As much as we would like to hope otherwise, startups fail. There's no way around it. In fact, it's just a side effect of innovation and of just having the courage to try new business models. Not every tech company gets into Y Combinator, and the vast majority of them don't reach unicorn status.
It's impossible to launch a small business without some degree of failure, especially if it's your first time. Maybe you struggled to raise a funding round or couldn't get the product-market fit right. The most important thing to remember is that every failed startup idea offers lessons that could help you start a successful company someday. The most important part of failure is to process it correctly and constructively.
Here's the first and most important thing you should understand. It's one thing to admit things didn't quite work out the way you expected, and another entirely to stop trying and shut down the company. If you learn and keep on trying you haven't been defeated. And small failures along the way are just how you'll future-proof and pave the road to success in your startup.
Your failure to launch is very much an integral part of the process. Don't read it as a sign you can't build a successful startup. We often only hear and read success stories, but the failures along the way are equally important. Moreover, as a society, we should make sure failures are equally respected.
Here's a simple and effective five-step system to help you move on from failure having learned your lessons so you can find success in the startup world.
1. Accept and identify
The first step of grief management is usually denial, so keep that in mind as you do a post-mortem. Don't be surprised if you find yourself, a co-founder, or team members having trouble admitting what happened.
I've known startup founders who struggled to effectively use social media, raise venture capital, maintain enough cash flow, or any number of problems. Don't dwell too much on the things that went wrong. Companies fail. Avoid pointing fingers. Just focus on extracting what you can learn from the situation.
What every team member needs to do is look in the mirror objectively. Understand what contributed to the failure to launch and how it can be avoided next time.
2. Analyze past failures
In your personal life or in your entrepreneurial experience, there have been past failures. This is the perfect time to remember them to boost morale after a startup failure.
The reason for this is that your own experience is a more powerful motivator than anything you could read about Apple, Facebook, or Tesla.
This reminds me of a founder who is also a longtime friend. At his first company, he worked hard to raise funds for a Series A. But the product never truly addressed pain points in the customer base. Investors wouldn't bite. So product development became a bigger priority at his next early-stage company.
3. Make a list of your accomplishments (or those of your team)
Your past may be the best teacher, but many naturally gravitate toward the negative. To combat our "natural" negative bias, remind yourself of all you've achieved.
Have you successfully launched other businesses before? Have you raised a lot of money? Do people recognize you for your contributions to your field? Write all this down and look at it anytime you doubt yourself. Keep it around until you're out if this particular storm.
4. Practice self-care (but don't wallow)
Recharge your spirit (and your team's), whatever that means for you. Take a couple of days off to submerge yourself in your creative hobbies. Go for a hike. Take your team on a team-building group retreat. Whatever you do, focus on making everyone feel better, and try to leave the recent failure behind.
5. Make a plan to fail differently
Now that your spirit and mind have had a moment to recover, ask yourself: What did this teach me?
With that in mind, make a new plan. One that covers your bases and makes sure you won't fall prey to the same pitfalls this time around. But remember that new ones may come, and that is OK and part of the game.
Finally, remember always that anyone who isn't failing isn't even really trying and hence is losing by default. Companies like Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn still experience small failures all the time. A little failure in your launch process is the special sauce that helps you fine-tune things for potential success in the horizon.