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3 Steps for Recovering From a Business Setback

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The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you move your company forward after a huge setback?” is written by Jodi Goldstein, managing director of Harvard Innovation Labs.

In the startup world, founders often receive two seemingly conflicting pieces of advice. The first is that you should fail fast, and the second is that you should be strong enough to overcome any setback.

These two guiding statements are particularly hard to reconcile when founders face a significant setback. While “significant” is subjective, I’m talking about potentially business-crippling events, like not raising the funding you need to develop your product, facing a lawsuit because of a product defect, or having an essential member of your team quit unexpectedly and not being able to find someone quickly to fill the void. When entrepreneurs face these types of setbacks, the best way forward is somewhat more nuanced than either failing fast, or enduring no matter what.

On the one hand, facing setbacks—event significant ones—is more often than not part of a founder’s journey. Resilience is one of the most important traits of successful entrepreneurs, and it’s particularly critical when a business is on the verge of collapsing. Yet, when deciding on what to do next after an extraordinary setback, founders need to be realistic about if, and how, they can recover.

With this in mind, here are some recommendations on how to move forward after a huge setback:

Seek outside perspective
Even if you’re an entrepreneur with incredible confidence, a significant setback can rattle you, and can potentially cloud your judgment on how to best rebound. As you’re evaluating why the negative business event occurred, and deciding on how to best move forward, make sure to solicit feedback from people outside of your company.

See also: 3 Tips for Dealing With a Company Setback

I’d encourage you to not only reach out to your trusted advisors, but also attempt to speak with people who aren’t in your normal feedback network. You might feel embarrassed about telling your story of failure to other entrepreneurs you know, or close friends and family, but these people could very well give you the insightful, fresh perspective that you’re seeking.

Evaluate whether there’s a viable path for continuing the business
As you’re having conversations with mentors and planning your next move, you want to be open about whether continuing with your business is a viable option. For instance, if you lost your biggest customer, is there a way to streamline costs or borrow money that will tide you over for a few months until you replace the revenue? Or, if your Kickstarter for funding product development failed, do you have another way of raising money?

This evaluation process goes beyond just thinking about finances. Even more important is asking yourself if you still believe in your business, and want to take the necessary steps to fix it. Throughout my career, I’ve seen that the most successful entrepreneurs are able to overcome a number of significant setbacks because of their passion for what they’re doing. Even in dire situations, these people are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed because they truly believe in the company.

If you still have the desire to move forward after a significant setback, that’s a good sign that you should work toward recovering.


Don’t dwell on the past
Once you’ve evaluated what caused the setback, and decided on your next steps, keep all of your focus on the new task at hand. Don’t waste energy by constantly thinking about how you could have avoided the situation that you’re currently in.

If you decide to continue with the venture, this means working to maintain high levels of morale amongst your team, celebrating each win that you achieve as you battle your way back into business. If you ultimately decide that you cannot, or don’t want to continue with your startup, it means taking the lessons that you learned to whatever you might do next, while not dwelling on what could have been.