Few people are courageous enough to start their own company, although many want to. Fewer still go on to achieve success. History is full of entrepreneurs who failed once and became discouraged.
What can we learn, though, from those who refused to give up on their passion despite repeatedly enduring failure and rejection? What is the value and return on failure for them?
Rowling’s life is the typical rags-to-riches story. She was living as a single mother on benefits before becoming the world's first billionaire author. Rowling completed “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone” in 1995. The book was submitted to 12 publishing houses, but not a single one agreed to publish it. “Harry Potter” hit the bookstores only in 1997, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Along the way Rowling has learned to appreciate failure. "I don't think we talk about failure enough. It would've really helped to have someone who had had a measure of success come say to me, 'You will fail. That's inevitable. It's what you do with it'", she told Matt Lauer on NBC's Today. She considers her early failure a "gift" that was "painfully won", helping her to learn more about herself and her relationships through the difficult times.
Walt Disney, the legendary animator, film producer, and theme park developer had quite a bumpy road to success. His first animation company, Laugh-O-Gram Studio, went bankrupt. He achieved a breakthrough with the creation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, only to lose the legal rights to the cartoon rabbit and see most of his fellow animators leave the studio. It was a big setback. However, Disney decided to create another character and start over. Soon after, Disney and Ub Iwerks created Mickey Mouse, who went on to become the most recognisable cartoon character in film history and later serve as a cornerstone for the Walt Disney entertainment empire.
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Before they founded Microsoft in 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen established a company that did not enjoy the same degree of success, to say the least.
Still in high school, Gates worked for a company that measured traffic data from roadway traffic counters. “The process was monotonous, inefficient, and murder on the eyes”, Allen wrote in his 2012 memoir “Idea Man”. Gates and Allen knew that they could create a company that collects the data and releases the reports for traffic engineers more efficiently. So, they founded Traf-o-Data. Gates was barely 17 and Allen was 19.
The company achieved moderate success and operated for years, even after the establishment of Microsoft. Yet it ultimately failed after some states started offering the same service for free.
Steve Jobs, the technology pioneer who revolutionised the personal computer, co-founded Apple. The company became a success almost as soon as it was founded in 1976. Its IPO in 1980 was the biggest stock market launch since Ford in 1956. However, the relationship Jobs had with the company was complicated and he was forced to leave it in 1985 over differences with CEO John Sculley.
Jobs, however, was not given to rumination. He bought the computer animation studio Pixar and founded NeXT, a computer maker. While Pixar achieved major success (and was sold to Disney for USD 7.4bn in 2006), NeXT fared less well. Nevertheless, Apple bought NeXT in 1996, paving the way for Jobs to return to the company he co-founded. From then on, everything he touched turned to gold. Products such as the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad turned Apple into one of the most successful companies in history.
“I have not failed 10,000 times—I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Edison once said.
Thomas Edison is one of the greatest innovators and cultural figures of modern America. He pioneered the method of technological research and invented electric lighting and the phonograph. In addition, he made major contributions to power generation, motion pictures, and telecommunications.
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Some of Edison’s inventions proved unsuccessful, such as the electrographic vote recorder, the electric pen, and the talking doll. But one of his great qualities was that he did not agonise over past failures. Leonard DeGraaf, an archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park who wrote a book on the inventor called “Edison and the Rise of Innovation”, says: “Edison is not a guy that looks back. Even for his biggest failures he didn’t spend a lot of time wringing his hands and saying ‘Oh my God, we spent a fortune on that.’”
Failure is a major part of entrepreneurial success. Its value is the gift of learning that empowers you to never stop pursuing your dreams. Just look around: the world is full inspiring stories. Today, entrepreneurship is all around us and is much needed in the corporate world as well for social welfare.