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Adii Pienaar

Now working on PublicBeta. Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

Failure Has Limited Value

I've had an interesting and - at times - challenging year. I've had to learn how to be the dad that I want to be. I've had to question the way I work, what I work on & what I'm really passionate about.

Beyond this, I was lured into the romanticism of angel investing (from which I learnt so many lessons, but that's for another post) and got (actively) involved in one of these startups that almost saw me leaving WooThemes. After I decided not to pursue that opportunity, I helped to oversee a massive scaling & growth effort at Woo in the second part of 2012.

The thing about many of my experiences & subsequent decisions this year, was that I had to go through those experiences to make the decisions. I guess this would come down to failing / making mistakes in an effort to learn in a "you have to break a few eggs to bake a cake"-way.

2012 has been a year of learning for me, partly because of the past mistakes that I've overseen. Today, I'm a better individual, man, husband, dad & entrepreneur as a result of that.


When I reflect on the past year though, I know in my heart that I could've avoided so many of the mistakes I had made. And I could've still had the benefit of the learning experience.

Just because I learnt something from a mistake, doesn't mean that, that was the only way to learn that lesson:

  • Maybe I only had to make 1 or 2 angel investments (and not 5) to learn what I did?
  • Had I addressed core issues in the way I think / work / live before I had a son of my own, I would've been the dad I wanted to be from day one?
  • If we had followed "Scaling 101: The Best Practice to Scaling Any Company" at WooThemes, then maybe the last 6 months would not have been as challenging?

I don't know.

What I do know though is that failure is massively overrated today; especially in our current startup climate, where it's the norm to fail, pivot, fail & pivot again. My perception is that we've given failure such value on an entrepreneur's CV that it almost overshadows the minor victories & successes.

Are we saying that an entrepreneur that has failed & "learnt from his / her mistake" is better off than the entrepreneur that avoided making that mistake (albeit having a bit of luck)?

Similarly - failure is no precursor for future success. As an entrepreneur, just because I've multiple mistakes (and perhaps I'm battle-hardened as a result), I don't think I'm more (or less for that matter) likely to succeed in my next project or startup. Yes - I have a better point of reference due to past experience, which will help me avoid obvious pitfalls or at least spot stumbling blocks before they're critical. But this is no guarantee that I'll be successful, which means that past failure has very limited value (at the very least in terms of the potential reward thereof).


Learning from mistakes are easy, because they probably hurt us in some way. We got burnt and that literally drove the conclusion home.

"Only a fool runs into the same brickwall twice, expecting a different result."

But I've also learnt from all the right decisions & victories; I just haven't been as focused about them. I think I've always just taken the victories in my (slightly-arrogant) stride in a way of saying "well, that was expected".

The reality is that a reflection on those successes would've probably given me just as much experiential learning as that from failure.

So remind me why we're celebrating failure again?

Discuss this on Hacker News.

If you'd like to chat to me about this or get advice on something similar, feel free to give me a call.

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