Talking about failure isn’t easy. Paul Allen does it more openly than I’ve ever seen. That could not have been easy.
The 2nd most popular post I’ve ever written was My Top 4 Mistakes as an Entrepreneur. I think people are naturally intrigued by other people’s failures; it’s like reality TV. For some, it makes them feel better about themselves, for others it’s “peeping Tom” curiosity. I hope others learn from it. The reason for people’s interest in failure isn’t really relevant.
What entrepreneurs have to remember is that failure is real. And it will happen. It happens to everyone, even those that are successful today.
What entrepreneurs also have to remember is that failure isn’t easy. And it can’t just be tossed aside. In many cases your failure doesn’t just impact your life, but others as well.
My biggest failure has been having to fire people.
It happened when the bubble burst in 2001. We couldn’t afford to keep everyone onboard, so we let people go. It wasn’t because they weren’t good at their jobs or important to the company, we just couldn’t afford to pay them. That was brutal, and I still think about it all the time. It made me understand the value in creating jobs and the awesome responsibility a business owner has for his/her employees.
Since then, the company grew but I’ve also let others go. In those cases it was with cause; they weren’t working out (for any number of reasons.) That’s a failure, to a degree, but not a colossal one, not one that burns me up inside.
While letting those people go in 2001 was a failure for me personally, it was a necessity for the company. If we didn’t fire those people, we wouldn’t have survived, it’s as simple as that. So from the perspective of surviving it wasn’t a failure…but it sure feels like one.
Here’s some of the best advice I can give any entrepreneur or business owner building a company:
Don’t hire too many people too fast.
Before you hire someone really really really think about whether you need to. If there’s another way (outsourcing, getting more productive, re-shifting priorities, magically creating more hours in the day), do it first. Or at least think about it first. If your first instinct is to hire someone, you’re in trouble. When times get tough, you’ll have a bloated payroll and no way of paying those people. And you will feel terrible letting people go. Having to think about how you’re affecting those people’s lives in such a way is not fun.
Paul Allen knows exactly what I’m talking about. Hopefully you won’t have to go through the same experiences to recognize what happened to him and me.[tags]small business, firing people, hiring people, growing a business, entrepreneurship, failure[/tags]