Week 3: The secret to success is learning to fail
Time to read: 8 Mins | Not much on tech this week.
The Brilliance of the US
I’ve often wondered what it is about the US, and especially Silicon Valley, that so many of the world’s largest startups emerge out of just that tiny region. The ecosystem of tech talent through universities like Stanford and Berkeley, idea sharing and cross pollination of ideas amongst the people, a culture of entrepreneurship, concentration of investment dollars… all explain a part of it, but there’s something I feel is much bigger… Embracing Failure!
Many great startup founders talk of failure a lot. Their biographies and advice often centers around learning from failure. As I jumped into it, I knew there’ll be some failures along the way, but I’m just now starting to understand why so many founders talk of failure so damn often.
When you try to build something new and innovative, you will fail. The process of innovation is to try out different things and keep trying until you figure out what works. When something has worked, the media talks of the journey in retrospect, explaining the grand vision of the amazing founders. This is almost never the case. Reality almost always is that the founders kept trying different things, experimenting and failing along the way till they hit upon something that worked!
This is the brilliance of the US and Silicon Valley. Both culturally and financially, they’ve entirely de-risked failure. Failing as a startup founder is glorified. Trying again gets you even more glory! And if it all fails, you’re in demand in the job market! Other startups will want you for your experience and courage, and there’s a continuous stream of these other startups.
Founders also get funded for trying different iterations of solutions to fix any problem their company is focusing on, and often get even more funding to pivot to a different idea altogether that they tangentially saw working while they built their primary product. This is why people don’t fear failure there as much, and it’s why so many of the most successful startups are built there.
A Culture Shift
In most of the developing world, we’ve historically been raised to fear failure. It’s often something to be brushed under the carpet. Something that others must not find out about. I’ve been a part of that culture. When building a startup though, there’s little space for this. You need to try different things, and a lot of your ideas will not work. Not acknowledging that is a major hindrance, and overcoming it is a major part of why I started this newsletter. To document failures and to entirely overcome any fear of public failure. In a small way, I aim to also create this cultural shift, where failure isn’t stigmatized. Where valiant attempts are celebrated, regardless of outcomes. This shift is what’ll lead more people to take courageous steps and build great things!
In the past I’ve applied for many things with low odds of success without telling anyone. When I applied for the Schwarzman Scholars Program 2 years ago, almost no one knew about it. It has a less than 5% acceptance rate, and I knew odds were that I wouldn’t get in. Why announce the failure? I ended up getting in and graduated from the brilliant program a few months ago, but had I not gotten in, I’d rather have people not know that I even tried.
This Time it’s Different
The desire to brush aside and hide failure is problematic, especially in building startups. This is so for 2 main reasons:
(i) You won’t learn the right lessons or even do enough contemplation to learn any lesson if you aren’t willing to honestly discuss it.
(ii) You’ll be hesitant to try out new things and test ideas! If you fear failure, it stops you from trying. This is true even in asking others for help – if you fear they’ll reject your request, you just don’t ask – and nothing gets built without at least some people’s help!
Why This Week?
Why am I talking about failure and the need to embrace it so much this week? What failed? Well, thankfully nothing yet (other than the astrology experiment discussed in Week 1).
I am in the process of applying to two amazing programs with tiny acceptance rates! This could totally fail, and since I’m writing these weekly newsletters, that failure shall be public.
I need a co-founder, and support from people who’ve seen the startup journey hundreds of times would be invaluable! Therefore, I’ve applied to the Antler India Residency Program and Entrepreneur First.
Both of them are programs that help people looking to build a startup from the extremely early stages – so early that you don’t even need an idea to apply. You apply, get selected and then meet other people who’ve been selected. Some come in with ideas, some don’t. Ultimately, you interact with potential co-founders, learn about startup building from the course modules these programs have designed, and hopefully settle on an idea while doing the program.
At the end of it, if you’ve formed a team and settled on an idea, you pitch it to investment committees of the programs and they choose if they want to give you some money to develop it further in exchange for some share of the company. You then use that money to scale up your MVP and the program also helps raise further funding if things start working well.
This is absolutely fantastic! Getting in would solve a lot of problems. It’ll help in everything from refining the idea to finding a co-founder, developing a network in the startup ecosystem and fundraising!
Also, I’ve prepared for this jump so I don’t need it, but both programs give you a stipend to participate that’ll cover your cost of living.
The Program Terms
Antler India Residency Program: 3 Month Program | INR 1,00,000 (~US$1,250) per month stipend | Potential investment of US$ 250,000 (INR 2 Crore) for 10% of the startup | Based in Bangalore for India.
Entrepreneur First: 3 Month + 3 Month if funded | US$ 1,400 (not sure if per month or for the program, their FAQ makes this a little confusing for India) | Potential investment of S$ 75,000 (INR 44 Lakh) for 10% of the startup | Based in Bangalore for India.
PS: Both programs are taking applications! If you’re at that stage, apply and maybe we end up there together! [Antler Deadline: Nov 10, 2022 | EF Early Deadline: Feb 05, 2023].
The concept note is done. I’m decently happy with it. The pitch deck is underway. I’ve started some building something on FlutterFlow because it allows for a native mobile app to be built. Still not fully convinced I shouldn’t just build a webapp on Bubble as an MVP though. Just testing out FlutterFlow for now.
I attended an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session by Antler India this Wednesday (19 Oct), and two awesome things happened.
(i) The speakers mentioned a session called “Failure Fridays” that are taken by Antler’s Program Director Nandini Vishwanath during the residency, and Nandini’s remarks during the AMA are what led to these insights on failure and the need for culture change.
(ii) Someone reached out via direct message and we’re connecting after Diwali. Antler delivering on its promise of connecting you with people even before the program selection process is over!
Lesson here: Attend things in the space you’re trying to enter! I’m 100% attending many more startup events in the coming weeks!
The next week shall be slow, given Diwali! (Happy Diwali everyone!!), but there’s an advantage to spending it with family – The Mom Test. It’s a book I’m reading on how to have better customer conversations and get feedback by asking the right questions, and I’ll literally be testing out what my mom thinks about the idea! This shall be interesting!
Until next week! Ciao!
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