By Andy Schwartz, CEO and co-founder of xtraCHEF, a fast-growing restaurant tech startup.
It’s a loaded phrase that startup leaders have used forever to encourage people to throw caution to the wind and launch their businesses. The thinking behind it is simple: If you succeed, you might change the world. If you fail, you’ll learn a lot on the way down.
But the thought of learning a lot may not be a huge motivator, because 33% of Americans say fear of failure is holding them back from starting a business. That’s a lot of people who could be the next Steve Jobs sitting on the sidelines!
Sure, there are plenty of reasons people are scared to launch a business. They worry about funding, financial security, market fit and paying for health insurance. But I think there’s another big reason: the stigma associated with failure.
One study found this stigma to be so strong that it occurs before ventures actually fail, affecting an entrepreneur’s behavior and ultimately the performance of the business. Another found that the stigma leads unsuccessful founders to exit entrepreneurship and turn to other career options. It seems that, for a lot of people, what scares them the most isn’t wasted effort, lost time, or lack of income: It’s looking foolish.
As a startup founder, I had to cross this mental hurdle to bring my company, xtraCHEF, to life. I struggled to decide if leaving my solid career in corporate sales was worth it. I couldn’t help but wonder what my family and friends would say if I failed, and how my former co-workers would react if I came crawling back to my old job.
But I was able to get over my fears and dive into my business. In the first few months, I realized that I really was learning a lot in the process: I was hiring people, negotiating with clients, managing payroll and responsible for making decisive decisions on the fly. Soon, I’d be managing teams, picking office spaces, and successfully pitching venture capitalists for funding. I quickly realized that, if xtraCHEF failed, my entrepreneurship experience would be anything but a resume gap — it would be the cornerstone of my career.
Potential startup founders should consider it the same way. If you launch a startup and it fails, hiring managers will be salivating at the chance to bring you on board because of your broad experience and grit. In fact, when I recruit for my company, I actively seek self-starters and entrepreneurial thinkers and scoop them up for interviews right away.
However, I recognize that many potential founders aren’t just held back by their fear — money is a big issue, too. Many people can’t give up a salary or rack up (more) debt to launch a company. Failure, to them, isn’t just a learning experience or stigma, but the inability to make rent or feed their family. The deck seems to be stacked against working-class folks trying to bring their vision to life. The tide appears to be changing. More venture capitalists now agree that founders should make more money upfront. Plus there are loads of free startup resources and expert advice available to help them figure out ways to make it work.
My goal in writing this article is simple: I want more people to be entrepreneurs because pushing past my fear has turned me into a better person, and I believe that it can make others better, too. Doing something I love and believe in brings positivity to my life. Ever since I started my business, I’ve been more excited to start each day. I have more pep in my step. I’m more inquisitive and more open to starting new relationships. I simply wouldn’t have grown like this if I had stayed in corporate sales.
Think about it like this: What do you want to do all day? What will make you feel happy? What will make you feel like yourself? What do you need to do to live an authentic life? Regret is a lot less fun than failure. You don’t want to wake up one day years from now wishing you had taken a swing on your big idea instead of preparing for another day at a job you hate.
Life is short. So please don’t let the potential embarrassment of failure hold you back from trying your startup idea. If anything, it’ll make you a smarter, stronger, and better professional.
I know it did for me.