3 things every entrepreneur can learn from business failure

By Jesse James

When it comes to the entrepreneurial journey, learning is the way to success. That learning usually comes from failure. No entrepreneur likes to fail, but most do.

Some highly successful entrepreneurs of yesterday and today have experienced failure and learned from it on their way to success:

  • American inventor Thomas Edison tried thousands and thousands of times to invent the electric light bulb before finally succeeding.
  • Walt Disney’s first animation company, Laugh-O-Gram Studio, went bankrupt, but Disney moved on from there to create an entertainment empire.
  • Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was fired from the company in the mid-1980s, but was hired in 1997 and led the company to rapid growth.
  • Author JK Rowling submitted Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to 12 publishers, all of whom refused to publish – now more than 120 million copies of this book have been sold.

These are just a few examples of famous entrepreneurs who have experienced failure on their way to success.

Statistics confirm that failures and setbacks are common on the road to business success. Think that data collected by the SBA from 1994 to 2019, about 68% of new ventures have survived at least two years, and after five years, the survival rate of new ventures dropped to less than 50%.

While failure can be a given in the entrepreneurial journey, failure is not fatal. Successful entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes and apply these lessons to the pursuit of their dreams. Some of the key things these and other entrepreneurs have learned from business failures include how to be resilient, fearless, and adaptable.

What we can learn from business failure


Failure teaches entrepreneurs the ability to recover quickly from difficulties, which is the definition of resilience. With every failure, entrepreneurs can learn tenacity and perseverance (think Thomas Edison), two key traits of resilience that are critical to weathering missteps and fighting the urge to quit.

Research shows how important resilience is to business success. A study conducted by researchers from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University followed new entrepreneurs over a period of two years as they develop, start up and operate new ventures. The survey found that resilient entrepreneurs viewed business adversity as puzzles that they could completely solve and tackle. The researchers noted that entrepreneurs who had this “challenge assessment” mindset “were more motivated and proactive in identifying ways to improve business processes and results, and adapting them immediately.”

The study also found that resilience was a critical skill that helped entrepreneurs respond to unexpected challenges and that companies owned by resilient entrepreneurs were more likely to survive than other companies.


Undertaking a journey of entrepreneurship is a risky proposition and is full of uncertainties that often increase the fear of failure and rejection. These fears can keep aspiring entrepreneurs from taking risks and pursuing their dreams.

A Harris Poll commissioned by Zapier questionnaire found that about three in five Americans (61%) have had an idea to start a business, and about a third (34%) have had more than one. The survey found that an overwhelming majority of those people — 92% — didn’t turn their ideas into businesses. For 33% of the respondents, fear of failure is the reason that they do not pursue their entrepreneurial dream.

Entrepreneurs who have failed learn firsthand what Winston Churchill meant when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to carry on that counts.” With this perspective, entrepreneurs no longer let fear hold them back. Instead, they see failure as an opportunity to learn from mistakes and use what they learned from business failure to move forward despite their fears.

Learning from adversity is what helps to dispel the fear of failure. Spending time analyzing what happened, why it happened, what worked and what didn’t provides the clarity and insight needed to determine what changes need to be made to achieve success. The knowledge and practical experience that comes from failure inspires a fearlessness and confidence in entrepreneurs that drives them to try again and again.

Plus, the fear of rejection often keeps business owners from even trying. Jia Jangs 100 days of rejection therapy challenge really puts this into perspective. Without even trying, many will simply write something off as impossible for fear of hearing “no.” However, Jang’s experiment showed that the worst thing an entrepreneur can do is not to ask for something they might not get — it’s not to try at all.

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Failure is also a lesson in adaptability. When an idea or approach fails, entrepreneurs must be able to adapt to new circumstances and be willing to experiment and test new ideas. Embracing change, staying nimble and adapting are part of the adaptability that helps entrepreneurs overcome obstacles, learn and innovate. When industries, markets and customer preferences change, this adaptability also helps entrepreneurs navigate these new situations and solve problems to make an idea work or come up with a new idea.

Netflix is ​​a great example of a company that has tweaked its path to success. The company’s first business model, founded by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph in 1997, focused on letting consumers rent and purchase physical DVD movies. In 1999, the company added a subscription that allowed people to rent as many DVDs as they wanted and receive rent by mail. The company again adapted its business model in 2007, moving away from physical media to take advantage of new technology that allowed instant streaming of content over the Internet.

Sometimes you have to fail to succeed

Of the more than 31 million entrepreneurs in the United States, many have experienced failure on their path to success. They tried and failed, and probably failed a few more times during their journey. These failures are far from fatal. Entrepreneurs who learn the lessons of resilience, fearlessness and adaptability from business failures can overcome obstacles and setbacks to achieve success.

Michael Jordan summed up this idea well when he said, “I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I was trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I have failed time and again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

About the author

Jesse James is Director of Strategic Partnerships and Solutions at VizyPay. He has been a veteran of sales, sales leadership and entrepreneurship for 15 years. Prior to that, he was Director, Recruitment Services at DHI Group, Inc and Chief Revenue Officer at FiQore Technologies, Inc. Contact him LinkedIn.