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Experts at Start-Up Seoul highlight importance of failure

Startup experts taking part in “Start-Up Seoul: Tech-Rise 2019” say that failure, along with a flexible environment allowing such failure, are critical factors for business operation and to eventually become a successful entrepreneur.

“Everyone understands the important role of failure for progress, but failure is still so stigmatized in society. It is still punished within most organizational cultures,” Museum of Failure founder Samuel West told The Investor in a recent email interview.

Museum of Failure has a collection of over 100 failed items from diverse industries such as health care, entertainment, food, finance and artificial intelligence. The museum mainly aims to help visitors understand that failure is essential to innovation, according to West. 

Museum of Failure founder Samuel WestChoi Ji-won/The Korea Herald
Museum of Failure founder Samuel WestChoi Ji-won/The Korea Herald

This idea is also in line with the Korean government’s recent move to encourage founders of small and middle-sized enterprises and startups to overcome failure and begin again. On July 31, the Seoul government announced that it had decided to form a fund worth 65 billion won ($53 million) over the next three years to support founders who had experienced failure.

The startup expert also encouraged founders here to bounce back after learning from failures and to keep going for innovation.

“It is OK to feel this fear of failure,” West said. “When I worked as a clinical psychologist with patients that suffered from anxiety problems the treatment was to accept this uncomfortable feeling of fear and get on with life and do it anyway. The fear of failure can also be overcome in the same way.”

He went on by sharing his failure experience. “When the museum became a global success, my former business partner decided to sue me claiming that he owned half of the museum, this had led to a long and expensive legal process,” West said. “I wish I had been more careful about choosing partners. However, if I was more careful the Museum of Failure would not exist.”

Along with this flexible social culture, experts also said it is important to learn from other’s failure. “It is wise to learn from one’s failure, but even wiser to learn from the failure of others,” West said.

Although there may be a multitude of reasons businesses fall, Antler founder Magnus Grimeland pointed out leadership as one of the key factors that determines the success or failure of a business.

In 2017, Grimeland established Antler, a global startup generator and early-stage venture capital. The company aims to mentor people to become successful startup founders.

“You are only as strong as your weakest link. This is true in all walks of life.” Grimeland said. “When I’ve failed previously in my own business, this is what it has come down to. Having the wrong people in the top leadership.”

He added that the reasons many startups fail are usually due to entrepreneurs’ lack of dedication. “If you focus on creating a lot of early momentum, you will succeed in most instances,” Grimeland said.

West also stressed communication skills for leaders in order to avoid failure: “Leadership hubris. This is a story that is repeated at the museum. When company leaders do not listen to their employees.”

Running Wednesday to Friday, Start-Up Seoul is being hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government.