How failure saved a business

By Celine Chaleat

5 October 2015

Just one year after its birth, the fledgling Impact Hub Berlin was a single email away from closure. But failure is only final if you don’t learn from it, says CEO Nele Kapretz.

Mistakes are fuel for success


You need investment to find a space. You need space to find an investment. That was the dilemma that nearly killed off Impact Hub Berlin when the project was just one year old. Fast-forward to 2015 and the hub is profitable, over-subscribed and hailed by the German Chancellor as successful new business model – so what did they do to turn things around?

Firstly, they refused to give up. Don't underestimate persistence – for proof of its power, just flick a light switch. Thomas Edison went through 1,000 versions of the light bulb before he hit on the design that changed the world. Be a failure, not a quitter – you only truly lose when you're resigned to the idea that you really can't achieve your goals.

The Impact Hub community Reaching out to their loyal community helped the hub survive its trickiest times.

The next step was to confront what went wrong and fully own their mistakes. The Berlin team had to accept they'd failed to implement their own model: "We teach all the time that we should prototype and we didn't even prototype," says Nele. Without clearly and unemotionally analysing why something failed you can't lay out a compelling vision for how it can be improved.

Using a Skype chair

Get the inside story on Impact Hub's culture of innovation

The trick is to think like a scientist and treat every iteration of your idea as a chance to test a hypothesis. If it's proved right, excellent. If not, that's great too – you've found out valuable information to make the next attempt even better. Moving your outlook past the binary success/failure model makes every outcome a win.

Make the space work harder Trialling innovative ways to make the space work harder means finding smart design solutions.

And that makes going public with your mistakes a lot easier. There's no shame in admitting something doesn't work if you frame it as part of the journey to success. But why share your failures at all? Put simply, to find the support and advice you might need to help you on your way.

Where ideas have sex

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For Impact Hub Berlin, sharing the report with their community was the turning point in their fortunes. "We got such great feedback," says Nele. "People really appreciate when you talk about your failures and learnings, and how you can improve." Showing that they understood their errors – and had a plan to address them – lead a community member to offer the hub a space, solving the project's big problem at a stroke.

A growing community As the community has grown, the space has evolved to meet their needs.

With a place to experiment in, Impact Hub Berlin quickly attracted members and investment to continue evolving their ideas. And that's the final thing to learn from their story – keep testing, failing and learning, even if you think you've achieved success. JK Rowling explained this concept well when she described failure as "a stripping away of the inessential." It's the best way to keep refining your business.

So next time something goes wrong, don't give in. Own your mistakes, examine what happened and share your findings. Set about failing all over again – and this time, do it better.

“People really appreciate when you talk about your failures and learnings” Nele Kapretz CEO, Impact Hub Berlin

What's the biggest lesson failure has taught you? Let us know in the comments below.