Failure Is A School

Every entrepreneur I know has endured setbacks as they poured themselves into their startup. I’ve been there myself. You might be there now, headed for it, or recovering. Here’s how to thrive through failure.

In our startup, we were the right team to start the business but we were not the right team to grow it exponentially. We failed to recognize that as we struggled to mature and add value to our clients.

We topped out at ten employees and then began to shrink as revenue growth slowed.

“One of the
most trying
of my life”

During our last year, everything felt like a failure. As a result, each of us felt like failures. We were tested to the breaking point. Our self-perceptions affected our ability to be successful. Minor setbacks took on out-of-proportion meaning. We discounted victories.

We were burned out and had to sell the company to survive financially.


Failure is Natural

Shortly after our sale I received an offer to work for my current employer, one of our early investors. But, I needed time. Time to recover emotionally, time to clear my head and time to reset my mindset from failure back to success. I took nearly three months off.

Our startup’s failure was one of the most trying periods of my life.

The truth about being an entrepreneur is that setbacks and failures are a natural component of having a big vision, wanting to change the world, and delivering massive results.


Moving On

I realized that I could not move on until I learned from our experiences. I began writing down every mistake I had made and our team had made.

I listed over 100 things we did wrong or could have done better from how we handled administrative tasks to how we marketed and sold our software. This process enabled me to get things out of my head, to deal with them emotionally and to focus on what will work better in the future.

Learning from my failures and our failures enabled me to turn the tables and instead parlay failure into success.

Success and FailureI look back on our startup with gratitude. I learned more during our startup’s life than I had in my first jobs, graduate school, eight years of consulting and working for a Fortune 100 company. I learned key, life-altering lessons that I would have missed had I stayed in my ‘safe’ corporate environments. I would not be where I am today had I not chosen the risk of joining a startup, endured that failure and purposefully learned.

Looking, back, I wouldn’t trade my startup years for anything. It was a period of rich experience that helps me guide others today.


Thriving in Spite of Failure

Succeeding through failure is all in how you process it.

If you are going to triumph as an entrepreneur, there are four mindset components you must have to leverage your failures into successes.

  1. Anticipate Failure. Setbacks will happen. Admit it and plan what you will do when adversity strikes.
  2. Accept Responsibility. There is no value in blaming events or others, even if you had no control. Failures happen, take responsibility and move on.
  3. Acquire Knowledge. Catalog what went wrong, document how it might have been different and what you will do differently next time. Learn to think “In the future when X happens, I will do Y, not Z.
  4. Adapt Behaviors. To accomplish your goals and realize future successes, respond with “Y”, not “Z” when bad things happen.

“I wouldn't trade
my startup years
for anything”

It is the resilient, learning entrepreneur that can take setbacks and failures in stride, learn, refocus on goals and press forward with renewed energy. By adopting these four mindset components, you will be well prepared to deal with and to leverage failures as they occur. You won’t need three months to recover as I did.


Failure is a School

When failures occur, the simple fact that you have anticipated them lessens their impact. Making changes in your responses as you learn will strengthen you for the next test.  If you are afraid to fail, you will not be capable of taking the appropriate risks to be successful. In other words, you won’t even get to take the tests.

Remember that setbacks and failures are a natural component of being an entrepreneur. Having a big vision, wanting to change the world, and delivering massive results require that you anticipate difficulties, accept responsibility, learn, and adapt to new circumstances with new behaviors.

What have you done to turn your failures into successes?

Please Email Me the PDF
“Failure Is A School”!

Rick Coplin






Success and Failure sign photo credit: Chris Potter at


I work alongside emerging companies on business formation, commercialization strategies, and capital planning. My passion is to find, support, mentor, coach, incubate, & fund start-ups engaged in innovative technology businesses.

Connect with Rick on