Entrepreneurial Twists and Misfortune

Anyone who has read my blog for more than one sitting knows that I began my career doing turnarounds, mixed in some strategy added to marketing and nonprofit, started some businesses, and now help startups and SMEs. Invariably, some of the companies I run across or that you may read about in an epitaph simply do not pan out. Megan Kauffman posted a blog entry today that features the thoughts of Wen-Szu Lin, a Wharton grad whose entrepreneurial venture in China was unsuccessful. Lin’s thoughts are below:

When our business in China did not work out as hoped, I could not believe that I failed at something I set out to achieve.  Four years of my life were gone.  The emotional scars and physical ailments resulting from the stress were real enough.  I couldn’t believe that I had lost money for my investors (who were friends and family).

Few people discuss the details about such periods in their lives.  Most entrepreneurs that we hear about succeed.  Or else they fade into oblivion.  Older entrepreneurs occasionally discuss the multiple failures that they experienced to reach success.  Yet, those painful memories are long past.  The younger a successful entrepreneur is, the more he or she is featured and sought after in stories.Venture failure

So, what happens with the majority of the entrepreneurs who, like myself, have experienced a major setback?  By far, this period was the most challenging in my life, and I was the most unprepared for the moment.  All of the business cases that I had studied in school, read in books, and heard first hand from entrepreneurs focused on how to handle business success.  How would I deal with failure emotionally and mentally?

Range of Initial Reactions

In China, I saw a lot of failed businesses, both from local Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs.  Through my years in Beijing, I have met many entrepreneurs and witnessed their responses when their businesses fail.

Based on my un-scientific observations, initial reactions fall into a few categories:

  • Reflect and move on
  • Disappearing Act
  • Denial (negative energy)
  • Oblivious (optimistic)

There are probably many other common responses to a failed business venture, but these were the ones that I encountered most often.

What happens now?

My foolish pride was quickly replaced by an immediate concern:  I needed to support my family, as my wife had just given birth to our first child.  Perhaps this urgency snapped me out of a potential downward spiral into depression. I had to quickly figure out how to generate an income for my family.

I experienced many mixed emotions as I evaluated my options and next steps.  Here were some of my main take-aways:

  • Personal reflection:  I started writing anecdotes, detailing each of the memorable stories from our four years.  I relived them in my mind and tried my best to put them on paper with the same intensity as I experienced them.  That was how I learned to move on from my experience.

Bottom line, I wrote a book (The China Twist) that reflected my experience.  The book contains the most vulnerable moments in my career, so I am facing my fears and my ‘shame’ head-on.  I am proud of what I wrote and what I have experienced. 

  • Job opportunities:  I did not realize that my degrees and background experience in consulting and technology were such a strong security blanket.  My options were actually quite varied and better than I had expected when the business ended.  
  • Another shot at entrepreneurship:  Growing up, I could think of nothing else I wanted to do except start something from the ground up.  My priorities definitely have changed but my dreams have not. One thing I know for sure is that I will be back in the entrepreneurship game sooner or later.

Some great advice from someone else who has lived the highs and lows. Take it to heart…stick a copy of it in a file and read his book –“just in case” you ever need the encouragement!


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