The Value of Failure: What I Learned as a Startup Founder by Matt Pierce

by | Operations

Founder of Birmingham startup Immediate shares biggest lesson from failure.

By Matt Pierce, Founder and CEO of Immediate

As an entrepreneur, one of the things you have to get really comfortable with is failure.

Facebook had a well-known motto: “Move fast and break things.”

This makes sense, especially in an early-stage company where time is your most valuable commodity, but in my opinion, this motto should include a second line, which is the true value of breaking things – learn from that failure.

Some failures are on a grand scale and some are much smaller, but the most important aspect of failure is learning from each one and striving to not make the same mistakes again.

When I think back on the early days of Immediate, there are countless small failures that we experienced, learned from, and grew because of. As you can imagine, some have unfortunately repeated themselves, but for the most part, we took these failures and dissected them, then put in place processes to avoid those same mistakes in the future.

I honestly believe that a large part of our success today has come due to the mistakes of our past allowing us to course correct and operate more effectively moving forward.

It’s hard to pick the best failure to spotlight for this post, but here is one that I believe most of you will understand and, hopefully, find value in reading:

When it comes to hiring, the opposite of Facebook’s “move fast and break things” motto works. My recommendation is: “Take your time and hire wisely.”

After pointing out earlier that time is a startup’s most valuable commodity, I recognize that “take your time” when hiring may seem a bit contrarian. But here’s the deal: bringing people into your company is a risk. It’s a risk you must take in order to grow, but it’s still a risk. 

Some of our early failures were bringing in the wrong people… and almost every one of these “wrong hires” was because we rushed through the process. The people who did not make it at Immediate weren’t necessarily bad at their jobs; matter of fact, almost all of them have been above average. But one of the risks you run when hiring is finding people who will not only fit into your culture but also add value to your culture. 

The failure we made (a few times) was recognizing that we needed a role filled, fast, and tried to hurry through the hiring process. Rookie mistake.

Ever seen a kid at a Thanksgiving buffet? They jump in and start piling food on the plate at the beginning and run out of space before they ever get close to the end. We were hiring like children at a Thanksgiving buffet. So what do the older, more mature people do at a buffet? They take a walk around the whole table – sizing up what looks best to them, what their plate may or may not be able to hold, whether they intend to just make one plate or two, and how the different types of food may interact with the others, etc.

This may seem like a silly analogy, but in order to be a successful employer, it is important that you take your time to understand the “why” for each position. Why are we hiring for this role and why do we feel like this person is the right individual to help us accomplish our business goals?

We have rushed through this process in some cases and made the mistake of overcrowding a department. In other cases, the individual didn’t work out because we failed to establish the proper metrics to determine success. 

All of these were failures to adequately build and adhere to a well-designed and thorough hiring plan. Through the lens of the analogy, we didn’t spend enough time evaluating the buffet in comparison to what our plate needed or could hold.

Based on these learnings, as a leadership team, we continue to refine our hiring process and confirm that each open role has measurable metrics to ensure the right person finds the right fit at the right time… which leads to a higher likelihood of success.

I look at mistakes on your startup growth journey not as true failures, but as opportunities to learn and grow. If you take this approach to each misstep then your organization and team will ultimately be better off in the long run. 

So, remember: Take your time and hire wisely.

Matt Pierce

Founder and CEO of Immediate