Failing to Fail is my Biggest Failure – An Open Letter

Startups fail. And not just a few of them, 90 percent.

It’s nothing I didn’t already know, so why did I think I could beat the odds and succeed in the brutal world of entrepreneurship?

In January 2019, a group of fellow students and I decided to participate in Hult Prize, a world-wide accelerator competition that seeks to promote students to part-take in social entrepreneurship. Eager to “change the world” while conveniently also upgrading my resume, I headed into an adventure with my eyes fully shut. Little did I know that a competition which my team and I excelled in, that felt like my greatest accomplishment yet, would turn into my greatest failure.

After months of researching, constructing a business plan, developing a marketing strategy and validating the market, my team of fellow students and I incorporated our company.

We thought we had it all – a great industry with huge demand that would continue to expand with a growing target population. Our team was one of the top 40 in the Hult Prize competition, which meant we were invited to participate in a 5-week accelerator in London. In between consulting with experts in the field and preparing for our weekly Friday pitch, we were busy creating a website, developing social media campaigns, creating a shareholders’ agreement and trying to sign our first contracts. What I failed to do in those five weeks was reflect on myself as part of the team and questions whether I was indeed the right person to realize this start-up. In fact, it often felt like the silent elephant in the room for 9 months that no one dared to acknowledge. We all knew there were some crucial elements missing in our team, but we didn’t have the courage to speak up. Failing to acknowledge my personal shortcomings and those of the team earlier was a greater failure than deciding to put the start-up on hold.

I failed to fail.

Sometimes pivoting means letting go of the team, yourself included. As dear as this start-up is to my heart, senior care is not where my true passion lies. I know deep down I am a marketeer who, in this moment of life, wants to work for and learn from the greats at a large FMCG company that simultaneously still keeps impact at the core of their business. Owning up to that reality that, maybe right now I am not an entrepreneur in the most literal sense, is one of the most challenging things I have ever had to do. I didn’t want to stop working on something that had taught me more than my entire bachelor and master programs combined, but I was running in circles with my eternal struggles. We didn’t have an industry expert on our team, we didn’t have the financial means to support all of us, we didn’t all have work permits in the US…

It took me several weeks after the accelerator to be able to wake up happy again – willing to accept that Silver Legacy may not continue to be a part of my future. I realized it would have been a greater failure to continue a project that would underserve its customers and its stakeholders, and not property celebrate the fantastic people, Alma, Cédric, Martina, Max & Folha, for their commitments, talent, drive, and support they have given this company, and myself.

Failing to fail was my greatest failure…but accepting this failure has also been my greatest accomplishment that will forever have changed me for the better.

Marie Bielen
Unikorn Staff
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