Failing Up

Failing Up


I recently was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of a conversation about failure.  At an event, hosted by the Riata Center at Oklahoma State University, and in cooperation with the Spears School of Business the evening focused on failing up.  The conversation focused in on accepting failures, learning from them, and hanging on to that sometimes elusive entrepreneurial spirit.  I was joined by Natalie Spencer, the founder of Freckles Creative Studio.  She’s amazing and you ought to check out her design chops!  What follows are 3 brief thoughts I took from the evening.


a lightbulb moment….

Thought 1 : Fear

It seems to me every entrepreneur wrestles with fear at some level.  Questions arise in the mind such as, , “What if people don’t get it?”, “What if I don’t know what happens next?” and of course the quintessential, “”What if this doesn’t work?”  These questions, and the possible answers to them can be spooky!  It seems to me that this FEAR generally drives the work.  It creates within the entrepreneur a deep need to be specific, to clarify, to fine tune, to communicate, to collaborate, to plan, to strategize, and to learn.   This intrinsic embracement of fear and the response that follows seems indicative of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Thought 2 : Humility 

Boy, it doesn’t always work out.  I do some of my best thinking in the car and in the shower.  I’ve had some eureka moments that I thought were game changers while scrub a dub dubbing.  (Shameless plug, the 18.21 Tobacco/Whiskey Inspired body wash at EVERYMAN will change your world).  One of the traits I’m frequently identifying is that entrepreneurs ought to check the ego at the door.  Easier said than done, especially for me sometimes.  When things don’t pan out it’s easy to take it personally but I’ve now been witness to some very healthy behaviors from entrepreneurs in the face of failure that always center around feedback, collaboration, and above all HUMILITY.   Natalie told a great story about a season with Freckles where she wasn’t trusting her own design aesthetic and lost touch with the voice of her customer.  She humbled herself, pivoted, and recaptured the hearts, minds, and wallets of her customer base.  Humility defined: “A modest or low view of one’s own importance.”  I strive to emulate those characteristics in my victories and in my failures.

Thought 3 : A Global Perspective 

In attendance that evening were a group of entrepreneurs from Africa.  It seemed almost every country was represented.  Many of them already have successful businesses in their home towns and their ideas, questions, and missions were some of the most thoughtful I’ve heard.  My experience there gave me pause.  It’s easy to pigeon hole yourself sometimes into a “silo-type” mentality as an entrepreneur.  Especially if you are trying to bring something to market that’s unprecedented.  Listening to the struggles and the wins of these entrepreneurs really opened my perspective to how different things work globally.

One young entrepreneur named Usman Ali Lawan who operates Usaifa Agro-Allied in Nigeria,  quickly challenged the legicimatcy of a concept like EVERYMAN in his home country.  He noted that most gentlemen that would purchase say, a $500 suit, would not want to shop at the same store where you could purchase a $200 suit.  The EVERYMAN concept is rooted in a tiered approach to pricing in every category.  This strategy would, undoubtedly, fail in Nigeria because of their culture norms.  Usman and I exchanged some ideas about how you might make it work.  It was a thoughtful exchange that I think refreshed both of our perspectives.


Usman & I 

In summary.  Failure is okay.  Failure will happen.  If intentional, you can Fail Up.





Check out some of these other great businesses started by these phenomenal entrepreneurs.


Dayelian – A company that is Revisiting African Snacks

Founder & CEO Regis Ezin

the cradle – A company taking a different approach to child care.

Founder Manuela Pacutho Mulondo