#FailingFwd: 5 lessons from start-up experiences

Today, Wednesday October 14th, the Failing Forward conference took place in Brussels: “seasoned entrepreneurs give an honest testimonial about the hardships they encountered on their way to success and the lessons learned that got them through.”


Such initiatives make you reflect on your own failures and lessons learned. The last 15 years, I’ve had the ‘opportunity’ to learn from a few hardships:

  1. Temptation island-focus

The first thing you learn on any MBA, business course or entrepreneurial bootcamp. It seems to be the first thing you forget. I worked in a student start-up best described as an internships job engine. Instead of focusing on building the best possible database of possible interns and employers we got tempted to develop all kinds of web content (for ex. applying for a job), organize events and launch a Belgian version of a Dutch magazine.

–> Next time I will work with partners for the right existing content and associate with the right existing events.

  1. A team of players

Investors attach utmost importance to the team behind the ideas. Sometimes, as a team member driven by idea enthusiasm, you forget to do that. I even quit my job in order to start up promising projects with passionate people. But it turned out we wanted other things from the projects, or changed our minds.

–> Next time I will challenge (others AND myself) early in the process on what all team members REALLY want in the end.

  1. Wait, not perfect yet!

There are various reasons to keep working and re-working: you don’t agree on the concept (or the metaphor!), you doubt, you fear rejection, you like the comfort of the drawing board. For a certain start-up, I have got 36 versions of presentations with value propositions. Nothing wrong with a number of versions, but …

–> … next time I will leave the drawing board soon(er) and develop proposals for actual clients. This limits sales time and enhances effectiveness. And last but not least: it motivates you to move ahead.

  1. Where is that RFP to change the world?

There is a difference between (a) what you want to do for a client and (b) what the client is willing to let you work on. In a start-up, we wanted to work on organizational ecosystem, but we were ‘casted’ (read: had the credibility) to work on team dynamics.

–> Next time I will make an honest list of the assignments that (potential) clients trust us to work on, and start writing our service offering from there.

  1. Cost proposition

With a team of 5 colleagues, we developed a new service. In our attempts ‘not to overestimate’ we made conservative pricing estimates based on costs plus a low margin. The service got implemented, but it turned out that in the first phase, we had underestimated both the willingness to pay and the sales effort it would take to make a modest profit.

–> Next time I would experiment with different pricing models sooner in order to make a more convincing (and even more realistic) pitch, based on the value for the potential client.

My Failing Forward fil rouge: check your ideas faster with potential clients. Clients and prospects are a kind of external beacon that guides your way – as a team or as an entrepreneur. And also: for every failure, there is a success story. I’d love to hear your stories.