How Failing 2,032,198 Times Helps You Succeed


We’ve heard it so many times for entrepreneurs – how you have to know how to fail in order to succeed.

I wanted to dissect how exactly this is so.

How exactly does failure help you succeed?

My first instinct in answering this question is to look at my own entrepreneurial journey.

Has failure helped me?

When asked this question, my reply is almost immediate – yes, it has helped me tremendously. It’s not just because of the sheer learning that happens afterwards (though this is big as well, and is the basis for the lean startup movement)

The great thing that failure has given me is the stomach for it.

Having failed so many times before and knowing first-hand what the consequences are, I am mostly unafraid to try things out for the first time. I think this is where I get one of my strengths as an entrepreneur.

I would ace the question:

“when was the last time you’ve done something for the first time?”

Recalling just this year, I could easily name 20 things I’ve done for the first time (entrepreneurially, at least).

But thinking about it, this wasn’t always the case.

I remember a time when I was deathly afraid of failing, when I would rarely step out of my comfort zones.

So how did my paradigm shift come to be?

I remember after my college graduation, I decided to teach for a year. All my college friends went corporate. Naturally, I had the lowest salary in our group. Sure, I told myself it was the noble thing to do and I got to practice my speaking skills, but in truth, this bothered me. Knowing what I earned, I remember my friends would sometimes offer to pay for me when we went out. Inside, this killed me.

Upon transferring to corporate, I got a much larger salary. But then, tragedy struck as my family went through a big financial problem (which would drag on for a long time). Of course, I volunteered to help out and put in my share on the table.

So for a good number of years thereafter, I would work hard, get salary increases, and then see a chunk of it transferred out of my account. I had to find a way to make do with what I had.

In retrospect, these events transformed me.

I knew what swallowing pride was like. I knew what losing money was like. I knew what working very hard and not getting rewarded was like. I knew how to scrimp and live simply to make ends meet. I knew what failure was like.

So when faced with a decision where the risk involved failure? (a potential loss of money, reputation, comfort) As long as I found the reward side worth it, I would find myself taking the leap.


There was one particular instance in the founding of STORM where I think this all came to a head.

Back in 2005, Pao and I invested 30K of our money incorporating STORM. Ignorantly, we went (almost) all-in with one strategy: we spent most of the money arranging Flexible Benefits learning seminar. We thought we could pull in a few clients from the event.

The seminar was quite packed, but was a failure. It was a failure because when we met with the customers, we found they were expecting a fully working online platform.

Where were you in 2005 Eric Ries?!

We estimated it would take us a full year to technically develop the necessary system with our resources. The problem was, we only had a month’s worth of salary, since you know, we spent it buying food and wine for our guests in the learning seminar.

That would have been it. The decision WAS the wrong one and we dealt with failure and its consequences.

I never really considered folding right then and there, which, in retrospect, I now find interesting. (we had ONE MONTH runway left and had NOTHING)

Instead, Pao and I had that fateful meeting in that small cafe in Renaissance and did a pivot. We designed a new product in that meeting (an online survey tool, predating all the online simians), which Pao (incredibly) developed in a month. That became the basis of a very profitable business line which we rode until our Flexible Benefits services were profitable.

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing after. We failed so many times after. I remember that time when I was praying to God and I felt so sure we would land that big account we were putting most of our eggs in. We didn’t. I remember putting up startups which failed and lost money. Or when people I trusted would lie to my face and betray me.

I know failure. I’m still afraid of it, but since I know I can take it, I don’t mind taking risks, or doing something for the first time.


My advice in all of this: don’t spend your days avoiding failure. There are tremendous advantages of knowing failure directly.

These advantages are quite evident in the stories of practically all successful entrepreneurs I know. This is why it’s very easy for entrepreneurs to share “war stories.”

In our time now, we see winners lauded like never before (and failure more scrutinized than ever before) We see comfort and pleasure being considered as THE primary objectives for a lot of people.

I think this is dangerous, because it leads to a life when the easy path is always chosen. This is NOT the path to any kind of success. We have to get used to taking leaps.

Sort of like this guy.

(Want to hear from like-minded people sharing war stories and ideas? Why don’t you check out JGL’s next Open Coffee session? You can register here!)

6 Tips to Ensure Your Idea is BIG Enough

Don’t fall into the trap of the small idea. Here are 6 tips on how to avoid doing so.


1) Pick a painkiller

I touched on this a bit in a recent post. A painkiller is something someone very urgently needs. He would be willing to pay for it NOW if you could make the pain go away.

On the other hand, a vitamin is a nice-to-have.

Ask potential customers if your idea is a painkiller or a vitamin.

CHOOSE to go after painkillers. (no matter how sexy an idea the vitamin is, you’re bound to have better success with the painkiller)

Clipart Illustration of a Group Of Businessmen In Colorful Shirts, Carrying Briefcases And Holding Their Resumes Up At A Job Interview

2) Don’t stop with founder credentials

“Hey I like travel! I really could use an app which could tell me where all the best restos and resorts are when I visit a province. And I know you can do killer Android apps. Why don’t we make a Android-based, travel-app?”

For all the talk on lean startup, there are still a lot of entrepreneurs who KNOW about the lean startup model, but still, for some reason, refuse to incorporate even some of its more rudimentary principles. (namely, doing the necessary work to validate before building)

Don’t make your founder credentials the core of your startup (“I love traveling and know about it, he’s an Android apps man, we can make this work, baby!”).

Rather, let SOLVING THE PROBLEM be your core.

What is the problem? Why is it a problem? Who are the people who have this problem? What are the nuances? 

Startups are all about solutions. Solutions are all about problems. Dive deep into the problem set before deciding on anything.


3) Look to monopolies or things that just have never improved

Banking. Farming. Education(!). Medicine. Government.

Solve systemic problems in these areas and I guarantee startup success.

I think sometimes – a lot of times –  people take these problems for granted, thinking, “this will never be solved” or “It always be like this.”

So not a lot of people even try.

Big problems? Not a lot of people trying to solve it?

That’s opportunity.

For instance, in HR, compensation and benefits is often regarded as a “boring” category. When we were doing our customer research with STORM as we were starting, we saw why. Everyone had the same “core” benefits – leaves, life insurance, and health insurance. As in EVERYONE had the same thing. And because of a rule called “diminution of benefits” companies couldn’t really change things. People were stuck. Benefits weren’t being used as a competitive advantage for a lot of firms.

We saw this as an opportunity to solve a problem not a lot of people were looking at.

Look around. There are a lot of problems people are taking for granted. Choose one you are interested in and GO DEEP.

(note: this won’t be easy, and in the case of going after monopolies, they do fight back)


4) Accept that you have to get your hands dirty to identify big ideas

I think one of the reasons why some people just go ahead and ignore lean startup methodologies is that it’s just plain hard.

Customer validation, for example, is harder than it sounds. You have to zero in on a customer segment. Then you have to identify who they are exactly, get their contact details. You have to book interviews with a lot them. They can blow you off. They can completely ignore you. This takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.

From this standpoint,  it’s so much easier to fall into the trap of just going with your original idea and building it immediately.

Do the work. It’s worth it. 


5) Don’t be afraid to think BIGGER

Quick, what’s your startup idea?

IMMEDIATELY ask – how can it be bigger?

Sometimes we can let our original designs limit the potential of an idea.

How can our idea be BIGGER? How can this be sold to a larger market? How can this go global?

Don’t be afraid to dream.

Think of the Social Network. It took Sean Parker to show Zuckerberg his idea could be so much more than a college network.

On that note, don’t be afraid to LOOK for your Sean Parker as well. Ask around – how can this idea be bigger, better? Don’t rely on one person’s (yours) opinion.


6) Build for the Future

We live in a world of incredible change, where revolutions now happen on an annual basis.

All the devices you are holding now – your laptop, your tablet, your phone – will be obsolete in 2-3 years. By that time, you might be wearing an iWatch or a rocking Google Glasses.

How will your company hold up in this sort of climate in 2-3 years? Will it grow and evolve with how technology and society are growing and evolving? Will it be considered a dinosaur?

If you are building for the present market, your potential is already capped. Plus you are in danger of being disrupted.

Instead, build for the future. Learn to LOOK for trends, read them correctly (tricky), and build accordingly.

And I think you have to be two steps ahead already.

For example, if you’re building something based on “smartphone prices dropping” or “Filipinos buying increasingly online” then you might be a tad late – there are a number of firms already capitalizing on this. (Witness the number of local online stores sprouting the last few years – while some of them ALREADY are profitable now, that profitability will pale in comparison to what they will earn in a few years riding the trend.)

So look for NEWER trends you can capitalize on.

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Startup Resources Galore From Steve Blank

Quick one. Just had to repost this. This is a tremendous resource for anyone who wants to know about how modern entrepreneurship and startups work. Assembled by startup guru Steve Blank.

Do enjoy reading it, learning from it, and most importantly, start building something out of it!

STEP 5: Change or Die! Tips on Iteration

(This is the 5th post in the series 6 Steps to Startup Launch. You can find the introductory post here, and the previous post here.)

After getting feedback from your customers about your MVP, it’s a simple matter of following the feedback, right? Of course, there is always more than meet the eye (ugh). Let’s go through some product iteration guidelines!

1) Don’t just blindly follow the feedback, reflect

You need to take a step back, reflect carefully about the feedback, and determine how you want to use it in changing your MVP.

No, there isn’t a formula as to how this can be done. It all depends on your particular product, market, and feedback results. This is why it’s always a good idea to have domain experts on your founding team – it would be the perfect time to ask them what they think of the customer reaction.

Actually, the challenge here sometimes is finding the time to reflect, as startups often prove to be hectic creatures, where the entrepreneur manages everything.

Force yourself to take that step back.

2) The more, the merrier

So when you collect the data and manage to iterate your product accordingly, isn’t it time to launch?

Well you’re in better state than you were pre-iteration. Still, you mitigate even more risk if you  gather more customer feedback about your newly minted MVP 2.0 and do even more cycles.

Lean Startup author Eric Ries says that “Startups that succeed are those that manage to iterate enough times before running out of resources.”

Iterate then as many times as you can, as often as your time and resources will allow you.

3) Be conscious about time

During the iteration process, be very conscious of the time. Knowing that you are burning through resources as you are iterating, there needs to be a conscious effort to iterate and transform things as fast as possible. As a prime mover in your startup, you have to be extra conscious on developing a culture of speed in your workplace. Work hard, work fast.

4) Delay everything which doesn’t validate your product vision

Remember that at this point in the process, the purpose of the iteration is to validate assumptions, not to create the most complete product ever. Consequently, you should focus less on feedback about complementary add-ons – and instead focus more on feedback which talks about your core product assumptions.

Customer wanting delivery services? Ignore first.

Customer who wants to use your product on his I-phone (your MVP is on Android)? Ignore first. (When Google Chrome was first released, it had no Mac compatibility)

5) Don’t forget about price iteration

The price is part of your product. This part of the business can be extremely tricky, and you do not want to flip-flop on your pricing post-launch. Remember to evaluate your pricing model carefully as part of the iterative process.

Now let’s launch this baby!

STEP 4: Don’t Listen to Steve Jobs: You HAVE To Gather Data

(This is the 4th post in the series 6 Steps to Startup Launch. You can find the introductory post here, and the previous post here.)

There are some entrepreneurs who feel they can totally shun the customer research process and instead feel they can rely purely on their product instinct. Then they quote Steve Jobs, who famously said that “Customers don’t know what they want until they see it.”

The Apple G4-Cube looked nice, but bombed.

Well for one, chances are, you are not Steve Jobs. Two, Steve did do a ton of product research: Apple 3, The Lisa, and his Next Computer, even the Apple G4 Cube computer (done after he returned to Apple) were complete, utter failures in the market. I’m willing to bet he learned a TON of things about the market from these failures which he applied in building the successes he forged his legacy on. He used huge failures to hone his product instinct. Three, using the MVP (minimum viable product) process does indeed SHOW the customer the product, as opposed to pure focus groups, which was what Steve was pertaining to in this quote.

So, unless you are willing to gather data by actually spending millions to launch a product which hasn’t gone through customer feedback, let’s continue with STEP 4: Gathering Customer Data (on your MVP), shall we?

Let’s tackle some key insights:

1) Bring your MVP to Innovators and Early Adopters

Geoffrey Moore’s 1991 book, Crossing the Chasm, has served as the marketing bible for tech startups from the time of its publishing until now. While he meant for it to be a guide for tech startups, I find that its concepts pretty much hold true for any startup with a truly innovative product (which is a bit redundant considering our description of a startup here).

What is critical is the customer adoption life-cycle Moore introduces and is shown below (thanks Wikipedia for the chart):

From left to right, this illustration reveals the 5 categories of customers you will encounter when you build an innovative product or service. Moore recommends that marketers should focus on one category first before moving on to the next. This is an exciting topic I will cover in more detail in another post, in the meantime, let me ask you to focus your attention on the leftmost side of the curve – the innovators and the early adopters.

These guys are the enthusiasts who will be excited about your new product because they believe in the potential of your new product. These are the people who are willing to look beyond the imperfections your new product WILL have because they see its promise.

Is your product a cutting edge web tool? Bring it to the über tech geeks to play around with. Is it a health product? Bring it to über health fanatics who will try anything in the name of fitness. Got an innovative marketing service? Bring it to an innovative marketing director who is known to try new things. For STORM, our early adopters were (surprising for us) medium-sized local firms who could make decisions fast and wanted to have an HR edge over their international counterparts.

Why bring it to them? Because they care, and will be more than willing to render their feedback, and most importantly, their time. Chances are, you will be ignored if you bring your product to customers in the other categories

So how do you find these people? Be an entrepreneur – research, be creative, and just do it. They ARE out there.

2. Gathering the data

If it’s a product, show them your MVP and then do one thing: shut up.

Resist the urge to render any input as this may affect the person’s experience. Just observe how the customer uses your product. For web services, for example, the suggestion is to just observe them while they go onto your site. As in be in the room with them as they visit your site for the first time. And then shut up. Observe: how do they navigate your site? What don’t they understand?

For services, it gets to be more tricky, as the MVP is likely to be invisible. You CAN still make them go through the service process by giving large discounts or incentives. One reader said his new service firm was going to do pro-bono consulting work just to get early feedback. That works!

After the customer experiences the MVP, then ask the simplest questions: what did you like? what did you not like? how could the experience be improved?

By this time, I am almost 100% sure you would already be realizing that some of your initial assumptions were wrong.

3) The Importance of Humility

In essence, you will have customers tell you that part or the entirety of your idea sucks.

If you are human, then this has to feel at least a tiny bit hurtful because it was YOUR idea and you devoted time and energy building your MVP.

Resist the urge which says:

“This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”


“This guy is an outlier.”


“This guy probably hates me and is jealous.”

Listen to the feedback. Listen to the feedback.

Then be brutally honest with yourself and your team. Accept that some parts of your idea (or maybe even your entire idea) may actually suck.

Now, iterate!

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Launch Your Startup in 6 Steps

So you a want a startup map? Here’s one.

This 6-step process is heavily influenced by my own experiences, and 2 canonical entrepreneurial books: Steve Blank’s 4-Steps to the Epiphany, and Eric Ries’s Lean Startup. Both obvious recommendations.

Again,  please note the differentiation here between a startup and a small business.

Here we go.

For a lot of us beginners, our idea of a startup goes like this: we have an idea, we build a product, market it, and then wait and see if it sinks or swims. So essentially, we take a guess and see if it works. This process IS risky, because if you invest a lot of money in the product development and the marketing, and it fails, that’s it – you’ve lost. In a way, it is also egotistical, because you THINK you know what the market wants, and go to market with it. This was actually how we started, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

There is a large difference between: “Oh, if we only get 5% of the market, that’s a million customers.” and that million people ACTUALLY opening their wallets to buy your products. You have to explore that gap.

You can largely mitigate the risk by testing out your idea with actual customers and iterating accordingly.

Here are the steps. I will cover each of them in detail over the course of the next 6 posts. Links will appear below as the posts are published.

1. Pick a Product for a Market

2. Pick Your Co-founders

3. Build your MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

4. Gather Feedback From Actual Customers

5. Iterate (and go back to 4 if necessary, when ready proceed to step 6)

6. Launch!

When we think of launching a startup, its mostly about art. Steps 1, 2, 3, and 6 are all about art: the art of picking a business opportunity (step 1), the art of selecting your founders (step 2), the art of actually creating a working product (step 3), and the art of selling a product (step 6).

Steps 4 & 5 basically incorporates the scientific method into the process. Your MVP becomes your hypothesis, and you basically test it out during step 4. Using what you will learn, you now iterate – and calibrate your MVP. Then test it out again.

Until your hypotheses is proven right.

Then and only then should you launch.

Step one in detail, next!

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We’re talking about tips on startup business ideas. This is part two, you can view part one here.


There are hardly any truly novel ideas anymore. That great idea you’ve always thought of? There’s a great chance someone out there has done it. Don’t fret, this is normal. In many cases, this actually means your idea has a market. Now, look deeper. Find out about how your competitor is doing it. How could you make the idea more remarkable?  What other gaps aren’t being met?

Two years ago, I thought about the idea of starting an executive search firm, partly because STORM, our HR technology firm, was always declining when we were asked by our clients if we did headhunting. A longtime HR practitioner, I employed headhunters before and knew it was a crowded market. At the same time, I thought it would be an interesting prospect to introduce something remarkable to an industry which hasn’t really changed much in decades. I spent an entire year gathering data about the industry, trying to identify a strategic gap. The Starbucks near our office made a fortune off of me interviewing over 50 headhunters, trying to find out more and more about this industry I was very much exposed already to as a client. We finally launched this year, armed with a unique strategy. Its been working so far, thankfully. (truthfully, I think waiting a year was too long, there is a point where research becomes the enemy)


When we launched STORM in 2006, my attitude then was to “protect my turf,” hence I never talked about new ideas to anyone, paranoid they might get stolen. I was in “stealth” mode. I realize now that that was a complete waste of time. First, no one was out to steal my idea. Check out this article.

Talk about your ideas with people whose opinion you value. Seek out experts and talk to them. Tell them about your plans. The feedback you will collect will be invaluable. And no, even if you blare your idea out into a microphone in the middle of SM Megamall, no one will steal your idea. Trust me. Now stop being paranoid and get feedback. Feedback will perfect your idea, and will likely even lead you to better ideas. Now, I have regular coffee meetings with a few people per quarter, with the goal of just bouncing ideas around – I bounce ideas around with fellow entrepreneurs, and I bounce ideas around with vertical experts.


I think this is what Steve Jobs does best. Apart from the Apple 1, which was the first personal computer, none of his other products were firsts. The iPod wasn’t the first portable player. Microsoft actually had tablets almost a full decade before Apple came out with the iPad. The i-phone certainly wasn’t the first smartphone. Each of these Apple-made, market leading gadgets were augmented copies of their originals.

How could you make an existing product/service better? How could that innovation they use in one industry benefit yours? What global idea could be done better locally? Imagine and improve.


If you talk to VC’s and experienced investors, they will tell you that they invest in the team first, not the idea. In fact, be prepared for the likely possibility that as you develop your startup, your idea winds up in the waste basket, dethroned by a better one. Paypal started out as a Palm Pilot accessory. Groupon started out as a mere side project. It’s really how you will continuously iterate and improve on your idea that will determine your success as a startup. If there’s one thing that’s suicide for a startup, its idleness. Once you think of an idea, you almost immediately have to think of ways on how you can destroy it and build a better one.

There you have it, some of my suggestions on the startup idea process. Do remember that ideas, and the idea formulation process, can often get seductive. I know some friends who have a “good enough” idea on their hands, but don’t want to jump in because the idea isn’t “perfect” yet. Wasted time. Select an idea AS FAST AS YOU CAN, then find a WAY TO TRY IT OUT as fast as you can. The sooner you can gauge as to whether your idea is a good one or not, the faster it is that you can progress, or move on to a better idea.