Talking About Failure with PPHS Students: 4 Lessons Learned from 4 Entrepreneurs

Talking About Failure with PPHS Students: 4 Lessons Learned from 4 Entrepreneurs



With the increased visibility of the Launch Fishers-inspired family of initiatives — Launch Fishers, Launch Indy, Launch Indiana, Indiana IoT Lab Network, and Fail Fest — comes invitations to speak to various organizations.  Nothing gets my attention more than a request to speak to the next generation – university students and high schoolers. It’s almost like being given a chance to go back in time. To reprogram the mistakes made, teach the lessons I wished I had learned earlier and generally try to make the world a better place.


I recently spoke to Purdue Polytechnic High School. PPHS is a tuition-free public school open to any state resident. Free from many of the regulations governing traditional public schools, PPHS controls their own curriculum, staffing, organization and budget. They are expected to help students reach their fullest potential while exceed Indiana’s academic standards.


PPHS asked me to speak on a topic on which I am eminently equipped to discuss — failure! Most entrepreneurs could write chapters, if not entire books on failure.  I chose to start an event called Fail Fest.  


For PPHS, I enlisted three of my favorite area entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs who are obviously successful and who are willing to talk about the role of failure in their careers and lessons learned along the way.  I like to think of the process of talking about this as “failing, falling and learning to fly again!”


Joining me on stage were:

  • John McDonald, CEO of Clear Object
  • Shawn Schwegman, COO & Co-founder of DemandJump
  • Jim Brown, President & Sales Coach at SalesTuners



At about the 45 minute mark, all of which was extemporaneously delivered, we got into little jam session on “what one thing” could we each deliver to these students that could help accelerate their learning.


John started out by encouraging the group to “embrace weird.”  Stay the way you are and never change to meet others’ definition of you – be the best you that you can be.  


Shawn picked up with “never quit.” Failure is only truly a failure when you quit.  The real difference between those we see as winners in life and those who don’t make the cut is that those who don’t make the cut quit!  


Jim picked up with the importance of surrounding yourself with people who bring out the best in you.  Important to note this doesn’t mean just like you, it means they complement you – in other words they complete you by adding in areas you might not be as strong.  


I finished by encouraging the students to always pursue excellence. Not perfection — sometimes that can be the enemy of the good.  But excellence.  I think this can be be described as the degree with which you deliver against expectations.  


As we went down the line in the 15 minute excursive, we all looked at each other and thought we had really come up with a handful of lessons learned.  Lessons that if we could somehow get this young minds to understand would help lead them to their passions in life and ultimately contribute to making them happy and fulfilled along the way.