Learning From Failure Might be a Tad Overrated
By now, we’ve all heard a lot about how important it is to fail, how we need to start failing immediately – in a sense so we can find about what NOT to do the fastest way possible.
Of course, we’ve all seen this happen, so I’m not about to debate its veracity.
There might be an alternative though.
Instead of learning from failure, why not learn from success? Instead of concentrating on what NOT to do, why not focus on WHAT to do?
How can you do this as someone who wants to develop his own startup?
One way is to go join a successful one.
My Chikka Days
When I think about it now, my five-year stint in Chikka really fast-tracked my own startup career. I didn’t exactly realize it then, but it did.
I remember the first few weeks I was in Chikka, and coming from 2 very “corporate” companies, it was quite the culture shock. No manager rooms. First-name basis with everyone. A disdain for anything “formal.” (I believe their term for it was “Ponstan.” Long story)
I loved it! It was certainly very different from what I was used to – and I found myself gravitating towards it.
The more time I spent in Chikka, the more interesting things I soaked up. I noticed how then-CEO Dennis Mendiola and then-COO Chito Bustamante worked. Dennis worked on products and strategy. He would do off-the-wall stuff like ask waiters for their opinion on a product during formal meetings. He would leave the execution to Chito – and boy, did he execute. I remember one director describe Chito’s execution style as suave. Chito had a way of getting things done.
As a company, I remember hitting deadlines I never thought we’d hit. We just sort of willed things to happen.
I remember the little traditions. Lechon during a founder’s birthday. Top ten lists during events.
I remember dreaming big.
I actually started conceptualizing STORM at the same time that I was interviewing for Chikka. In retrospect, I think this was awfully good timing. It was the best of both worlds – I was starting my startup part-time while learning from a very good one full-time.
The Advantages of Joining a Startup (specifically if your ultimate goal is to put one up)
1) Learning First-Hand
I can read, say, Disciplined Entrepreneurship and learn all about startup execution. I can memorize the whole thing and still, it could never compare to seeing first-hand how Chito pushed Chikka in executing strategy. Seeing that day-to-day, seeing what it takes – was truly an eye-opening experience. I carried all these lesson with me in developing my own firms.
One caveat here – following this logic, you have to choose a successful one. The whole point is to learn WHAT to do before doing it yourself. This only happens if you join a startup with some degree of success. This can be a bit tricky. Joining a startup which is too early in the game might not give you the “winning” lessons you are seeking. On the other hand, joining a fairly seasoned one might not give you “startup” lessons anymore.
2) Supportive Founders (mostly)
One thing with founders of startups – a good chunk of them will be passionate proponents of entrepreneurship.
So if you ask them, “hey can I do a startup on the side while I work with you fulltime?”
As long as it isn’t a competing product and it doesn’t interfere with your job, I’m guessing a fair number will actually be supportive. This is very different from a number of bigger corporations whom I know frown upon part-time work.
3) Less Risk
The most common risk in joining a startup is that you sacrifice immediate practical considerations (salary, benefits, position) for future glory. In those first few months/years in running a startup the most important factor is your learning curve(the essence of lean startup thinking). How fast do you learn what the right things are (the right market, the right product, the right strategy).
By joining a startup, you essentially can have your cake and eat it as well: you get to learn loads without necessarily sacrificing practicality.
4) Internal Social Proof
For me, THIS was probably the biggie.
As a startup founder, what I constantly wrangled with was doubt.
Will this even work? Is what I’m doing stupid? Is this worth all the trouble?
Being in Chikka really helped in convincing me that hey, not only is it possible to develop a successful startup (especially back in the mid-2000’s when the startup ecosystem isn’t what it is now), but it is actually quite possible to build one which scales.
That psychological edge can sometimes be all the difference.