Failing fast is instrumental to ultimately achieving entrepreneurial and financial success. For Government Contracting Academy founder, Randy Wimmer, his early startup failure laid the path for his success. He started his first company in 2003, and it failed miserably. This complete and total failure is, without question, the primary reason why he ultimately succeeded as an entrepreneur.
First, it demystified starting a company. Randy gave entrepreneurship a try and survived the experience with just a few bruises, all of them to his ego. However, he learned that starting a company was a lot less intimidating than what he previously thought. Second, going through the process of starting a company showed him his knowledge gaps in excruciating detail. He learned what was precisely necessary to avoid the same type of failure during his next entrepreneurial attempt.
Without knowing it at the time, he was following a “fail fast” strategy. This strategy sounds absolutely horrible! Shouldn’t you want to “succeed fast” instead? The answer to that question is “heck no!” To see the value of this strategy, Randy’s colleague, a partner at a prestigious, global consulting firm, explained it perfectly.
During their meeting, the partner explained her organization’s motto was “fail fast.” Randy actually laughed when she said this, thinking she was joking. She wasn’t. She explained that she wanted her team to aggressively attack a problem and quickly provide a solution. That seems rather obvious. Then she stated she wants her team to assume that it’s an inadequate solution or failing. She stated that if her team can’t provide 100% proof that it’s not failing, then it is. The next step is to immediately learn why it’s not perfect and incorporate those specific lessons into the revision or new solution.
There were a few hidden gems in her leadership approach that Randy didn’t grasp until later. The first one was creating a “sense of urgency.” Creating a “sense of urgency” directs focus and resources to a problem early in the process. Everybody will crash at the end of a project when they’re up against a hard deadline. Focusing early is frequently a competitive differentiator. Surfacing challenges early in the process with ample runway left to address them is priceless!
The second gem in this leadership approach is that it removes the stigma of failure. Many organizations foster a “zero tolerance for failure” atmosphere, believing that they are improving performance and quality. This approach could not point them further from their goals. If your first attempt cannot fail, then it won’t. No matter how bad your solution is, it will be painted as a success and remain unimproved.
Regardless of what you learn during the process and all the flaws you identify; you are committed to your initial attempt because you’re not allowed to ever “fail.” Of course, you try to put lipstick on the pig, but it’s still a pig. By assuming that your first attempt will fail, then you both embrace the forensic learning process and remove the “stigma of failure,” so you can adopt a better solution.
The third, and perhaps best, gem in this approach is that it creates a culture of continuous improvement. If you can’t defend why your solution is not perfect, then make it better. Most of the “financial success” books available on Amazon pertain to how the reader makes money. Most of them focus on growing the reward. The purpose of launching a company is to add value to the customer. Achieving financial success is just a rather nice byproduct. If you make customers happy, then you make money. It’s very simple.