Daniel Lubetzky found a sweet spot with consumers when he founded KIND Healthy Snacks, a line of wholesome snack products carried by Costco, Target and a slew of other major retailers. But like all entrepreneurs, his journey wasn't without its struggles. In an excerpt from his new book, Do the KIND Thing: Think Boundlessly, Work Purposefully, Live Passionately (Ballantine Books, 2015), Lubetzky reflects on failure and why it's so important to the future success of your business.
When you’re building a business, you want to focus and deliver excellence at what you do. This simply cannot be done when you are launching multiple ventures, dozens of new products, and selling everywhere and anywhere at the same time.
All my mistakes from those days in the wilderness are responsible for KIND’s success today. Trying to forget or hide your mistakes is a huge error. Rather, hold them near and dear to your heart. Wear them proudly. Big failures hold better lessons than any success—-as long as you are in tune with yourself and are open to learning from them. I can trace every one of my accomplishments to earlier failures that I learned from.
I know that when you are experiencing failure, it’s pretty damn painful. It is easy in retrospect to wax poetic about it. But in the moment, you don’t think you will survive, let alone have the time to reflect on how valuable those lessons will be for you in the future. That said, this is the most important time to constructively criticize yourself and reflect on what you did wrong, as well as how you can do things differently in the future.
Even when you are succeeding, it is important that you be attuned to your mistakes and actively look for those failures. When things are going well, fast growth can hide a lot of weaknesses and deficiencies. There are companies that seem like juggernauts of excellence because they happen to be part of a fast-growing market. But when that market’s growth slows, or when they get hit by a challenge, their weak culture or lack of internal strength may bring them down. It is easy to lead and seem like a superstar when your company and your brand are taking you places. What is really worth admiring, though, is when you hit a wall and your team’s character is tested.
To build a culture of constant introspection and renewal, we at KIND encourage our team to engage in “start-up think”—-to review all practices every year, and to reinvent systems or practices on an ongoing basis if necessary. Question every decision anew, think critically. If you are failing, you are forced to do this. Let those failures invigorate you with the knowledge that, once you know what you did wrong, you can now start doing it right. You are half of the way there. If you are not failing, are you aiming high enough? At KIND we embrace the “fail fast, succeed faster” approach and welcome risk-taking and experimentation (with the qualification that we do not roll out products unless we are confident they will outperform in their category). And if you are succeeding, do not let success get to your head. Force yourself to question assumption – to use the AND way of thinking to see if you can improve on any and every facet of what you do. Let errors inform you and keep you grounded and keep reminding you that you are neither invincible nor a genius, and that you can always do better.
Business is like the game of Risk. If you expand your armies too quickly and try to conquer land after land, you disperse your forces and leave your borders vulnerable. Enemies can then invade and defeat you. Your zeal to build an empire can lead to your demise. Similarly, when you’re launching new products, you first need to make sure you defend your original leading items—-to establish your core and continue to win on that central offering. You want each new move to be strong: Your products need to stand on their own and prevail at every store where they compete. Otherwise, if you fail with new products, you’ll also dilute your assets and expose yourself in the key areas where you had an opportunity to succeed. You’ll be deploying resources and attention that are desperately needed to maintain and grow your market share in your core.
You can expand eventually, but you need to do so only once your flagship line is well cemented—-or a competitor will come in and take away your market share. When you do expand, make sure you’re not changing the value proposition, which can confuse and scare away your existing customers. And confirm that you have enough resources to push hard. It’s a matter of playing offense and defense. Being passionate without a strategy won’t help your business.