In 3 Words, Quibi’s Co-Founder Shows Entrepreneurs How to Handle Failure

Deedra Mcgillivray

You can learn a lot about success from failure. Recruiters often ask job candidates to describe a time they failed, and investors ask the same question of entrepreneurs. In each case, the answers demonstrate whether an entrepreneur has the right mindset for success. Thinking about failure the right way is […]

You can learn a lot about success from failure. Recruiters often ask job candidates to describe a time they failed, and investors ask the same question of entrepreneurs. In each case, the answers demonstrate whether an entrepreneur has the right mindset for success.

Thinking about failure the right way is a critical step to achieve future success.

On October 22, Quibi co-founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman appeared on CNBC to announce that they would be shutting down the short-form streaming company for mobile devices. Even critics of the service were surprised that they pulled the service just six months after its launch.

Although Quibi was a bust, CNBC commentators found the interview “refreshing.” Why? Because they heard something they rarely hear from business leaders. Katzenberg said:

When asked what went wrong, Katzenberg blamed “a convergence of problems.”

The problems included the massive challenge of converting free users to paid subscribers. In addition, the service was created for people on the go. When the pandemic hit, nobody was on the go. They were home instead.

“In the end, all we can do is own it,” Katzenberg added. 

Owning up to your professional mistakes or failures will make you a more desirable leader for several reasons.

1. Owning it builds confidence in your leadership.

A real leader doesn’t blame others. Great leaders remind others that the buck stops with them. Nobody likes a leader who deflects blame.

In one telling portion of the CNBC interview, Katzenberg was asked why, a few months ago, he blamed the pandemic for a weak adoption. Blaming the pandemic resulted in fierce criticism on social media.

Once again, Katzenberg owned up to the mistake and apologized for the comment. It was a “flippant answer” to a question, he said. “Meg and I own our miss.”

Katzenberg himself needed a reminder that people will forgive a “miss” if a leader takes ownership of it, but they won’t forget a leader who doesn’t accept blame.

2. Owning it strengthens team unity.

Studies of engaged teams have found that when leaders acknowledge past failures, the teams they lead become more congenial, trusting, and productive.

Having conversations about failure “can be especially effective in building stronger relationships among colleagues,” according to one study. 

Your peers and teammates are watching you for cues on how to act. Give them something to model. 

3. Owning it teaches valuable lessons.

Many venture capitalists have told me they learn more from how entrepreneurs handle failure than how they handle success. Most important, they want to hear what an entrepreneur learned from the failure.

Learning from the mistakes is a critical component–and an indicator–of future success.

Jeff Bezos famously looks for people to join Amazon’s executive ranks who have failed and learned from it. “If the size of your failures isn’t growing, you’re not going to be inventing at a size that can actually move the needle,” Bezos once said. 

Mistakes and failures are part of the startup journey. If you don’t learn from them, you’ll avoid risk taking entirely or make the same mistakes again. 

4. Owning it puts you back in the game.

Katzenberg acknowledged Quibi was one of the biggest disappointments of his career. “This hurts a lot,” he said.  But by owning the miss, it inspires him to get back in the entrepreneurship game with newfound insights and skills.  

Katzenberg ended the interview by saying, “I’ll get back on the horse and go find the next mountain to charge up to. It’s the only thing I know how to, and I have a lot to prove.”

Although Quibi is a spectacular failure, it’s worth remembering that Katzenberg is a massively successful entrepreneur who started in the mailroom of Paramount and went on to co-found DreamWorks Studios. He’s worth nearly $1 billion.

You don’t go from mailroom to billionaire without having learned something along the way. And sometimes failure is the best teacher.  

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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