Hans on Finding Success in Failure

Hans on Finding Success in Failure

Failure is never a pleasant experience. But amid these setbacks, there are valuable lessons that founders can learn to help them succeed in their next endeavour.

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure,” said Bill Gates. Such beliefs are pretty common in business, with failure often described as a necessary evil, a stepping stone to success and a vital learning experience. But how do you grasp opportunities when the going gets tough in the hurly-burly world of startups?

To help answer this question and more, GGV Capital’s managing partner Hans Tung recently joined the Ridiculously Good podcast to share how successful startups can rise from periods of uncertainty. The interview features as part of a podcast series produced by TiNDLE, the plant-based chicken alternative created by Singapore-based foodtech startup Next Gen Foods, a GGV Capital portfolio company.

In this article, we summarise some of Hans Tung’s insights from the podcast:

  • Founding a startup is a lonely business
  • How to succeed in times of uncertainty
  • Knowing that failure is part of the job
  • How to deliver a successful and inspirational VC pitch


Founding a startup is a lonely business

Hans: Long before joining GGV in 2013, I was a founder twice. Even though that was back in the late 90s and early 2000s, I still feel bad about the two startups I was involved with and not ending up with the bigger outcome I thought we could achieve. But the lessons I learned trying to scale those two businesses have proven really useful to me to help GGV grow and be of some value and service to the founders we work with.

Running a startup can be a very lonely job. If you’re the founder or CEO, you have to make a lot of tough decisions, and there are not many people you can consult. I was in that kind of position as one of the executives of those two startups, so I understand and appreciate how hard that is. Even though those two startups did not make it, they helped shape me into the VC I am today and gave me much more of a founder mentality in building up GGV.

How to succeed in times of uncertainty

Hans: When things are in motion, and there’s chaos, and everybody is out of their comfort zone, I always tell my colleagues and founders, don’t worry – there’s an opportunity here. Your competitor will make mistakes. And your job is not to worry about it. What you do is be ready to take advantage when other people make mistakes or things that you can make a difference in. Don’t worry about other things you can’t control – focusing on waiting for the next turn is extremely important.

So, you have a longer-term way of thinking, and you’re strategic. You can always figure out ways to get back into the game and then excel. So, this way, you don’t get too down on yourself when things aren’t going well, and you also don’t get too high because you know that you must be watchful for the next wave, the next shift, or the next change. That makes life much more interesting. And if you enjoy the process, you will like the result.

For every unfortunate thing that happens in the world, there’s an opportunity for the right founders and team to take advantage and make an impact. The founders who are focused on a mission that makes sense, riding the right trend and wave, and have a mission that cares about their consumers and employees, do better over time. People care more about values than ever, and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and inclusion) have become huge things. And so, the companies that embody those values will definitely excel and do better over the next five to 10 years.

Knowing that failure is part of the job

Hans: The more people can remember from a previous failure helps them make better trade-off decisions later. Venture, like founding startups, is a tough job; 98% of startups don’t make it. If you’re right 25-30% of the time, you are already quite amazing. Knowing that failure is everywhere and is part of the job is something you learn to adjust to and cherish.

Usually, the team that learns and adjusts very quickly and efficiently can be more right than wrong when they make their adjustments. Sometimes a company can begin in a bigger or faster market, but if they don’t know how to learn and adjust and don’t have a cohesive team, they still won’t be able to win, even if they are in the best market in the world.

How to deliver a successful and inspirational pitch

Hans: One of the best pitches we heard was from Brian [Chesky] at Airbnb. He didn’t just talk about Airbnb as a travel company but as an experience company. He shared what they wanted to do in both leisure and business and how, over time, they’d change the way consumers behave, consume and experience. He was extremely inspirational.

I’ve been to many YC [Y Combinator] Demo Days and seen the founders get better and better at pitching and articulating their vision, mission and thoughts. Those are some of the best reasons for us to be in VC. So, meeting a founder with a clear idea of what they would like to do, the changes they would like to make, and the imprint they want to make on the world.

I can relate to what they’re trying to do, and the more thoughtful they are, the faster they learn and the more they’re open to new ideas. And you use that to make better trade-off decisions, what to do and what not to do.

Resources are always limited, money is always limited, and people always have limited time. So how do you make the right trade-off decisions and think very critically? Those are the moments that make my job so much fun.

Read more about Hans Tung’s investing lessons in this article.

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