Entrepreneur Beginners Guide
“Failure Doesn’t Kill You; It Makes You Stronger”
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. —Henry Ford, founder, Ford Motor Company
I had the recent privilege of participating in a national business-pitch contest. I entered on a whim, thinking that it would be fun and challenging to put myself in a high-pressure sales situation and see if I could take the top spot. The prize, which was $10,000, would not be so bad either. To my surprise, I was chosen from over one hundred entries. across the country to compete against nine other semifinalists in Chicago.
While almost all finalists gave their sixty-second pitch without a hiccup, one finalist completely fell apart under the pressure. It was an utter disaster. Every time he tried to restart his pitch as the big clock counted down the seconds, he would fumble yet again. With each successive attempt, his ability to recover was increasingly difficult. Despite an encouraging and applauding audience of almost one thousand, he eventually gave up. He put his head down and headed off stage to ponder his embarrassing performance. He exited with almost fifteen seconds left on the clock, so the host gently escorted him back to the stage, front and center. The young man’s saving grace was the uplifting advice that the three judges gave him after his time expired. He was able to leave the stage with a modicum of self-respect, but you could tell that he was still in shock.
While we were all backstage after the catastrophe, the other finalists and people standing around didn’t approach him to offer their support. Instead, they watched him walk by with his head down. He was on the verge of an emotional meltdown as he retreated to a private area backstage to think about what just happened. A few people tried to cheer him up, but their attempts seemed insincere at best. Ironically, the finalists teemed with entrepreneurial confidence but lacked the confidence to show true empathy to a fallen comrade at a crucial moment.
Considering that the dejected finalist was left alone licking his wounds, I approached him to give him a much-needed pep talk. He was about eight years younger than I was, and I sensed that he wasn’t very experienced with these types of events. I told him, “You will nail it next time. This is hard to swallow, but you’ll recover.” I also told him that of all the ideas that I heard in the contest, his was quite promising. I continued, saying, “I would much rather have a terrible pitch from which I can recover than a terrible idea that has no promise.” He seemed to agree, but I could tell that he was still depressed for ruining what he considered to be a big opportunity. I could only hope to have made an impact on the young man such that he would pick himself up and keep going. After all, that’s what entrepreneurship is all about.
Failure is inevitable in entrepreneurship, but how you deal with failure determines whether you are ultimately a winner. In watching the huge failure of our colleague in this pitch contest, we all were reminded of this reality—a lesson greater than any advice the three judges gave, a lesson more important than the perfect pitch of the winning finalist. Finally, it was a lesson more valuable than winning the $10,000 prize.