Entrepreneurs must embrace failure and view it as part of a journey to build a successful business, according to renowned talent manager, author, and educator Dr Mathew Knowles.
“Most successful entrepreneurs have experienced failure,” said Knowles, adding that what matters most is how an individual reacts to a major setback.
Knowles, a successful music executive and entrepreneur who managed Destiny's Child, one of the most popular female R&B groups of the late 1990s as well as the careers of his own award-winning daughters Beyoncé and Solange, encouraged entrepreneurs never to give up and to focus on what they are passionate about. He was speaking at a well-attended event at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) at the weekend to launch his new book titled "The Emancipation of Slaves Through Music".
The foundation of any successful entrepreneur is passion and a strong work ethic continued Knowles. “Ask yourself ‘what am I passionate about’…. the thing that excites you…. Work ethic and passion co-exist,” he said.
He added that prosperous entrepreneurs also focus on building strong teams, and think outside the box. Forward thinking is also a key ingredient for success.
“If you are an entrepreneur you have to be forward thinking. With Beyoncé, from a publicity point of view, we would look five years ahead, literally,” said Knowles. “Failure to plan is planning to fail…strategic planning is key.”
Kurt April, Allan Gray Professor in Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion at the UCT GSB, who facilitated the discussion with Knowles, also emphasised the need to embrace failure.
“If you visit many angel investors [high net-worth individual or groups willing to take a chance and invest in high-risk businesses], the first question they ask you is ‘what are your scars… failure is critical to get funded,” said April.
In a recent Forbes article, Russ Alan Prince, the president of the market research and consulting firm Prince & Associates, Inc, says that failing is just about inevitable, but the most successful entrepreneurs actually benefit from their failures.
“It is their ability to learn from their mistakes and move forwards that significantly contributes to their professional and financial accomplishments…With failure being just about a given, the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who become smarter from these experiences.”
Prince cites renowned enterprises and artists who made it after initially facing major setbacks. Henry Ford went broke five times and was advised to stay away from the automobile industry; Walt Disney when looking to finance Walt Disney World was turned down about 300 times; Five record companies chose not to sign the Beatles.
Knowles has an MBA in Strategic Planning and Organisational Culture and a PhD in Business Administration from Cornerstone Christian Bible College, and has held professorships at Texas Southern University, where he taught both undergraduate and graduate level courses on the entertainment industry and entrepreneurship.
In his new book, he examines the liberating effects of music on an oppressed people, its secret use during slavery up through its eventual commercialisation in the industry, exposing the art form’s true power. Music helped the slaves – who came from a variety of different backgrounds and language groups – to communicate, he emphasised.
The conversation at the UCT GSB delved into issues of race and identity, which continue to bedevil both South Africa and the US.
“Am I black or am I African American? My next book will focus on this,” said Knowles. “I am curious to research about this. A white person said to me during dinner, that ‘I am citizen of America and I was born in Africa and I consider myself an African American’. So I am really excited about this book.”
He also pointed out that “colourism” was major issue across the world.
“Even in music I talk about this [colourism]… who are the black female artists that are successful in America? Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Cardi B. What do they all have in common? They are all light skinned. This is not accidental,” said Knowles.