivators
Failure served as an opportunity to reflect on what the intention of the business is/was e.g. getting rich vs. solving an actual problem/customer pain and those that overcame failure were the ones who reverted to focusing on solving a problem or fulfilling a real need

Lifestyle vs. Sustainable business
External expectations were identified as a big contributor to failure e.g. once you start a business you need to drive a certain car or live in a certain house and this lead to counter-productive personal expenditure channelled through the business. Key is to have a mindset change and rather focus on making businesses sustainable for future generations. A member of the audience shared an anecdote to the effect that you only have a business if you can go on holiday for 100 days and still find it operational upon return.

Everyone acknowledged that we live in a dynamic ever-changing world and businesses that fail are those that are unable to adapt

Article co-created with Postar Chikaoneka – Project Catalyst, Malawi

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