Facing failure as an entrepreneur can be devastating. It hurts. You just lost your baby that you spent a year working on and nobody will get how it feels. How do you pick yourself up, and move forward?
Fahed Al Essa is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Dala Wellness based in San Francisco, a business offering a holistic approach to patient-centered healthcare. He previously founded two other businesses: one that succeeded and one that failed. We spoke with Fahed to better understand how he bounced back and how that experience has helped him succeed as an entrepreneur.
When a business fails, things can get ugly. Avoiding reality or delaying communication of bad news can have negative long-term impacts greater than having founded a failed business.
“Be honest,” Fahed advises. “To investors and to yourself. Nobody likes bullshit; not patients, not investors and neither do you. So, tell them the truth, no matter how hard it is; they will appreciate it.”
Investors know the risk they are taking. If you maintain integrity, that relationship can survive failure. If you attempt to hide negative results or give false impressions, your reputation may be irreparably damaged. “Be straightforward, be confident, and ask for support and help when you need it.”
Fahed’s first experience as a founder of a healthcare IT business was not successful. Dwelling on the failure could have been enough to steer him away from entrepreneurship entirely. The first step in moving forward was to reframe failure.
“Don’t look at it as a failure,” Fahed says, “but a hard lesson in life.” The healthcare IT business did not accomplish what Fahed and his co-founder initially intended, but there were valuable insights without which Fahed’s second startup could not have succeeded and which continue to inform the decisions he makes with Dala Wellness.
Fear of failure will paralyze you as an entrepreneur. “Win or lose, you should come out of the other side a better entrepreneur. The true failure is if you are still the same entrepreneur that started on the front end of your endeavor.”
The opportunity to learn from failure can be extremely powerful. The first questions Fahed asks a business that has failed are: “Why did it fail? What can we learn from it? What would we do differently? And how can we learn from our mistakes?” Documenting these answers from all relevant stakeholders’ perspectives will allow you to face hard truths about the business and why it failed.
This investigation is something that is inevitable with failure but rarely takes place to the same extent with success. Thinking critically about what went well and what could have been improved will help you to understand your strengths as well as your blind spots as an entrepreneur and can help you avoid future pitfalls while growing your next business.
Having handled failure with integrity and thoroughly understanding what went wrong and right with the business, you will emerge from the experience a stronger entrepreneur, even if it does not feel like it right away. Hopefully, some of the relationships you have built throughout the experience are stronger as well. Identifying these trust-based relationships during a difficult time can be the key to future successes. “What you need to do is to surround yourself with people you trust, that are willing to hear you out and give you the advice you DO NOT want to hear but should,” Fahed says. “Having a circle of people that have your best interest at heart is the key.”
Maintain your confidence as an entrepreneur, focus on building on your successes and avoiding previous mistakes, and continue to build a strong, reliable network. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”