3 Tips for Succeeding After You Fail
If you're an entrepreneur, you will fail. It might not be a complete meltdown, but you will experience a failure of some aspect of your venture at some point.
My first business failure occurred during my mid-20s. I tried to launch a product I invented, which was a durable, pocket-size strap that carried different kinds of recreational sports gear.
After determining the market need and securing piece-work manufacturing, as well as retail packaging complete with trademarked logo, I had several thousand units in hand.
Distribution was, ultimately, the one trick I couldn't turn and ended in failure. I tried everything I could think of. I engaged several independent and sporting goods retail chains that weren't interested in the hassle of adding a single-product vendor to their ops management systems.
I offered to give hundreds of units away to dozens of specialty ski, skateboard and inline skating shops on consignment to "seed the market" but was rejected. They all said my product undercut higher-margin competing products.
I tried to contract with different retail brokers to add my product to their sell-in portfolios, but was rejected three times due to the low-price point for my product and limited margin potential.
The greatest success I had was when I broke even for a catalog ad I purchased in a Sharper Image-type printed publication.
Mind you, this was all pre-Google, Amazon, PayPal or eBay when ecommerce was still finding its way on the Interwebs. However, my lack of offline success drove me to have a developer build my own ecommerce website (at great expense at the time) with an incredibly clunky, pricey payment system managed by Visa.
Sad to say, I shuttered the website after six months due to lack of sales and lack of traffic caused by the overall lack of consumer confidence in the whole "internet spending thing" at the time. During the three-year span of this odyssey from my initial concept to collapse, I had spent countless hours and in excess of $40,000 trying to convert my vision into a viable venture.
As a 20-something kid, I felt like a complete failure. I was afraid to ever try again, but eventually I did -- several times -- and had success. Fast forward 20 years and here's what I would share with the failed entrepreneur I was back then.
Failure is painful but not fatal.
Failure is not final, fatal nor forever. I had a great mentor who completely re-framed my thinking regarding failure when he told me, "If you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough."
That phrase has been a touchstone through tough times during my subsequent entrepreneurial endeavors.
Back then I thought I had to exhaust all my distribution options, which took a significant amount of time and resources, because I didn't want to look back in 20 years and say "what if?"
In retrospect, I'm glad I did it then but there are signs I should have seen sooner. For instance, the first retail broker who rejected my product was very clear that my effort to keep the retail price under $10 for the consumer did not make it worth his while to sell it.
I should have bundled it with another product or enhanced it in some way to boost it to a higher price point, but I naively thought he was just being porky before two other potential brokers I engaged had schooled me on the economics of their services.
Looking back now, I could have compressed my failure cycle by at least 50 percent if I had been more teachable then.
Related: Why Failure Is Your Best Teacher
Find insights from failure.
At the time, $40K was all the money in the world and (thanks to scholarships I had earned) was eight times more than my total college student loans.
But, I learned a lot about intellectual property, financing, materials sourcing, vendor research and selection, production timelines, operations management, sales and marketing as well as ecommerce.
I came to view that lost $40K as a masterclass in real-world business. Most importantly, I learned what I didn't know and that propelled me to pursue my M.B.A.. degree, which my then-employer paid for.
In hindsight, I perceive this greatest failure has been my greatest success because I earned it and learned from it. No one is immune to failing, but we must understand that it is not an ending but rather a beginning -- if we choose so.