The relief of failure: Why start-ups can kill the soul

I had lunch last week with a guy who had previously run a start-up.


He had a decent idea but it just couldn’t find a market and after a good year of giving it a go, he and his partner decided to call it a day.


He’s now back in the workforce in a senior position.


The thing that I found really interesting in talking to him was the overwhelming sense of relief he felt now that the whole experience was behind him.


He recounted all of the problems he experienced trying to make a go of the business.


There was the moment they almost brought a major partner on board who ultimately turned out to be too busy bedding down other acquisitions.


There was the experience of almost developing an additional breakthrough product feature, only to run out of cash to make it actually happen.


The ‘almosts’, ‘nearlys’ and ‘what ifs’ kept flowing one after the other.


What also struck me was that my lunch partner still believed in his idea – deep in his heart he still believed it was a good idea that could work.


All he needed was a bit more cash and a bit more luck and things could have been very different.


But when I asked him whether he’d jump back into another start-up, he answered me instantly: No.


He explained that the whole experience was just too sapping on too many levels. Not only, obviously, did it take a financial toll, it took a psychic toll on him and his wife and family.


It was too all-consuming.


So, why am I relating this story? It’s certainly not to discourage people from having a go at launching their own business.


It’s not even to encourage people to have realistic expectations about their prospects for success.


My goal is for people to realise that starting a new business is a massive undertaking. It requires a huge amount of energy and dedication – to the point that it can take people years to recover.


I was once chatting to an experienced business consultant and entrepreneur who told me that, in his view, you only ever have two genuine start-ups in you.


Given the demands they place on every facet of your being, any more than two is just too hard on the soul.


After my lunch last week, I might have to reduce that estimate down even further.


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