February 27, 2018
Rising and aspiring entrepreneurs might take issue with Franklin Roosevelt’s famous declaration that “the only thing to fear is fear itself.” Tell that to a business owner struggling to make payroll, fill an open position, or acquire a line of credit.
According to some of Florida’s most prominent business leaders, coming to grips with that fear and being open to discussing it with others – be they investors, colleagues, or other business associates – is key to succeeding in the long run.
“Someone once told me that [failure] is like a banana … the longer it sits around the more rotten it’s going to get,” Dr. Rebecca White of the University of Tampa told leaders attending a recent symposium. “So … get comfortable with it.”
In late January, HSN brought together more than thirty leaders from across the state for a discussion themed around “Cultivating Small Businesses in the 21st Century.” The symposium, which was co-hosted by HSN and the University of Tampa, was part of HSN’s American Dreams Initiative, which seeks to nurture rising entrepreneurs. It was sponsored by Quirky.
Failure – and leaders’ reluctance to talk about it openly – was a hot topic of conversation.
“No one ever wants to talk about their failure,” said Stacey Schieffelin, a Founder of Women’s Leadership LIVE and the Founder and CEO of ybf beauty, and Models Prefer. She talked about organizing conferences with hundreds of people, none of whom are comfortable opening up about things that may be going wrong. “You spend half a million dollars to get people there,” she continued. “They’re all sitting there and everybody wants to talk about successes.”
Dr. White posited that a reluctance to discuss failure can cause a schism between entrepreneurs and their investors. “Everybody wants to kind of hide their problems hoping that they can be fixed before somebody finds out, and that just usually doesn’t work,” said the professor who is the Walter Chair of Entrepreneurship, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Director of The Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Tampa.
“Just admit failure,” added Dr. White. “Most small businesses need to expect and prepare for [failure] because those that prepare for it [allow it to] become just another speed bump versus a cataclysmic event.” “A couple of failures is a great education,” said Dr. White. “You’re going to be a better business person past a failure for sure.”
Despite the sentiment that leaders are often too reluctant to openly discuss failure, there was also some thought that the tide may be turning. “I think people are coming out more and saying ‘you know I have failed’ or ‘I need help, I’m in the midst of failure,’” shared one participant.
Arlene DiBenigno, the CEO of the Women’s Conference of Florida, Inc. and the Managing Partner of Conversa Co, suggested that women might be more open to discussing failure than their male counterparts. “I have found in my environment that women are not afraid to admit when they have failed because they truly want to help,” she said. “It’s just part of our nature.”
Across the board, the leaders at the symposium all agreed on one thing: it’s important to prepare for failure and to be resilient when it strikes.
“The only given in being an entrepreneur is you’re going to get rejected,” said Randi Zuckerberg, an entrepreneur, investor, bestselling author, and founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media.
“You have to be able to pick yourself up off the ground when you get smacked a lot,” said Heidi Akers who owns a company called SmartSAT, Inc.
“I liken it to yoga” said Dr. White. “It’s kind of like you show up on the mat every day and every day is different. If you want to be an entrepreneur you’ve got to be able to learn because a lot of it is about learning what’s different today and how to react and respond to that.”
The topic of failure was also a prime topic du jour at an earlier symposium that HSN and the University of Tampa held in Washington, D.C. this past November to coincide with National Entrepreneurs Month.
At the time, moderator JJ Ramberg, who also led the Tampa symposium, made the case that a fear of failure can be healthy for rising entrepreneurs. “I think fear of failure is kind of smart for right now,” said Ramberg, herself an entrepreneur and the host of MSNBC’s Your Business. “Successful entrepreneurs have become idolized like rock stars and I think it’s important for students to understand it is scary, and it can be hard. That’s a healthy attitude instead of thinking ‘I’m just going to come up with something and be the next Mark Zuckerberg.’”
Following the Tampa American Dreams Symposium, nearly 100 entrepreneurs attended a two-day American Dreams Academy, an interactive, educational and experiential scholarship-supported summit for emerging entrepreneurs looking to launch or expand their businesses.
HSN and the University of Tampa are hosting academies like this on a quarterly basis across the United States. They consist of two full days of instructional, informational and educational programming designed to help entrepreneurs understand important lessons in the areas of manufacturing, legal, quality assurance, branding, marketing, pitching/presenting concepts, and social media. To be eligible, applicants must have a product or business concept either in development or already established.
Like the American Dreams Symposium, the academies are sponsored by Quirky, a free community-led invention platform that brings real people’s ideas to life.