Venture Capitalist at Theory

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2 minute read / Jan 11, 2013 /

How to succeed despite your every effort to fail

Startups are discovery teams - they venture into the abyss, like Shackleton, aspiring to cross the Antarctic, plant a flag and live to tell the tale. Because every expedition is unique, no one knows what will work: product features, marketing tactics, sales pitches, fundraising stories. Nor can the team fully anticipate the precipices and risks: competitive, legal, hiring, market timing and management risks.

A philosophy was put to me by a close friend this week. “Succeed despite your every effort to fail.” He meant founders must set lofty goals and challenge themselves and their companies to reach them. The product of such a policy is struggle and consistent failure.

At Google, we created objectives and key results each quarter - a goal with a quantifiable result. At the end of the quarter, a score of 60 to 70% was excellent because it communicated ambition and struggle. A score between 80% and 100% indicated sandbagging and incremental thinking.

But honestly, we were hustling for the 150% or 200% score because it meant the discovery of a new way of doing things that blew the target out of the water. It meant true innovation and maybe a Founder’s Award

The same principle extends to startups. We should be struggling to discover breakout marketing tactics, sales strategies and product features. Ambitious goals and failure must be championed and great successes lauded. Incremental goals drive incremental results.

Hence “succeed despite your every effort to fail.”

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