Career Insight: Farrhad Acidwalla on Learning from Failure and Knowing When to Take a Break

by Diana Drake

Farrhad Acidwalla has been an entrepreneur for a decade – and he’s only 23. At the age of 13, he caught the bug and borrowed $10 from his parents to build an online community devoted to aviation and aero-modeling. Soon after, he sold that project to a fan for $1,200, and a few years later used $400 to launch Rockstah Media, a business focused on web development, marketing, advertisement and branding.  

The success of this international, award-winning agency based in Maharashtra, India, has catapulted Acidwalla into young-entrepreneur fame, winning him an interview on CNN at the age of 17, and spots on several publication lists, such as the 25 Internet Success Stories under 25, GenNext Achievers, and India’s Top Twitter Users. Acidwalla has been a featured speaker on the TEDx stage, as well as the youngest guest lecturer at IIT Kharagpur’s annual entrepreneurship summit. While he still focuses much of his time on Rockstah, Acidwalla also invests in other businesses, such as Consumer Guard, a web-based business he founded with Suhel Seth to handle consumer grievances.

Acidwalla’s most recent brand-building venture took him to the most unlikely of places, the Chenab valley in the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir, a state in the northernmost geographical region of the India subcontinent that for many years was an area of unrest due to land disputes. Conflict has extended to insurgents fighting Indian government officials for autonomy, leading to violence and turmoil. Acidwalla was invited by the Indian government in early February to speak to some 1,000 youth in three separate regions of Jammu. “I reiterated that India is the largest youth population in the world and never before have information, knowledge and technology been so accessible,” notes Acidwalla, who describes his unique trip as “intense.” “My goal was not to just tell them about my story, but to tell them how they can turn their passion into their profession.”

Since inspiring youth is part of Acidwalla’s mission statement, KWHS caught up with him at Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai, India, this month for an interview. Here are some of his key insights: 

On failure. If you’re failing and not learning from it, you’re wasting your time. You will learn far more from your smallest failure than you will from your greatest success. I hired a senior developer to work for Rockstah Media for a phenomenal sum of money. I actually hired two guys from a company I consulted with. The company pivoted and they didn’t need them anymore. These guys handled that company’s whole infrastructure and technology that involved PHP [programming language]. I hired one of them for a lot of money, almost double what I paid new employees. When I decided to do the hiring, the CEO of this company where they worked told me that this guy was extremely negative. He said that he will pull down anyone he sits with and productivity will go down. I thought I could handle it. But hiring that person was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made because you just can’t fight negativity like that. They were always [complaining]. Also, they were married and much older with kids. They wasted a lot of time on personal commitments. I learned quickly that sometimes you really should listen to other people. I thought he was negative because of his past environment, but I learned that negativity should be stayed away from. I fired them, but I couldn’t do it instantly because they were in the middle of two or three projects. Code is such a thing that when I did get other team members on it, it was difficult to catch up. I had to put an end to the negativity. I learned to check things twice before hiring people – and to listen.

On motivation. Jim Rohn (American entrepreneur and motivational speaker) said, ‘Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.’ Textbook knowledge will not separate you and get you ahead. It will get you somewhere, but you need self-education; you need to be out there hungry for knowledge and taking more information in. You have to follow other knowledge in your industry. You can’t only know exactly what your job requires, or you won’t be able to evolve. Just focusing on those textbooks won’t cut it in the long run.

On time management. I cannot stress enough that if you set your priorities right, you will finish your to-do list. You might have to compromise on your partying or your social life. What separates us is how we use our 24 hours. If you waste time, somebody out there is using those full 24 hours, and they will get ahead of you.

On burnout and renewal. Sometimes you just need to step back. There was a period of three to six months a few years ago when I had to relax. It had been a good seven years until I needed that break, but then it had to happen. I could have gone on, but the recovery would have been longer if I kept pushing myself. The recharge was quick, and I was back. I caught up with reading and writing and things other than business. The delegation I did [giving responsibilities to employees] has continued and allowed me to found more companies and do other things. Last year, I went open water diving, and that was another period when I had been working for months and months. I was getting six hours and 13 minutes average sleep each night. I was not working out, and it bogged me down. While I was doing my work properly, I was tired. Those two weeks completing my advanced diving course in Ko Tao, Thailand energized me. When I came back, that whole tiredness was gone and I wanted to hit the gym. You have to replenish. It’s needed if you have a busy schedule.

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Conversation Starters

What is your biggest takeaway from this article? What advice do you find most useful for your own life and career? Do you disagree with anything he says?

Why do you think Farrhad Acidwalla was invited to visit Kashmir, a move that is quite out of the ordinary? Why might the government call on a 23-year-old to inspire Kashmiri youth?

Have you made any mistakes in your life that you have learned from? Do you tend not to talk about them because you think they reflect poorly on your abilities? Discuss your situation with a friend or a group and come up with three things you learned from your experience.

10 comments on “Career Insight: Farrhad Acidwalla on Learning from Failure and Knowing When to Take a Break

  1. For the most part, I agree with Acidwalla. Most notably, I agree with him when he says “If you’re failing and not learning from it, you’re wasting your time. You will learn far more from your smallest failure than you will from your greatest success.” If what you’re doing isn’t helping you succeed or isn’t teaching you something than there is no point. Also, when he says time off is necessary, I agree because without it, you’re going to grow tired and lost interest or motivation in what you’re doing.

  2. The article I chose is about career insight and how to learn from failure and when to take a break. Farrhad Acidwalla talks about failure first. When talking about it he says “If you’re failing and not learning from it, you’re wasting your time. You will learn far more from your smallest failure than you will from your greatest success.” He goes on to talk about how he hired someone that was so negative, put everyone down, and slowed productivity. Eventually, he fired him and learned to double-check and listen. Motivation is another key aspect of this article and how you have to stay hungry for knowledge and want to achieve your goals. Next, the article talks about that time management is very important. Lastly, he talks about how sometimes the desire for something or the want is going to burnout. When this happens you need to step back and take a break or start over somewhere new. I completely agree with the keys of this article and what it is talking about.

  3. There was a lot of useful information that I got to take away from this article. I thought that his advice and some of his points were very helpful. Time management is a big role to me. I am a big procrastinator when it comes to certain things. I never thought about it in the way that someone is using their 24 hours more useful, and they are getting ahead of me. I think that staying motivated and using my time more wisely is what is going to help me progress the most in the future. I think that government used him because he was 23 and he can easily relate to the younger kids. He is close to their age and he could make it easier for the younger kids to understand. I say overall the tips he provided were very helpful.

  4. Reading this article opened my mind and make me realize things that I have previously looked past. As Farrhad Acidwalla, “If you’re failing and not learning from it, you’re wasting your time”. Using this quote as a reference point, we are able to see that we learn more within our smallest failure versus what we learn on our greatest accomplishments. Time is the key to success, obviously, if we had more some people would never stop working toward being the best in their field. Time management is a key that you must achieve near perfection of if you want to be success. Once you realize your actual priories, you will be able to get done everything you wish to. In conclusion, I enjoy this article. It helps differentiate the difference between failure and giving up, and that is something I believe everyone needs to know.

  5. Everything Farrhad Acidwalla was saying in the interview he participated in I agree with. Especially on failure. If you do not fail originally you will not succeed in the end. His words on motivation I also agreed with. I feel as though learning information out of history or algebra textbooks will not truly help you. Getting out there and self educating yourself will truly motivate you to do better. Every thing that Acidwalla mentioned in this interview really speaks to younger kids and is good to keep in mind. I do not disagree with anything he said.

  6. Thank you for another essential article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a complete way of writing? I have a presentation incoming week, and I am on the lookout for such information.

  7. I agree with what Farrhad Acidwalla is saying in this article. He has that hunger for success which drives him towards accomplishing more goals. He has learned from past failures and experiences, helping him understand what he needs to keep thriving. Farrhad was under a lot of physical stress, taking a few days off and vacationing had re energized him bringing him back to his full mental capabilities. Keeping himself at full capability had enabled Farrhad to make bigger business ventures. Now trusting others to manage his own company while he works to find and create other businesses.

  8. Farrhad Acidwalla’s story is an inspirational one. And it shows that one should never give up. This man has taken up many challenges in life and that is quite motivating for the readers like us. It requires a lot of courage to work on your own idea without anyone’s support and such people are born to be entrepreneurs.
    I even read Ritesh Agarwal biography , another indian entrepreneur who motivated me to work harder to achieve whatever I want in life.
    Thanks to you guys for inspiring the youth.

  9. “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life,” said Charles Darwin. What Darwin conveys is that one has to pick himself up and start being productive in order to release their full potential. Jim Rohn complements this with: “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” And I hold the same belief as Rohn: One needs to pursue his intellectual interest outside “formal education” to be a leader in his field. Many people have intellectual interests outside of school, but they complain that they are just too busy for these pursuits. But as Farrhad Acidwalla states in this article, “I cannot stress enough that if you set your priorities right, you will finish your to-do list.” Everyone has the same time, and it’s just how you make use of it.
    Prior to high school, I had always felt overshadowed by minds brighter than mine and tongues more articulate than mine. This led me to unnecessary frustration, as I felt like I would not achieve my goals. All of this time could have allowed me to achieve excellence in a new aspect I have never explored before. In contrast, Acidwalla has been an entrepreneur since the age of 13. Without a doubt, he has an abundance of obligations, but he has still managed to achieve success in his agency.
    Acidwalla’s mindset of setting one’s priorities straight especially resonates with me. During the end of sophomore year, I started to explore my intellectual interests after a mentor taught me a new way of looking at knowledge. He taught me to learn for the knowledge and not for the grade. From that moment, I started pursuing computer science knowledge outside of class through a multitude of free education providers such as Coursera. In Darwin’s words, I had discovered the value of life. Just in a few months, I had achieved much more than others in the field of computer science. I had realized that the bright minds and the articulate tongues meant only a higher starting point in the journey called life. Using every hour is what will increase the slope, which represents progress.
    On a final touch, writing this was a delightful experience. It allowed me to pick apart the components that I’m made of and look at it. In addition, reading this inspired me to perhaps follow Acidwalla’s footsteps. That is using my field of interest to build my startup one day.

  10. In this article, “Farrhad Acidwalla quotes, “If you’re failing and not learning from it, you’re wasting your time. You will learn far more from your smallest failure than you will from your greatest success.” Although I may not be as innovative as Acidwalla, I also strive to become an entrepreneur and grow through times of failure. Like Acidwalla, I want to inspire future generations by showing how investing your time into learning from failure can be a stepping stone to greater success.

    When I was younger, I used to be a child who avoided taking risks and feared making mistakes. I always strived to become a model student, but looking back, I never had the characteristics of a model student. When I was handed tests with perfect scores in middle school, I always had the urge to compare myself to others and constantly sought validation. I had an unhealthy habit of making myself feel better through comparison and gaining status. I always thought that I was the best student among my peers. However, that all changed when I took a state test during the winter of 8th grade. There were two state tests in 8th grade; one in the winter and one in the spring. Everyone’s winter state test scores determined the level of flex classes you needed to take during 8th grade and the spring state test scores determined what level of classes you’d be able to take in high school. Being the “best” student of my class year, I felt confident that I was able to succeed in both my winter and spring tests.

    On the day of winter testing, I answered questions with little to no effort and thought to myself that I wouldn’t fail any questions. However, when the results came out, I’d failed more questions than I’d anticipated. It felt disappointing when I found out that I scored lower than the peers I compared to when I had perfect scores. Eventually, I was placed in lower levels of flex classes and I felt embarrassed and didn’t want to take responsibility for my mistakes. I took the time to reflect and asked myself, “Why wasn’t my score better than everyone else’s?” But in that exact moment, I realized that being a model student was just more than getting perfect grades and achievements. I knew I had to change as a person. Just like what Acidwalla said, I needed to set my priorities straight and I had to pick myself back up through studying my mistakes.

    Changing my view on becoming a model student, I was able to embark on a journey to change my ideal ways of being obsessed with perfection. Having this mindset similar to Acidwalla’s perspective, I started viewing failure as an opportunity to learn and develop in the period of time between winter and spring. Taking the time to write notes on how I missed questions and gathered new information helped change my unhealthy habits.

    A couple months later, it was finally spring and I had to take one last state test. Although I’d been preparing for this test throughout all of my flex classes and time at home, I didn’t expect to have a perfect score. I thought that even if I didn’t have a good score, I’d be glad to review my mistakes and wouldn’t mind taking notes. I essentially overcame the fear of making mistakes. When I took the test, all of my previous mistakes turned into a guiding source through my test questions. I paid close attention to questions that I’d skip over and made sure that I finished the test with no complications. After a couple of days, the test results were announced, and I’d place in the 99th percentile for state test scores. I felt happy by not having a high test score, but felt satisfied that I was able to achieve this score through learning from my mistakes.

    I am inspired by Farrhad Acidwalla’s words of wisdom and they serve as a reminder that failure should not be feared but as a tool to learn and progress. As I continue this journey forward and carry Acidwalla’s powerful words in my heart, I am eager to listen, learn, and persist, knowing that it’s important to embrace failure, rather than avoiding it.

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