I have recently become a podcast aficionado and started to religiously follow How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, a series of interviews with successful authors, actors, chefs and entrepreneurs, where they discuss their failures.
The concept of failing to succeed is not new to me. As a scientist, big discoveries can only come from places where others have tried and not succeeded.
During the first year of my PhD in Organic Chemistry I was fully dedicated to attempting one chemical reaction that others had not been able perform. Somehow, I thought that if I tried over and over again the molecules would eventually give in and click.
I changed parameters, catalysts, reactors, conditions, I simply couldn’t give up. Lately it had become a running joke in the laboratory, and I started to worry that I was wasting my time and my PhD.
But after reaction number 124, my two small molecules formed a bond, which was a necessary step towards the synthesis of the desired anti-HIV drug I was working on.
This achievement allowed me to publish, for the first time as a first author, in a peer reviewed scientific journal. Whilst this might seem a small win to many, it is what all researchers’ lives are based on – that’s how scientific advancement is achieved.
I am a firm believer that this is something that scientists and entrepreneurs have in common, the desire to tackle problems, to attempt the impossible and the sheer belief that, no matter how difficult that is, there is always (well, almost always) a way.
Over the years I have seen many aspiring entrepreneurs getting it wrong, before getting it right.
Let’s take the example of Shot Scope, a hugely successful Edinburgh University start-up that has developed a wearable GPS in golf. In the last few years Shot Scope raised millions of pounds, grew to employ almost 20 people and to sell its devices in over 50 countries.
Initially, the founder and CEO David Hunter came up with a different idea, the ‘Caddy Charger’, a device that allowed golfers to charge their mobile phones from their caddy cars.
The idea and David’s refined pitch won him a handful of prizes, but many knew, including himself, that it wasn’t yet the finished product. Many iterations, pitches and awards later, David landed on what today is known as Shot Scope, a product that is outselling much larger competitors in the UK and the USA.
Perseverance is very much the backbone of an entrepreneur’s overall character. This is an indispensable quality that goes hand in hand with all great successes. Indeed, the courage to persist, particularly in the face of adversity and disappointment, is the one quality that, more than anything, is needed on any entrepreneurial journey.
As we approach the end of our tenth Converge programme, I see history repeating itself.
Aspiring entrepreneurs from all of Scotland’s Higher Education Institutions are building their path to success, many will get there with something that barely resembles their original idea, but it will be their courage, perseverance, ambition and a touch of insanity that will take them there.
Many won’t succeed at all in their entrepreneurial efforts. What matters the most is what people do with the experience and how they use it to change, improve and try again, even if in a different field.
The way I see it life is a sum of failures, which I prefer to call learning experiences. Some are small and can be kept under the radar, some are big and have the risk, in this hyper-connected world, to define us. To me these are the true expression of one’s willingness to try, to dare, to make things better.
Without failing, without trying, we cannot grow and therefore we will stand on the way of our own success.
Claudia Cavalluzzo, Director, Converge