I used to be afraid to fail. And worse yet, I thought I was alone. But it turns out, most of the people on Earth are afraid to fail. It’s a pretty common thing here among us humans. I just didn’t know that at the time.
See, I thought that if you failed, not only would that be the end of the line for you…but I also thought people would judge you. I thought no one would ever trust me again. I thought that I’d be homeless and the world would look down upon me in shame. I felt like everyone was watching me, waiting for the day when I would slip up and fail. It was terrifying.
And starting a business actually took it to the next level. At first I was afraid of failure from a creative sense. I was afraid of releasing something to the world and the world hating it. But when I started a company, now I was risking failure not just for my creations, but for my livelihood as well.
I failed anyway
I took the risk, even though it seriously made me swallow hard when I thought about the fact of failing.
I thought about what it would be like to be homeless, or what my family would say when I called them up from a payphone (do they still even have those?) from the train station like a bum. I thought about what my sister would say, as she’d always been the one that was very scarce with her approval. I wonder what my little brother (Or big brother? He’s freakin’ 6’7″) would say when I told him my life was a mess and I failed at everything.
But guess what. That day came. Except I couldn’t find a payphone. My business failed miserably. I risked months of my life to build something that I believed in, and I failed at generating any money from. Everyone that believed in my was let down.Both of my bank accounts were overdrafted. My car had just gotten repossessed. I was staying at my girlfriend’s house because otherwise, I literally would have been homeless (you’re the best Nicole!). And it was the end.
My worst nightmares came true
When my car got repossessed, I actually felt a sense of relief. Sure my credit was fucked, but I felt like I wasn’t a prisoner to a car payment anymore.
And when I didn’t have any stuff to lose, or home to get kicked out of, it gave me a strange sense of confidence. Like…dude I was at the bottom, I felt like I couldn’t go any lower. Nobody could take anything from me anymore. There was nothing left to take.
I was living out of a backpack, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Trying desperately to not let my girlfriend find out just how bad it was. Both for my ego and her sanity. But, weirdly, I was calm. I felt like an absolute failure, I didn’t want to even be seen in daylight. I was ashamed of myself, and could not face the world. But I wasn’t scared of losing everything anymore. I already had. Everything was gone. There was nothing left for anyone to take from me, so there was no more fear of losing it.
Then, I remembered something I learned years ago from the startup world
If we back this story up a few years, life was quite different. I was driving the car of my dreams. I had a kick-ass office in Santa Monica with a roof deck overlooking the ocean. I was surrounded by the coolest startups known to man, in a massive former Google building. My day was spent working with innovative companies and helping them learn more about their customers and acquire more of them.
I remember talking to several CEOs of different companies and how they believed in the concept of failing faster. The idea being that you’re going to have failures along the way. Why not accelerate that process, get them out of the way, and see what works. It intrigued me at the time, but I was still so worried about what other people thought that I dared not try to put that concept into practice.
At the end of my rope, at the lowest I’d ever been in life…I adopted failing as a strategy.
I began to fail faster
I realized that all of this time, there were so many things that I had wanted to do but didn’t, because I was afraid to fail. And I realized that when I finally failed, it took so much unnecessary time and effort to do so. I could have seriously failed at this business MONTHS ago, by testing my assumptions. I assumed that I could get clients. I was wrong.
All I had to do was test that assumption, and if I failed, move on.
Why did I have to waste months on something that had clear signs of failing from the start? In the long term, I actually could have been successful if I had failed faster and earlier. For example, if I tested out 10 or 20 ways to get clients up front. If I did that quick and early, I could have avoided months of work, thousands of dollars, and a lot of sanity. But instead, I spent all of my time and money building out a the huge skeleton of a business that was never gonna work.
Failing faster doesn’t mean making my entire business fail faster. It means testing the small pieces that are likely to fail, as fast and as early as possible to ensure success.
Failing faster helps you actually get started
There were so many projects I never started because I was afraid of failing. There were so many ideas that I never saw to fruition because I was scared of what people would think if I said the wrong thing or explained it wrong.
I was actually crippled by my fear of failure…and so many things were never even attempted because I was scared of not succeeding.
So, when I decided to just fail faster, it took all of the pressure off. Like seriously, when my goal was to just fail a lot faster, not to make something perfect, it was so much easier to create things. And if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you know how I feel about quantity over quality…so that made actually producing things a hundred times easier. There was no more fear of my creation not being perfect because being perfect was not the goal.
The goal was now simply to keep making things that don’t work until I found something that did. And that changed the way I looked at creation forever.
Failing faster helps you discover what works
In game development, there were so many ideas that never got made, because I was scared of them not turning out how I imagined. So I started prototyping. And you know what? I made a TON of shit prototypes. But for every 10 failures, there was something awesome that was seriously unexpected.
That made them all worth it. Every idea I had, I gave shot at making. I build a super basic version of the mechanic, judge it right then and there, and it would either pass or fail.
I used to be so scared of building something that didn’t work, that often times, I wouldn’t build anything at all. It was a crippling desire for perfection that made me steer clear of doing any imperfect work. And as an artist, almost everything you create can be imperfect. Failing faster gave me a new take on doing the same things, because now my goal was simply to increase the speed at which I made things that did not work. Because that would ultimately mean that I would increase the speed of discovering what did work.
Well it turns out the secret to making the perfect game is to make a lot of shitty versions and iterate.
Failing faster helps you iron out the kinks
Before I understood the power of failing faster I would spend so much time debating in my head what game mechanics would work and what wouldn’t. I spent a ton of time going back and forth on story aspects, design issues, all kinds of things.
Just debating with myself on what route to take or what to do.
Failing faster let me streamline that process by just building basic versions of everything and testing it out in the real world. In one of my larger games, I decided to try out 10-15 different enemy types and show them to a few people. The ones people hated were failures and they got removed. The ones people liked stayed in and ultimately made a better game. These were all things I would have been too afraid to try because I was so focused on making the perfect game.
Making mistakes often and early in the design process allowed me to streamline the game and ultimately make the game better.
Conclusion: failure isn’t an outcome, it is a stepping stone to success
Back when I was a small young lad, I believed that failure was something that you should avoid. I now believe that it is unavoidable. Nobody is perfect. Nobody can do everything right all of the time. By assuming that you will do things wrong and make mistakes like every other human on the planet, you are a step closer to success. When you couple that assumption with a conscious acceleration of this failure to hit all of your break points as fast as you can, you build something amazing.
Failing faster helps you actually get started. It helps you discover what works from iteration versus trying to make the perfect thing, and it helps you iron out the kinks in what’s wrong with your project. Failing is a part of life, there is no avoiding it. And the longer you try to avoid it, the longer you will wait before you succeed.
I used to think failure was the opposite of success. I now think it is just a stepping stone on the way to success. It is necessary. So get it out of the way as fast as you can. Fail faster, and you will succeed faster.