Persistence is a well known but (in my opinion) poorly understood quality of successful entrepreneurs. At its best, persistence is having the will to persevere in spite of whatever obstacles, challenges, or set backs you may encounter. At its worst, persistence is confused with not figuring out a better course of action. Based on what I’ve seen, here are some logical reasons for pushing through the dip, backed by some good ‘old Edison quotes:
1) Most obviously, increased number of wrong attempts = increased learning = better future solutions. Luck plays a large part in a start-up’s success, but entrepreneurship less like the lotto, and more like poker. Studies claim to have proven, that VC-backed entrepreneurs that have failed before have a slightly better chance of succeeding than first timers (23% vs. 22%). As you might expect, entrepreneurs that have succeeded previously are much more likely to succeed in their next venture (33% chance of “success”) not just because of the entrepreneur’s skills but because of reason #2 below.
“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”
2) Signaling dependability and durability reduces the perceived “cost” of your service to current and potential customers, employees, investors, or anyone else that has something to lose if you give up or go out of business. For example, you switch to a new start-up SAAS company because they can do the job cheaper than your old provider, but then they go out of business. Now you are stuck with a platform that is longer updated, is no longer serviced, or even worse, no longer works.Even if your service is free, prospective customers consider the switching costs that they would incur not only to join your service but to switch back to another provider should you fail.
The more persistent you appear, the less risky (and expensive) of an option you are in the eyes of prospective constituents. This reduces the “cost” of trying your products and services, making you more competitive, and thus more likely to succeed. Amar Bhinde covers this topic in his excellent study of the INC 500 companies. Why VCs are especially interested in proven entrepreneurs that have just failed is covered here by Brad Feld. Hunger baby.
“Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure.”
3) Not all progress is visible. No one knows the “magic number” of impressions advertisers must achieve before inspiring custmers to purchase Likewise, you don’t always know when you are about to pass the tipping point for traction, score the deal, or get the job. As Paul Allen points out, this is a good reason to measure progress as often as possible.
“Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
4) If you stick around long enough, factors beyond your control may change in your favor. It is easy to speculate but impossible to know what goes on behind a customer’s or investor’s walls. You may get turned down by Stefanie the purchasing associate 20 times before one day you call to find Frank on the phone. You and frank hit it off and the order is sealed. Did you do anything differently? No, but you stuck around long enough to reap the reward. Mark Andreessen covers this nicely here.
“Nearly every man who develops an idea works at it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.”
Oh, but just in case things don’t seem to be working out. Don’t forget this guy:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”