How to Swing Back after a Failed Venture
Count your blessings and get back on the horse
Of course, no one wants to fail. We all want to be winners, not losers. But, it isn’t always entirely within our power to control the outcome, especially if we need to partner with someone else.
The Start of a Beautiful Relationship
Startups are a hot topic. It’s a funny term that really just means a fledgling business venture, but it has taken on connotations of one that is hoping to be the next big thing, the next hot trend, the next so-called Unicorn (billion dollar valuation company).
Most startups are the ideas of young people. The reason is that you need to be able to pour about 100 hours a week into a new business that is turning into a successful business. This is easier to do if you are both energetic and relatively unencumbered.
So, as is often the case, my best friend from college and I decided to start a business venture. We knew each other well, we thought we were on the same page in terms of goals and ambitions and we thought we had a complementary set of skills. We thought “What could be better than starting a business together and having a good excuse to hang out with other basically full time?”
The Honeymoon Phase
The venture really started with an idea we kicked around over Spring Break. Then, over the next couple of months while continuing with our studies, we worked on it part time. We figured we would make it a full time thing come summer, when we would both take some time off from school.
Initially, we were both really excited. When it was just a part time venture, it was like a hobby. It felt like just a good excuse for two good friends to spend time together, hang out and dream of a better future — only better than that. Because we weren’t just dreaming. We were trying to actually make our dreams real.
The Honeymoon Ends
Summer rolled around and we agreed that we had something solid enough to try to give it a go full time. But, you know, we were both tired from going to school full time while working on this venture part time. We decided to take just a short break to recharge.
Well, to be honest, my best friend “suggested” that and I agreed in order to keep the peace. I thought “Sure, okay, fine. That’s reasonable. We are both tired. Let’s take some time off, recharge our batteries, and hit the ground running in a few days.”
Looking back on it, the honeymoon ended as soon as final exams ended and my partner began making excuses instead of making commitments. We both took a week off. Then I came back and said “Hey, time to get to work.” and they weren’t ready.
I thought “No problem. I will just start working on it myself. There are pieces I can do without them.” I began working and I came back a week later and they were willing to give me some of their time, but it never did turn into full time on their end. Every week, something “came up” and they never really pulled their weight.
While it was going on, it seemed plausible. People get sick. People have emergencies. Things come up. It happens and you can’t control it. So it is only in retrospect that the pattern seems clear to me: Their heart really wasn’t in it. It was fine to dream and work on it part time, but they weren’t really committed to the venture.
Late in the summer, in spite of my partner’s foot dragging, I felt we had developed something that we could take to market. But it was clear to me that we needed to really commit to it full time.
I had been doing that all summer. My partner had not. With fall classes looming, it was clear that a real commitment would conflict with school. The way Americans rack up student loans without any guarantee that it will really pay off, I wasn’t sure school was the best idea anyway.
My partner was not willing to even talk about dropping out. I had previously had class on negotiating. With lessons learned from ‘Getting to Yes’ and ‘The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator’ (Books) I thought I would negotiate a deal my partner could not turn down. Instead, I ended up negotiating the break-up.
I suggested we take the minimum number of credit hours in order to focus on the business but leave our options open. My partner was not willing to do that either. I really wanted to make a go of it, so we drew up a contract and I quit school to work on it full time.
When you stop going to college, your student loans come due. It was soon apparent that our business was not going to cover living expenses plus college loans. I ended up getting a job before long and, by Christmas break, I was forced to push my partner out entirely.
All is not lost, especially if you think about what you can learn from failures. One of the things I learned is that student loans are painful to pay on. So I chose to not go back to college. If I return, I will do so if I can pay for it with grants, scholarships or my own money.
I did keep the business in my name. It is on the back burner while I work a full time job and work out some of the kinks in the business plan.
The summer of working full time while my partner made excuses did result in some positive self-development. I grew up a lot. I feel much more like a serious adult than I did when I was a full time college student.
Although it is painful to pay for student loans incurred for a degree I may not ever complete, my loans are a lot smaller than what some people owe. I am staying focused on paying them off as quickly as I can while reminding myself that there are other people who owe more money on student loans and aren’t any better off for it in terms of income.
So, some tips from my experiences:
- Don’t keep taking excuses.
- Pay off debts.
- Focus on what you can learn from it.
- Do not wallow in self pity. Instead, count your “blessings.”
- Tighten the saddle, but get back on the horse.
There are no time machines. We don’t get to go back. Regrets are a waste of time. But learning something from our bad experiences that will help empower us to create a better future for ourselves is always a good thing.
With debts going down and a more solid business plan in hand, I actually feel better about my future than I did before my partnership fell apart. I am captain of my own destiny and have just survived the first storm. As they say: Fair weather does not make good sailors. So if you’re dealing with a failed venture or just trying to avoid one, step out now, take action and remember that failure is your best teacher!