Monday 12 August 2019 6:33 am

It’s fine to fail: Why we need to teach people the good, the bad, and the ugly of building a business

Every entrepreneur has a story of past failure that they’re not afraid to share. I’m no exception.

Back in 2010, when Octopus began investing in film production companies, we turned down the opportunity to invest in a small British film called The King’s Speech, which went on to gross £250m worldwide and win four Oscars. 

Instead, we invested in Burke & Hare, an “edgy” horror-comedy that lost money at the box office and was labelled “unpleasant drivel” by Hollywood Reporter. 

It was painful to get it so wrong. But since then, I’ve grown to appreciate that failure is an important, if not essential, part of running a business. 


As difficult as it can be, making mistakes, owning them and learning from them has been one of the best ways to make progress.

Dealing with failure is hard, which is why it really pays to learn about resilience early in life. 

We recently partnered with The Entrepreneurs Network to produce the Future Founders report, asking British 14 to 25 year olds what they thought about entrepreneurship.

Of those we spoke to, 85 per cent said they had thought about starting a business, had started one already, or would be open to the idea. 

But more than two thirds cited fear of failure as a barrier that would stop them moving forward with their entrepreneurial ambitions.

Entrepreneurship can be rewarding. Yes, it’s bloody hard work, but it can allow founders a huge amount of freedom to work on ideas they truly believe in – and which have the potential to have a big impact on society. 

Think about where we would be today if the people behind Google, Microsoft, or Apple hadn’t tried to make a go of their ideas.


But to inspire the next generation to start their own businesses, we need to let them know that failing is okay. 

Talking more about the good and the bad side of entrepreneurship can have a hugely beneficial effect. Our research showed that the young people with the greatest interest in starting a business are most likely to know someone – a friend or family member – who owns a business themselves. 

If more young people were aware of business owners in their own neighbourhoods, or if more entrepreneurs visited schools and colleges, the next generation could find themselves being inspired by examples that are closer to home.

In our survey, 70 per cent of respondents admit that they wouldn’t know where to begin when it comes to setting up a business. Imagine how useful this practical lesson would have been, alongside all the algebraic formulas you probably haven’t thought about since. 

Starting a business isn’t for everyone and I’m not suggesting it should be. 

But ultimately, the next generation can benefit from becoming more entrepreneurially-minded, regardless of whether they plan to build their own company or not. 

To that end, entrepreneurs have a responsibility to share their stories, of success and failure, to inspire and educate young people about the realities of running a business. 

That’s why I’m not afraid to tell the tale of passing up Colin Firth in favour of “unpleasant drivel”.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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