News and events

The F Word

Failure is an option

This article was published on 3 January 2017

Callaghan Innovation is starting a national conversation about business failure by presenting a series of failure-themed events, research and stories.

What is the F Word - and why does it matter?

New Zealand businesses spend about half the OECD average on R&D, on a percentage of GDP basis. We want to remove the stigma attached to failure so business embraces innovation and investment in R&D.

Innovation is inherently risky, and some failure is an inevitable by-product of that risk.

We want business to harness failure. Nearly all of the world’s leading entrepreneurs have overseen failed projects, but by understanding the failure and applying the lessons from it, they were able to make a success of their subsequent ventures. Vibrant economies have an environment that supports entrepreneurship and is tolerant of risk and failure.

We commissioned interviews with a number of successful New Zealand entrepreneurs to learn about their setbacks, how they felt and what they learnt. Here are some of the failure stories we uncovered. 

We hope these will inspire you to in turn embrace the concept that 'failure is  an option'.

Scott Houston - Founder of Green Button

Scott Houston says you should take the emotion out of failure and treat it as a learning exercise: Measure, evaluate and try again.

Jason Hunter - CTO Parrot Analytics

Jason Hunter describes how Parrot Analytics used a fail fast approach to pivot into new industries.

Anna Guenther - CEO PledgeMe

Anna Guenther says after you fail you should do an honest appraisal of why things went wrong, and use this to tighten up your business objectives.

Tony Falkenstein - Just Water Director

Tony Falkensteins shares a great story about watches. He says your mindset around failure is the most important thing - and it also helps to have a good understanding of what you are prepared to lose if it all goes wrong.

Vivek Wadwha - You learn an amazing amount along the way

Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Vivek Wadwha describes how you can't expect to know it all immediately: You learn a lot as you go along, and because of this your chances of success will increase.

Keith Teare - How success is measured

TechCrunch Co-founder Keith Teare describes how you can measure success by looking at a person's resilience: their ability to keep trying despite failure.

David Hornik - Getting past the pain of failure

Venture Capitalist David Hornik on how the post-failure pain never lasts.

The Best Mistakes I've Made: Kat Gee

Kat Gee

After running designer jewellery brand Kagi for ten years, Kat Gee says she’s made her fair share of mistakes, but one stand-out came on the back of initial success. It's a great story about flawed logic, hollow victories and sticking to your brand values. Read more...

The Best Mistakes I've Made: Sarah Robb O’Hagan

Sarah Robb O’Hagan

At the 2016 KEA Inspire, one of Forbes ‘Most Powerful Women in Sports’ talked failure, resilience, and the problem with participation trophies. Read more...

The Best Mistakes I've Made: Matt Cooney

Matt Cooney

Ex-Idealog editor Matt Cooney wrote a great editorial in 2011 about why 'you're only as good as your next venture'. Read more...

The Best Mistakes I've Made: NZTE's David Downs

NZTE General Manager David Downs

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) General Manager David Downs talks about avoiding 'The Slow March to Death', the importance of battle scars and moving on. Read more...

Treating failure as a learning experience

Ben MacLaren, CEO of C-Prize winners Vortech UAV Ltd, talks to Callaghan Innovation about how responding well to failure - and turning it into a learning experience - has been an important part of his company's journey to success.

Anna Guenther’s favourite mistake

Anna Guenther

We cornered PledgeMe founder Anna Guenther to find out the true cost of failure, lessons learned and whether it really is a deal breaker. Read more...

Mike Hutcheson’s favourite mistake

Mike Hutcheson

We hit up Mike Hutcheson, former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi NZ and now a director-at-large of ICG, and asked him what his favourite mistake is, what he learned and how it contributed to his success. Read more... 

Best mistakes I've made: Sam Shosanya, Paper Plus

Sam Shosanya

Sam Shosanya, Chief Executive of Paper Plus, shares a teachable moment from early in his career. Read more...

Jessica Venning-Bryan: Reframe failures as opportunities

Jessica Venning-Bryan

We asked Jessica Venning-Bryan, GM of brand at Flick (and recent addition to the PledgeMe board), to describe what failure has meant to her, and what it’s meant to her success. Read more... 

Thrive in Disruptive times - Gary Bolles

Gary Bolles

We brought US entrepreneur, writer and thought leader, Gary Bolles to New Zealand to share his insights on the accelerating pace of change and the need to develop a risk-taking culture. He spoke at events in Wellington (18 May), Auckland (19 May) and Christchurch (20 May).

If you missed these events, don't worry - you can read (or listen) to Gary Bolles' interviews below. 

Idealog - Gary Bolles Part II: On surviving disruption, failure and digital globalisation (this time it's personal...). Read more...

Idealog - Gary Bolles Part I: On surviving disruption, automation and the gig economy. Read more...

The Spinoff - The future of work with career guru Gary Bolles. Read more and listen to podcast...

Radio NZ - Gary Bolles: education and work parachutes. Listen to the interview...

SlideShare - The future - and new rules - of work. Read presentation...

Failure Facts and Figures

Business survival rates


With some help from, we've collected some facts and figures that highlight New Zealand's strength and opportunity in the area of business risk. Read more...

Other resources

From the highs and lows of Silicon Valley

Kiwi entrepreneurs don't fail well, says Havelock North businessman Hal Josephson.  "We need to change the mind-set around failure." Read more...

Fail fast and win big: Bernie Schroeder at TEDxEncinitas

Marketer, entrepreneur and start-up mentor, Bernie Schroeder, talks about changing his mindset to embrace failing fast as a path to business success.