One of the characteristics that every good investor looks for in an aspiring entrepreneur is resilience, or the ability to learn from and bounce back after a failure.
You don't have to have previous startup problems to show resilience--everyone should have a story of tackling a tough challenge with minimal success, but using the failure to move on and achieve an objective.
With startups, almost every entrepreneur I know has failed at least once, often several times, but never gave up, and ultimately achieved their goal. Evan Williams, for example, before co-founding Twitter, started a podcasting platform named Odeo. The platform couldn't compete with Apple's podcast section of iTunes, so he recast his efforts into microblogging, and the rest is history.
The challenge is how you can enhance your own ability to bounce back, and highlight that attribute to your team and outside constituents, including investors and business partners.
If done well, such failures can actually give you an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. In my experience, here are some key preparation strategies that work:
1. Practice and highlight your conviction to never give up.
Many experts tell me that more startups fail simply because their founder gives up than for any other reason. Entrepreneurs have told me that they become energized when told that they are facing an insurmountable barrier. Their satisfaction comes from proving nay-sayers wrong.
Howard Schultz, who built Starbucks into a billion-dollar success, started with a strong conviction that people would pay for "an experience" of fresh-brewed cappuccino by the cup, rather than buying equipment. He never gave up, despite multiple setbacks.
2. Actively seek and learn from the counsel of smart people.
Some entrepreneurs, unfortunately, become more and more isolated in hard times, or surround themselves only with friends and supporters. Make sure you actively interact with and show appreciation for people smarter than you, even if they don't always agree with you.
Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, although extremely successful in their own domains, share a great relationship as mentors for each other in learning how to deal with today's challenging business and social problems. People who listen are always more resilient.
3. Demonstrate decisiveness rather than paralysis by fear.
Making any decision is almost always better in business than no decision. You have to look at making decisions as a positive learning opportunity rather than a chance to fail. Every investor wants to see entrepreneurs who are willing to take responsibility for action and get it done.
When it's time for a decision, your gut instinct should never be your only input. All of us have access via the internet to multiple expert sources, insights, and data to support our own experience and help us make more relevant and timely decisions.
4. Maintain an optimistic, rather than pessimistic, outlook.
Optimism is a mindset fueled by confidence in yourself and an ability to gather and filter knowledge. Confidence is built by finding your purpose, playing to your strengths, and taking tough challenges in small steps to show progress. It also helps to emulate the success of others with similar goals.
Don't be lulled into thinking that optimism is a personality trait you either have or don't. Optimism can be learned by really looking for your successes, rewarding yourself for your progress, and using a mentor to steer you in the right direction.
5. Use metrics instead of feelings to measure progress.
Don't let your feelings get you down, with no quantification of what failed or what you need to do to come back. People who set quantified goals and objectives for themselves and their teams and measure results always know where they stand and are not surprised by feedback from others.
The ability to bounce back also requires continuing attention to your physical needs and feelings. Don't forget to maintain a healthy balance between business and personal demands, including family, sleep, and time off for enjoyable activities. Make sure that you take the time to internalize the strength that comes from struggling and the insights that come from failure.
Then you too can become one of the rare entrepreneurs, sought by every investor, who continually bounce back stronger from every failure until they achieve success beyond everyone's wildest dreams.