Entrepreneurs Not Learning From Mistakes

Entrepreneurial failure is an integral part of eventual success and an important opportunity for learning, or so goes the conventional wisdom (hence in some part the quote—commonly attributed to Lisa Amos—that entrepreneurs average 3.8 failures before success).

Ignoring the anecdotal success-after-failure stories that stick in peoples’ minds, a team at Harvard Business School decided to quantitatively study entrepreneurial failure and success rates and discovered that, contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs don’t seem to learn from failures, and success is the only experience that made a difference to performance.

First-time entrepreneurs who received venture capital funding had a 22 percent chance of success. Success was defined as going public or filing to go public; […] results were similar when using other measures, like acquisition or merger.

Already-successful entrepreneurs were far more likely to succeed again: their success rate for later venture-backed companies was 34 percent. But entrepreneurs whose companies had been liquidated or gone bankrupt had almost the same follow-on success rate as the first-timers: 23 percent.



2 responses to “Entrepreneurs Not Learning From Mistakes”

  1. Andrew

    The roughly one success in four attempts seems to correspond with the percentage (22%-23%) rate of success. Maybe the lesson to be inferred is that persistence can eventually get you over the hump.

    I think the recurrent success rate may have something to do with networking connections and increased willingness of investors to fund someone with a proven track record, rather than learning from the experience, per se.

  2. Andrew

    Conversely, it is possible that entrepreneurs would pay a penalty in investor confidence for their failures, so a drop in the success rate of subsequent ventures might be expected. Since the percentage doesn’t drop and actually increases slightly, perhaps experiential knowledge does play a role.