Tuesday, April 12, 2011


As I think back on my life and career I see a successful line of failures. Oh my gosh, did I really say that out loud? Yes, I did. Entrepreneurs can learn from failures (mine or their own).

I grew up in a single parent family. This was in the days when divorce was rare and single parent families were the exception. Every family wanted to be the Cleavers from Leave It To Beaver. My mother, who is a saint, has fought her whole life to get ahead. Despite numerous setbacks, she continued to forge ahead, eventually (after 24 years) graduated from college, and worked at her two dream jobs (as a college registrar and kindergarten teacher) at the ages of 64 and 75. My mother instilled in me the will to fight and drive to win despite failures.

After 21 years away in the frozen north, I returned last year to Silicon Valley. Since then, I’ve been thinking about all the things that make it still one of the best places to start a company. First and foremost in my mind is the way people embrace failure. No, not that they want to fail, but that they encourage risk taking. They understand that, without risk taking, no companies would be started, no new products would ever be created, no new technologies would be developed, and no corporate stars would be born.

While I was in Minneapolis I felt that the opposite was true. A person who failed was often shunned and discarded as a “failure.” I was at a Mobile Gaming Meetup a couple of weeks ago at Kabam, one of the top social gaming sites, and the management gave a great presentation how they push decision-making down and encourage reasonable, rational risk-taking. Failure is treated as a learning experience and not a scarlet letter. This idea of embracing failure as a path to success resounds throughout the Valley. Everybody has their big “failure” story to tell and investors tend to gravitate toward executives and founders who have experienced both failure and success.

As I look back on my life, I see the same thing. A number of failures leading to successes leading to who I am today. I can’t tell you how many times I have failed, but in each failure I have learned. In the Movie Rocky Balboa, Rocky says it best when he tells his son: “It is not how hard you can hit; it is how hard you can be hit and keep moving forward.”

Starting and running a company, whether it be the idea in the garage or Apple Computer, involves a series of failures followed by successes. In the invention stage you are developing your idea; you discard the bad ideas always trying to further refine the idea until it is a product that meets some customer problem. Once the product is developed, you have to build it—there are constant problems in that. After you manufacture it, you need to sell it and you find that there are still problems and you head back to development. Ultimately, you will only succeed if you have learned along the way. Finally, you generate significant sales and realize that so much is not within your control—wars, recession, earthquakes. All result in some failure. Always you try to learn from failures, to not repeat them, and to turn them into success. In the end, it is failure that breeds success.

A Post by Frank Vargas, Guest Blogger

1 comment :

  1. I like your characterizations. In corporate Minnesota failure stick, they are always viewed as negative and they last forever...