Tell me about your failures…

“Echando a perder se aprende”

“By breaking things, you learn”


How do you cope with failure?  Can you tolerate it?

In Mexico and Latin America, failure is bad, I mean really bad. We live in a culture where labels are everywhere, and they are so hard to erase.

I was having a meeting with one of the top VCs in the valley, things were going great, the pitch was flowing like water, it was just one of those days when things were exactly, well…almost perfect.

We were going through our pitch deck (see here for a guide how to create great decks), Problem… (Yes!)…. Solution (Yes!)… The Market (Yes!)… I was feeling so comfortable – I know my pitch like I know my favorite song – and in this particular meeting, I knew all the answers to the questions, and they seemed to be the right answers…

All was great until we reached the “team” slide. So there I was:

– Meet “John Doe” we has a master degree for Y and he’s done this and that, now meet “Jane Doe” she’s been a successful executive in X company and I was talking about exits, and…suddenly, for the first time in my “dream meeting,” the VC interrupted me and said, “Tell me about your failures.”

Silence. I actually said, “I beg your pardon?” He answered, “yes, I get it, you are strong team, great background…I already heard when you succeeded, now I want to hear when you didn’t succeed.”


I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t prepared for this.

Failing is part of every entrepreneur’s life, just by looking at  venture capital industry statistics. According to the Wall Street Journal, 75% of startups fail, so you better be prepared to fail and to deal with failure, but most of all you need to learn to learn from failure because there is no better teacher than experience and there is no better laboratory than life.

Failure gives us the possibility to learn from our mistakes, to assess life differently and to be better next time (yes, next time). If you fail and you don’t try again, then your failure was for nothing, and that indeed it is a waste of your time and your investors’ money.

Not only in Mexico we are good at creating sayings, here in Silicon Valley they do it as well. Around here, they say, “If you are going to fail, fail fast.” If you want to learn more about this topic, take a look at this wonderful presentation from IBM founder Thomas J Watson Sr.

Fail fast? Many of us (and probably more than once) have prolonged the agony more that we have had to. It takes a lot of courage and self-respect to admit: “This is not it, it’s time to quit.”

A few months ago, I was attending one of my son’s classmates’ Bar Mitzvah and the kids were playing in the pool (yes, in this bar mitzvah there was a pool). I heard a gentleman calling to his kids in a language I didn’t recognize, so I asked him where he was from. “Belgium,” he said. After a few minutes of chit chat, the usual conversation came around. “What do you do?” he asked me. “I run a startup, you?” In response, he told me that his company bought a small startup in the Bay Area and they sent him here to run the merger process.

After a few minutes he told me, “In Belgium, you can’t be an entrepreneur.” When I asked why, he said: “If you fail, you won’t be able to take the stigma away.”label jars

There is no success without attempts and there are no attempts without failure. So next time somebody tries to criticize you because you failed, just tell him or her: “Echando a perder se aprende!”

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