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Forecast 2019: Spending Time With Failure

Rashmi Menon is a lecturer in entrepreneurship and business administration and an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Zell Lurie Institute. She is a technology industry veteran specializing in product management and strategy, with extensive operating experience in established companies and Silicon Valley startups.

Contact: 734-615-4422, ramenon@umich.edu

Q: Why is failure so important to success, and why is the business school environment good for teaching this?

MENON: If you think of any important thing you’ve learned in your life, you’ve probably learned it by failing. If you think of a baby learning to walk, a baby doesn’t just get up one day and start walking. The baby falls and falls and falls and then eventually learns to walk and one day may run a marathon. Do we tell that baby the first day that it falls that it was a failure? We don’t, right? It’s the same thing in entrepreneurship.

Business schools provide so many resources for students looking to start businesses. We have mentoring and teaching resources and courses and workshops. We have a number of places where people can raise money for their business. There’s also a network for students to contact alumni to launch their business. The other thing is kind of a psychological benefit. A number of people when they’re going to start a business they have a fear of failure. They worry “How is this going to look on my resume if I fail and I have this big gap?” Those kinds of risks are limited when you try to launch a business while in school, because your main goal at that time is to graduate. If you come out with a successful business as well, that is a bonus.

Q: For 2019, what are some of the industries that are hungry for entrepreneurs?

MENON: We are at a unique time for entrepreneurship. We obviously have had a big startup boom in the last few years. We are also seeing big tech that is bigger than ever before. Trying to launch a business that Amazon or Google would be interested in is harder now because those companies have tremendous amounts of funds, customers and customer data.

Silicon Valley is often criticized for focusing on problems of convenience versus of problems of necessity. For example, there may be 15 startups trying to get food to your house in a quicker way. But do we really need that? People are asking can we focus more startup attention on really critical problems that need to be solved. I think those critical problems can be more difficult to solve, but once you solve that you can be tremendously successful. It would be great to see more more startup work in areas such as climate change or opioid addiction or student loan debt or other problems we are trying to solve as a society.

Q: How is entrepreneurship in the real world different from what is taught in business schools?

MENON: There are a number of differences. For example, if a student turned in a presentation to me that was a rough draft, their grade would reflect that. However, in the real world we want to encourage entrepreneurs to iterate and learn. So you put a minimally viable product out in the market and you iterate and it gets better. We don’t go for perfection in the first release of a product.

A second thing that’s different is the type of deliverables. By nature in a class, you are going to be writing a plan to acquire customers. But in the real world, you actually have to go acquire customers, and there is a big gulf between those two things. The third thing is where we rely on information from. In the classroom we rely on the written word, such as analyst reports and articles. In the entrepreneurial real world you have to go talk to people. It’s really important that you interview real live customers and talk to experts in the field you are entering.