It’s not uncommon to read up press coverage of successful founders and come away with the impression that they could not have failed one day in their lives. Like, how could Mark Cuban, popular Shark Tank investor and rockstar entrepreneur ever have failed at anything? Turns out Cuban has a failure story capable of reassuring a floundering founder. Here is his story along with five other spectacular business failures:

Mark Cuban: Shark Tank investor. Co-founder, Broadcast.com

Mark Cuban was so clumsy he couldn’t open a bottle a wine. This clumsiness was why he was sacked as a waiter. Before he went on to found his internet radio company, Broadcast.com – that he would later sell to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in 1999 – he also failed as a carpenter, as a cook and as a powdered milk salesman.

He says of his failures, “I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many times you failed. You only have to be right once. I tried to sell powdered milk. I was an idiot lots of times, and I learned from them all.”

Hiten Shah: Co-founder at KISSmetrics

Before founding the web analytics company, KissMetrics, Hiten failed at launching a web hosting company. According to him, he “spent over 1 million dollars on a web hosting company that never launched”.

The team made the mistake of building out every detail of the product before attempting to understand what the customer cared for. By the time they realized no one needed their solution, 1 million had already gone into development.

Bill Gate and Paul Allen: Founders of Microsoft

Who would have thought? But Bill Gates remarkably failed with his first business, Traf-O-Data. The product, which he designed along with Paul Allen, aimed to process and analyze data from traffic tapes. But when it was time to launch, Traf-O-Data didn’t work. A few years later, he began working on Microsoft, the company that would go on to produce the OS I am using on my PC.   

‘Even though Traf-O-Data wasn’t a roaring success, it was seminal in preparing us to make Microsoft’s first product a couple of years later,’ Paul Allen said of the failure.

Sim Shagaya: Founder, Konga, DealDey and E-motion

You won’t be wrong to dub Sim a serial failure.

Before going on to succeed with DealDey, Konga and his billboard advertizing agency, E-motion, he had launched “a failed dating site, a jobs portal that never caught on and a Nollywood streaming service that came before its time.”

“I learned something from each, every single one. There is not one I didn’t learn a lesson from. You just have to keep getting up. And have no ego,” Sim said in a 2013 interview.

Jack Ma: Founder, Alibaba

Jack Ma hit it off quite well with Alibaba, but he wasn’t much of a success before then.

He failed consistently over a period of 20 years. He failed a college entrance exam three times and was rejected from 30 different jobs. When KFC came to his city, he was the only one rejected out of 24 people that applied for a job at the franchise.

How hard could it possibly be to flip a couple of chicken laps and serve chips? Well, that’s the story of Ma. He is now worth more than $20 billion.

Jason Njoku: co-founder, iROKOtv

After Jason graduated from the university in 2005, he founded a student focused magazine, Brash. The magazine turned the table on everything politically correct. It captured the ugly underbellies of student life in Manchester.

Although the magazine was successful creatively, Jason and his team got the economics wrong and the magazine only survived three issues. “Commercially it was my most expensive failure. Both in time and money. All in we are talking about 3-years of my life and ~£120,000,” Jason said of the failure.

The failure of these founders is a reflection of the larger entrepreneurship scenery and the reality of existence in general. The British author, JK Rowling summarized it in this quote:

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

In the long run, if you’ve failed at anything, you are on the right track. It’s the way of the winner. Embrace it, then learn from it.

Photo Credit: jdlasica via Compfight cc

Gbenga Onalaja Author

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