How it feels to fail
About two years ago I attended a Meetup about raising funds and entrepreneurship. The woman who spoke was a serial entrepreneur with a few successes in her record and she shared her story of struggle and endurance. Towards the end she accepted questions and one guy said he’s been working on an idea for a while, trying to make it work, and keeps getting “No’s” — from investors, potential clients and whomever. His question was “how many no’s does one need to hear before giving up?”
That evening it sounded to me as a very childish question and I think a few laughs were heard in the crowd. I thought he’s quite lame, asking (and doing this in public) for such a specific advice, when the only person who can really tell if he has to give up is him. After all, we knew nothing about his startup, so how can we help?
With time I realized this was not a thing to laugh about but to sympathize with. That guy was asking out loud for strangers’ help since they would probably be most honest and harsh and that was what he needed the most — to know when to stop, so he won’t waste his life. He can start something else, he might land on something better, he can make it — but probably not where he was at that time. What he was actually asking for was a recipe for failure (not success).
When I realized the time has arrived, I recalled that question and in a way feared of sounding like that guy. I feared of the thought of quitting and feared of not knowing if and when I should quit.
So how does it feel to fail (once you admit it)?
Shitty. And in two words — very low or rock bottom.
The thing with failures is that it takes time to call it as it is. It’s never quite clear, glimpses of hope strike out of different corners, like the last beat of a dying heart; you’d probably hold on really tight to that beat.
Same here I guess. Memontage (a digital memorial platform), my startup that failed was sparked by my wish to honor my late mom. It was a pro-profit out to do good in the world, to touch people’s hearts. With such a mission in hand, you don’t just call the quits.
The more vested you get, the less you can pin a moment in time and say stop. That’s the ugly part I guess: holding on to something, losing the belief in it and grabbing a shaky rock, about to fall and disconnect with you.
But here we actually did OK. It took Noa Zehavi Raz (my wonderful Co-Founder) and me 6 months since launch to feel it isn’t working. We went through changes of business models, approaches to investors and accelerators, local and international markets and so on and so forth.
Still the hardest point is to realize that. It took me awhile to admit — to myself and then to others. It took me awhile to cry it out but when I finally did, it took about four straight days of doing so on every occasion.
Then fear entered — what the hell am I doing now with my life?
We decided to look for a new thing but after you fail your whole body is uptight and scared to move a step forward. Your mind is full of “what if? and what then? and if not?”. Terrible.
A new start
I don’t know how we did it, but for about a month we kept working in ..hmm.. I don’t have a clue really. It was a mix of brainstorming and pitching ideas and testing them but nothing felt right. It was the brainstorming phase but without the excitement and enthusiasm that should accompany the process. What a shame. We drove in auto pilot mode and didn’t even enjoy the view or the road as we should have.
Luckily (well, luck has nothing to do here) we listened carefully to ourselves and learned a lot about what makes us tick and happy, about what we’re really good at and exceptionally capable of. And that’s a great lesson we took from our 1st startup —we harnessed all our abilities and talents to find something new.
And then one day we found an idea we love. And suddenly that bright eyed look and speedy talk and crazy energies entered the room again. And we naturally took great use of all the lessons we got till now — actual experience and theoretical advices. Three days later we had a manual demo of the idea, and within 4 days we got dozen positive responses and reviews from people we think highly of, value their insights and find them relevant to our new product.
When I don’t pivot or “startup” — I climb walls.
That’s my sports, that’s my game, that’s my meditation — where I enter my zone. That’s where I meet my fears and try to look them in the eyes. That’s where I can fail and at times succeed. That’s where I can constantly improve, learn and evolve.
I took a long break (longer than a decade) from rock climbing and started (again) to seriously boulder last year.
It’s ironic to say I fear from heights when this is my hobby, but I kinda don’t like it when I am way up high and not stable (control freak as I am), therefore I do my best to avoid the highest spots that lead to one’s falling a long way down.
I have been recently working on a route that is difficult, long and high. When I reached the 4th grip before the end I froze on the spot and started losing power — not going up and afraid to jump down from way up there.
My instructor shouted from bellow to climb up while I stood still and then safely climbed down to the ground.
I tried it many more times since the first try — each time I had enough power and it was nothing too technical or complicated, but I could not bring myself to reach out to the remaining grips.
But then an interesting thing happened: I started falling. Over and over.
I let go and fell and climbed up again, to that same spot from which I jumped down a long way. It turned out to be my falling exercise.
I realized I am afraid to fall; what was blocking my climb was the fear to crush. With every step up I knew the way down would be longer and more painful, therefore chose to go down.
Though I have many years of climbing behind me, I managed somehow to avoid big falls. Through the years I made everything I could to climb down with my remaining powers and jump only tiny distances, only “safe falls”.
I made an effort to have all the cards in my hand, be in control and climb the safe path, only where and till I knew I will run out of power. Only till I felt confident enough to jump.
This exercise of jumping from way up and facing the fear of crush was crucial: to understand that it’s OK to fall and I won’t break into pieces. Now that I know how to fall — I can spend more time practicing how to reach the top grip. I no longer need to look down since I’ve been there and it wasn’t that terrible; I already fell and the fall was less painful than I thought it would be. The faster I climbed up the wall after the fall — the smaller and more manageable the fear turned.
I will now send a link to this text to all the investors we’ve been in touch with. I now know first hand that an entrepreneur who failed but knew how to quickly climb up the wall is an entrepreneur who can reach the top (grip).
Enjoy the road.
Keep in touch with the wonderful people you meet on the way up and down.
Find yourself an awesome partner that if you are lucky enough turns into a best friend.
And ya, find that wall that keeps you happy and balanced.
If you know an entrepreneur who’s struggling (aren’t we all?) please share this with them. This might help in a way, or make them climb walls 🙂