Monday, July 28, 2014

Do Entrepreneurs Do Better In Their Second Attempt at a New Venture?

Francine Lafontaine and Kathryn Shaw have conducted an interesting new study regarding entrepreneurship.   They chose to study whether entrepreneurs who failed in their first new venture did better the second time around.   The scholars examined retail entrepreneurs in Texas from 1990 to 2011.  Here is a summary of their findings, from an article by Allison Schrager in Business Week:

Over the 21-year-period, 2.4 million retail businesses opened and 2.2 million closed. Three out of every four were founded by first-time business owners.  Lafontaine and Shaw found that the Texas retailers were less successful than the national average for small businesses: One in four closed after a year; half after two. What happened next was telling. Of the first-time entrepreneurs whose businesses closed quickly, the overwhelming majority—71 percent—didn’t bother to try again. But the tenacious 29 percent who did were more likely to be successful the second, third, and even tenth time around. Somewhat paradoxically, their success rate increased with their number of past failures.

Interestingly, the article points out that these findings stand in stark contrast to the findings of a study conducted in the UK by Deniz Ucbasaran, Paul Westhead, and Mike Wright.   They found that serial entrepreneurs have a hard time learning from failure, though they note that people working on several ventures at the same time appear to be more successful .  Here is their explanation:

Psychological research suggests that strong emotions often prompt people to blame others or external events rather than themselves so that they can maintain some semblance of self-esteem and a sense of control. This “attributional bias” appears to make serial entrepreneurs less capable of learning from failure than portfolio entrepreneurs, whose attachment is spread among multiple initiatives.

What do we make of these contrasting findings?  I'm not sure, though I would note that the new study on Texas entrepreneurs has a much larger sample size, and it does not rely on self-reported data from surveys.  The new study also controls for industry and type of entrepreneurs (mostly mom and pop retail stores).   Does the type of venture matter?   Perhaps that may be the reason, but more research will be needed in this area.

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