Share failures instead of celebrating successes.
In the startup industry, success stories are often ubiquitous. But what about the failures? Isn't that actually strange when you know the statistics? After all, 70% of German startups fail within the first three years (source: Gründerfreunde.de, 2023). Every startup faces challenges, and often failures are usually much more instructive than the actual successes. As a founder, I would like to share with you today the ideas behind "Fail Fast, Learn Fast". As a case study, let's look at our own failures in developing a (still not launched) summer collection.
Problem: The path to success is not always linear
The startup project is an exciting, multifaceted, but also exhausting and challenging process. You are never really "at the end". In a rapidly changing, uncertain market environment (keyword VUKA) it is important to realize that the path to a possible breakthrough (i.e. that we can live from our business idea) is not always a straight line. Quite often mistakes are inevitable, but it depends on how we handle them.
Fail Fast, Learn Fast
The concept of "Fail Fast, Learn Fast" is an idea that relates to identifying mistakes and adapting strategies quickly. Instead of fearing f*ck ups or wrong decisions at portance we would rather make them and recognize them early. This is the only way we can learn from our actions and adapt more quickly. So we prefer to do SOMETHING (and maybe with mistakes the first time) instead of nothing. This approach enables us to gain valuable insights in a shorter time.
Portance: Our (not yet existing) 2023 summer collection
Back in December 2022, I had the idea to expand our pimaCotton line of odorless sportswear and add new cuts and colors. It should also (due to customer feedback) as soon as possible a short sports pants designed and produced.
All this based on our mission of high-quality sportswear "made in Europe" with innovative design and new textile technologies. But the road to the quick realization of the collection was by far more complicated and rocky than expected.
We made the following mistakes in the process:
Start of the project with (still) too little know-how in material science & fabrics
Until now, we only had long sports shorts and hoodies in our program. For our sports shorts we had to think completely new, because we need completely different fabrics and materials as a basis for it.
Even today, almost nine months after the initial idea, we still haven't been able to make a final selection of the optimal fabric for our shorts. I totally underestimated this factor. Sure, I'm not from the textile industry and really I should have given us more time here. Every fabric falls differently, fits differently and performs differently. Until we have this final 'building block' of the shorts, it's very difficult for us to adjust the design and the anti-odor technology.
Very long product development time
Our pursuit of high quality products and high standards leads to a (too long?) product development phase of the new shorts and tank tops. While quality control is important, too long development time can affect competitiveness.
We had some suggestions for improvement from our first batch of shorts and also wanted to take the fabric and finish up a notch. We changed fabric suppliers and now had to solve the problem of how to apply our FUZE anti-odor technology with the new partners. New technologies like FUZE are innovative and sustainable. But because they are so new, the application must also be discussed and tested individually with each new product and each new supplier. After all, we want to be able to keep our anti-odor product promise to our customers.
This process also took a lot of time, so the fabric order and final delivery was very much delayed.
The (recognition) of weaknesses and transformation into strengths.
We have to be honest with ourselves. We are still a small startup and for many things we simply lack the power of a larger team. That's okay and we have to take this into account in future product development.
Actually, you can also say that the long and intensive product development is exactly our strength as a startup. Because our product promise is absolutely well thought-out, high-quality sports fashion with the latest technologies. Technology-driven slow fashion made in Europe. [vs. super fast fashion with stolen designs, cf. Zara, Shein, etc.].
So we have learned:
- Recognize that we are a startup with important values to defend with every product.
- Recognize that our products need more time in development
- that we can continuously get better and better: With every product development we learn a little more about textiles, materials and fabrics (and also about time management and internal & external expectation management)
For me as the founder of portance, failures are a must and I see them as opportunities to learn and grow. They promote our DOING instead of doing nothing. In our corporate culture, no one should be afraid to "just do it" or have to apologize for mistakes. Always remember that 99% of all your mistakes are not actually the end, but rather the beginning of a valuable learning journey!