The Value of Failure

failure start-ups writing

When we are first learning how to write a paper in school, we usually don't create a masterpiece of academic argumentation on the first try. Our first draft is horrible, and even the paper we turn in isn't great. Yet, nobody tells us to give up on school altogether, or on writing papers. We know that we need to practice. If you saw how much wasted effort went into my first research paper, you'd see a lot of similarities between that and my first attempt at starting a business.

Lessons Learned

For example, when learning to write my first paper, I followed my teacher's instructions on how to collect data, doing things the 'right' way. I used notecards to organize my ideas, even though I never referenced them. I never used notecards again, and actually found them more awkward than helpful. Every paper I wrote after that first one followed my own personal process. It was too easy to get caught up in an elaborate system of organizing notecards and never get around to the actual writing.

This is similar to how I hired a web designer to create my website, which I could have done faster and more cheaply on my own. I felt that getting a good designer was simply 'how things are done'. While they produced a beautiful website, it took several months longer than it should have. I got so caught up in the design that I neglected to actually sell t-shirts. I could have gotten a passable website up in a weekend (I was actually designing websites professionally myself at the time).

I worried more about how my term paper looked than what it said, filling it with lots of images and packaging it in a nice plastic protector. The information in it wasn't actually that enlightening, but it sure did look beautiful. Similarly, I spent much more money and effort on having a nice-looking website for my t-shirts than I did on market research or advertising, or even selling the shirts.

The biggest lesson I learned in both cases was to give myself more time than I thought I needed. Since the first paper I wrote was supervised by my teacher, we started a month ahead of time, but I never actually sat down to write the first draft until the weekend before. I spent all weekend on that paper. I was astounded at how much time it took, since I'd never written anything that long before. I had to write my first draft and the revised final at the same time, which didn't contribute to their quality. In future, I always tried to write my first draft at least two weeks before the final was due.

Similarly, I didn't give myself nearly enough time to develop my start-up before I left the country to work at an English school in Korea. I thought that I could run it from here, and maybe I could have if it had been better established. But I didn't even start selling shirts until August, and then I was out of the country at the end of the November. If I had designed the website myself, I would have had more money and several additional months to get the ball rolling.

Creating a System

I got much, much more efficient at writing papers over the years, because I never shirked them and I always threw myself completely into them when I had one assigned. I checked out every book in the library related to my topic, and I'd keep them with me everywhere I went, so for about a month, I was carrying around a shopping bag full of library books. I read every single index entry related to my topic. Then, I sat myself down with all my books around me and hammered out a first draft. Paper and books were spread all over my room, but I relied on my memory to find the sources I needed. I had a system that worked brilliantly because I didn't waste effort on unnecessary (for me) components like a personal reference system. I became so good at it that in college, I was able to write two 20-page final papers in 5 hours. I had read all my research articles the week before, and one night after all my friends had gone to bed, I sat up and pulled all my thoughts together. I got A's on both papers. I don't use the exact same process for any two papers, but the general structure is there. The rest changes based on the circumstances.

I expect that is how starting a business works, too. Once I try a few more times, I'll start to figure out what matters and what can wait. I'll develop my own system and figure out how to improvise to meet the demands of the situation.

So why did I get an A+ on that first paper but lost a lot of money on my first business? Well, the paper was supervised by a teacher who ga

ve me step-by-step instructions, and I was being graded on my ability to follow directions, not on whether it was actually an informative paper. I wrote about tornadoes and didn't say anything innovative.

My business, on the other hand, was not guided by a mentor, and it was graded on its effectiveness. It did have to be something innovative, if only in a small way.


So, yes I'll be trying again soon. I'll make sure to give myself more time, and focus more on DELIVERING and less on PRESENTATION. I will save the unimportant parts for later, when I have the resources to dedicate to polishing up the store. Instead, I will focus on reaching my market and building a loyal base of fans for whatever I'm doing.

Maybe you'll be one of them.