Every Entrepreneur Should FAIL…Fast

The failing fast strategy is one of the hottest topics in the entrepreneurial industry. But what does it really mean?  How does failing make you successful? Isn’t it just, well, failing?  To explain the tremendous utility of the fail fast strategy, let’s make it “real” by relating it to something that everyone has experienced before.

Remember those late nights writing college papers that were due the following day? If so, then you fully and unequivocally understand what a “sense of urgency” means! Now imagine this. What if you thought your paper was due tomorrow and you gave it 100% of your focus and effort that night to finish it.

With blood-shot eyes, you go to your professor’s office in the morning to turn it in. Your professor looks at you quizzically and asks why you’re giving him your paper now because it’s not due for another two weeks! You stand there completely dumbfounded. To break the awkward silence, he continues “I can read your rough draft and provide you my feedback, if you like?”

You awaken from your dazed stupor and jump at the opportunity for the “free look” that you assumed last night was going to be the “graded look.” A few days later, he gives you his recommendations and edits. Yikes! The edits are brutal! However, his feedback is direct and easily understood. You incorporate his feedback and return to his office, asking “is this what you meant?” He provides a couple of minor edits that you quickly incorporate and turn it in. You “failed fast” and passed with an A+!

“Failing fast” enabled Government Contracting Academy founder, Randy Wimmer, to turn the mystery of starting a successful business into discreet, actionable items that he could focus on. This was like getting “free look” feedback from the professor in the previous example. Incorporating this “free look” feedback made starting a company less like magic and more like a step-by-step, do-able checklist. To be 100% honest, some of this feedback took a considerable amount of time to incorporate, but he knew what needed to be learned and done.

Failing fast forces a bit of a conflict for many entrepreneurs.  You must balance the need of “doing it right” with the urgency of “doing it now.” It’s easy to think of a little angel sitting on one shoulder telling you “Prepare more to do it right” while a little devil is whispering to “Do it now!” in your other ear. Of course, that’s how everyone envisions these two images, an angel encouraging you to be better prepared while the devil is giving you horrible advice to be hasty and “just do it.”  However, in entrepreneurship, these roles are frequently reversed! 

It’s really the angel that’s planting seeds of insecurity and telling you to put off your dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.  It’s the angel that’s holding you back by repeatedly convincing you that you’re not ready, yet. “You need to learn more.” “There’s so much more for you to analyze and plan!” “How can you possibly know everything you need to launch a company?” These are direct quotes from an angel that used to sit on Randy’s shoulder!

Most of the time, listen to the angel on your shoulder.  However, the devil is right when it comes to entrepreneurship.  Why?  Simply stated, you will never know enough to start a company. So the trick is to learn “just enough” to try to start a company and then learn from your mistakes.

Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, published in 2011, is definitely a worthwhile book to read! Although Randy can summarize what he learned from this marquis business book in a single phrase, he strongly recommends that every aspiring entrepreneur reads this book to fully understand why Eric Ries says what he does.

Randy’s takeaway from this book is both simple and brilliant, “learn by doing.” From 2003 to 2010, he discovered this tenet of entrepreneurship on his own.  Failing fast is your quickest way to succeeding fast. When in doubt, simply do it.