Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Entrepreneurs must face the fear of failure
December 8, 2016

In an odd set of circumstances, the Internet, the field known for creating the latest batch of entrepreneurs may be holding the next group of innovators back.

John Qualls, known for launching businesses built around the Internet and computing, told students from the Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur that social media, in particular, may be keeping people from launching new businesses because of the fear of instantaneous criticism.

Qualls, who is now the chief executive officer of the nonprofit Eleven Fifty Coding Academy in Indianapolis, said that entrepreneurs used to be able to launch a new endeavor slowly. If it failed, those working on it, and possibly 50 other people would know about it.

But, today, any failed venture can be broadcast around the world in just a few minutes. Plus there will be people on social media instantly criticizing the entrepreneur for trying. That type of trolling is holding back people – especially younger entrepreneurs – from launching new businesses or offering new concepts.

People have become so fearful of failing, they are not taking action, Qualls said. But if you take action often enough, you will fail at times. And entrepreneurs will “fail a lot.”  However, they must be willing to learn from those failures. Failing three times for the same reason is nothing to be proud of.

Qualls has been either the founder or one of the first five or six people involved in several ventures because he developed an “action bias” while in the U.S. Marine Corps. He actually served for a time under Culver’s deputy commandant Col. Warren Foersch.

You have to be genuine and transparent. You will be defined by what you say ‘No’ to.

But taking action isn’t always the smartest thing to do if it involves compromising your values. He has been faced with situations where he has walked away from deals “because it just didn’t feel right.” And every time, he was correct.

“If someone gives you an ultimatum or says they need to know now or within the next 24 hours, pass on it,” Qualls said. “I can guarantee that 1,000 percent of the time, it will pay off for you.”

One example was when Qualls started an Internet and software security company.  The company was asked to bid on a contact with Lehman Brothers as it was going out of business. The contract would have been the largest for the young business by a wide margin. Yet, while negotiating the contract, Lehman Brothers asked for items that he could not agree to and he walked away from the initial meeting. But the firm came back to the table and the final deal ended up being much larger than his company’s original proposal.

“You have to be genuine and transparent,” he said, adding the people at Lehman Brothers told him they expanded the deal because his company was the only one interested in “solving our problems” instead of making money. “You will be defined by what you say ‘No’ to.”

Qualls added entrepreneurs must also understand they should be creating an organization that “doesn’t need me” a few years down the road. There are five stages to a business and, in turn, five stages of leadership. And the people involved in the first stage – the raw start-up – will not be the same people at the table when you reach the growth stage.

That is why Qualls talks about the time spent at a start-up as “a tour of duty. We ask people to commit to two years and we start talking about the transition process at 18 months.”

That means you and your people need to understand the difference between a commitment and an obligation. An obligation is something to you “have to do. You have to take your obligations seriously, but there’s no energy to it,” Qualls said. “Commitments are what you want to do. It provides the energy for you. You can’t wait to do it.”

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