Fail fast, fail early

25th September 2017

   Many times, when I am visiting academic institutions, I get asked by students about the pros and cons of joining a start-up vs those of joining a conglomerate. And choosing a path at such a crucial juncture affects the career graph of a person in many ways. So here is my way of looking at things:

   I think that start-ups give a person more opportunity, because start-ups by default are not as organised and are often unstructured. This results in their working environments being commonly chaotic. And in chaos is where learning happens the most. For example, if you were to go to Johnson & Johnson and you wanted to work in finance, you would start at the very bottom of their financial organisation. Eventually you would reach the top of the pyramid, but it might take you ten years to get there. On the contrary, if you joined a start-up, that journey of ten years could be shortened to four years. Now you may not learn everything that you might have learnt at Johnson & Johnson, but your growth could be accelerated.

   A lot of my experiences come from my discomfort of taking on things that I never knew, and learning on the job but still emerging successful. There were failures like my first start-up called EC Cubed. But failure teaches one a lot more about life than success does. And one of the biggest things it teaches you about is humility. A lot of people tend to think that having a clean sheet of a string of successes is a clear-cut winning formula. But if you have never seen a bad day in life, when you finally do see that bad day, you might not be prepared for it.

   And so I think that the more you can accomplish early in life, and the more risk you take upfront in your life, the better off you will be later. Take the risk of failure now! When you are young, you have a lot of chances that you can take. For instance, I wrote two books when I was twenty-five years old. Some might say that I was too young to write a book. But can you imagine me trying to write a book now? With a job like mine, kids and travel? It’s impossible! So I am glad that I wrote those books early. I am also glad that I was bankrupt by thirty. Can you imagine me going bankrupt now? I can’t, because I have got kids and a family to support. I have to pay mortgage, I have to pay their school fees, so the stakes are very high. But I am so glad that I went through the whole humility phase and the crisis phase early in his life.

   So my advice to a lot of people is “take the risk early!” Because, the next time you get to take a risk is much, much later in life. And so I might have to wait till my kids are in college to take the next big risk. But will I have the energy then? Ask yourself this question: would you take the risk of starting out on a new venture when you would be fifty-five years old? Even though you might not have the energy, you would have the benefit of experience. But sometimes experiences are not positive. Because you would have learnt so many lessons, your risk-taking appetite would have gone down. You might say that you have tried these four things earlier and it never worked out for you. But on the contrary, the conditions might be different the fifth time. Maybe you would succeed the fifth time, but because you would have already failed four times, you would not pursue the opportunity. But when you are twenty-five years old, you don’t have the experience. At such a young age you are naïve, and that is precisely why you question the status-quo. You are more likely to succeed when you have no baggage than when you have baggage.

   So the biggest advice I can give you is: do everything early! Fail early, fail often. Failure early in life doesn’t cost you anything. The experiences that you get from those failures early in life, will carry you for the rest of your life. That is my mantra. Learn early, take the risk early.