Fail Fast: 7 Female Entrepreneurs on the Mistakes That Moved Them Forward

Fail Fast: 7 Female Entrepreneurs on the Mistakes That Moved Them Forward


Oct 29, 2014

Entrepreneurs love talking about the power of failure. It takes courage to build something from the ground up, and "rebranding" failure as a positive thing only increases the number of entrepreneurs who are wiling to try.

Making entrepreneurial moves is one good route to the top, and we need more women in business leadership positions. In both 2012 and 2013, less than one-fifth of companies had 25% or more women directors, and women of color held only 3.2% of board seats (the same as 2012). While that's better than it's been, the numbers are sadly low, despite other reports that say organizations that are most inclusive of women in top management get 35% higher return on equity versus their peers. Including women is proven to create better business.

Meet women who have dared to create businesses, and hear about their failures along the way in the gallery above.


Know your own way. In her 20s, before the TED Talk and before the book, Sheryl Sandberg got divorced. “Being willing to admit that this was a mistake and that we both needed to go in a different direction was actually important, and it got you to worry less about what other people think. Because at the end of the day, you can’t live your life by what other people think.”
Encourage failure. Founder of SPANX and one of the youngest self-made female billionaires, Sara Blakely says, “The most meaningful advice I ever received was my dad reframing my definition of failure growing up by encouraging me to fail.” Blakely’s dad used to ask her at dinner, “What did you fail at this week?”
Move forward. Lisa Stone, the CEO and Co-Founder of social hub BlogHer was the first Internet journalist awarded a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University. She says, “the thing that makes me feel strong has been taking enormous risks and picking myself up.”
Take the risk. “You have to fail fast and fail hard.” The founder of Girls Who Code Reshma Saujani says apply for a job you’re not qualified for, now. Learn from the journey rather than trying to do a job before you get it. After trying her hand at politics, Saujani founded Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit that wants to close the gender gap in technology and engineering. By 2020, Girls Who Code aims to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million women.
Acknowledge failure. “It’s important to acknowledge you have a failure as soon as you possibly can,” Susan Wojcicki says in her MAKERS video. She was responsible for Google Video, a project that didn’t get the longterm adoption the company wanted. When she realized it wasn’t working the way she wanted it to, Wojcicki became an advocate for purchasing YouTube.
Commit to the work out. Filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards Tiffany Shlain says her boldness comes “because I’ve failed, and I was okay.” She continues, “Courage is like a muscle. You’ve got to keep on exercising it.”
Failure can be freeing. In her MAKERS video, social entrepreneur Priya Haji said, “I think the greatest fear that all of us have is to fail, and the best relief of that fear is to fail.”
Saujani discusses the importance of both failure and risk in the journey to success.
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