The advice Silicon Valley loves.

Fail early, fail often?


Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from doing something you think you can do?



Not as catchy.


The advice given that an entrepreneur needs to “fail early and fail often” is some of the worst advice we can give people. The central point of this advice being it is only through failure which we can learn. This advice seems to stem from the more often cited phrase “we learn from our mistakes” or “you’ll only do that once, before you learn” — which are both sound ways of learning — but are distinctly different from failure.

This advice has been taken too far and confused the word ‘mistake’ with ‘failure’. A mistake is touching the hot stove and burning your hand. A failure is setting yourself on fire and dying when you touched the stove. One of those two you learn from, the other kills you.

It should not be a “feather” in someone’s cap that they had X many failed startups, but rather a blight on their record, because the only way to fail is to ignore all the mistakes you should have been learning from along the way to failure. In other words: the only way to set yourself on fire from a stove, is to ignore the fact that “ouch, that’s fucking hot”.

This advice most likely came out of the notion that if everyone is afraid of failing, then they might not even try, which is far worse for innovation than no one failing. The advice feels like it came from a good place, but it’s been horribly twisted since. You should be confident in what you do, but know that failure can still happen — and failure is not good. That’s how you avoid failure itself — by seeing it as possible, and correcting mistakes which can lead to failure along the way, not the next time around.

What’s not ok is assuming that if you fail, everything is ok and you still get a trophy — sorry, you failed. Some of your employees lost their homes, cars, and have suffered because you failed. So no, you don’t get a trophy, or a feather in your cap, you’re just an ass going around a telling people that you are only more awesome now because you failed.

Failure happens, especially when starting a new business, but it should always be avoided at all costs. It should always carry a stigma. Because I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have someone running a company who has never lead a company to failure, than one who is on his sixth company because the other five burned to the fucking ground while he did auto-pilot burnouts in his Tesla.

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