If at First You Don't Succeed.

Afraid of failure? Take a lesson from these resilient 'treps.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the September 2002 issue of Teen Startups. Subscribe »

(YoungBiz.com) - Unless you live under a rock, you've heard the advertising slogan "Coke Is It!" But did you know it was created by a Hispanic immigrant who worked his way up to become chairman of the Coca-Cola company?

Roberto C. Goizueta, along with his wife, Olga, and their three children, left their Cuban possessions behind and moved to the United States in 1960. He first worked for Coke's Latin American operations, then moved to the company headquarters in Atlanta in 1964.

By 1981, Goizueta had worked his way up the ladder, becoming CEO of Coca-Cola. In that position, he created great wealth for shareholders. A $1,000 investment in Coca-Cola stock back in 1981 would have been worth about $71,000 at the time of his death in 1997.

Not only did he make a lot of shareholders very happy, but Goizueta himself shared in the wealth. He owned nearly 16 million Coke shares worth roughly $1 billion, making him America's first corporate manager to achieve billionaire status through owning stock in a company he didn't help start or take public.

Sounds like a sweet success story, doesn't it? It is. But before you heave a heavy sigh and shake your head at that handful of people in the world who seem to do everything right, there's something you should know. Though he was behind many of Coca-Cola's smartest moves, he was also responsible for launching one of its most highly publicized failures: New Coke. The new soda eventually led to protests on city streets as Coke faithful demanded a return of the original cola they had come to love.

Goizueta knew he'd made a mistake. He also knew that mistakes come with the territory. And so, under his direction, Coke rebounded by resurrecting the original formula.

Everybody Makes Mistakes
As a young 'trep, you may feel that the business blunders you make would never in a million years happen to brilliant businessmen like Goizueta--not to mention other CEOs and company founders, who seem to have company management down to a science.

Take a look behind the scenes, though, and you'll see that it's clearly not the case. What sets successful entrepreneurs apart from others is not perfection, but rather their ability to deal with problems honestly and effectively and move on without looking back. Just ask Anand Lal Shimpi, 21, founder of www.AnandTech.com, a site where more than 20,000 visitors daily read constantly updated hardware reviews and news, and ask questions about technical issues.

Now successful and proud of his reputation as a completely unbiased site (he doesn't accept payment from manufacturers to review their products--"it would jeopardize our integrity as an independent organization," he says), Lal Shimpi got in a little over his head in the very beginning.

Lal Shimpi created the site in anticipation of upgrading his computer system to AMD's K6 processor. He thought it would be a great idea to share his experience with the new technology, so he put the word out and 50 people responded to his invitation to observe his experience that he planned to post on a hardware users' newsgroup.

When the chip came out, however, Lal Shimpi found he couldn't afford it. Instead of disappointing his audience, he posted some general thoughts about hardware upgrades and found that visitors responded by the thousands.

Lemons into Limousines
Randy Galbreath of Erie, Pennsylvania, may ride (or, more accurately, drive) around in limousines all day, but he definitely knows that opening your own business isn't all red roses and caviar. Galbreath, 20, who just added a fourth stretch limo to his fleet at La Grand Elite Limousines, had to make his way around many detours when he first opened his business, not the least of which was persuading his parents to lend him the money to buy his first limousine.

Galbreath then met another roadblock when he applied for his state limousine license and found out that his competitors had banded together to protest his application. He discovered that he couldn't legally start his business and that it would cost almost $15,000 in attorney fees to fight the ban.

Many 'treps would have turned over the keys, but not Galbreath. "I already had the car, so there was no turning back," he says. His solution? Research, research, research. He found that he could legally book trips that were out of state, so at least he was making some money while trying to get his license.

Galbreath rode out nearly a year of operating at a loss--mainly because of the attorney fees--before getting his license and being able to pay off his debts. He now charges $70 to $125 per hour with a three-hour minimum, and has a very busy season each spring with proms and weddings. Business is cruising along.

Opening a Window
What if the problems your business faces aren't because of mistakes you've made or roadblocks your competitors throw at you, but are the result of a medical condition you've had all your life? That's exactly what happened to 16-year-old social entrepreneur Hero Joy Nightingale, who runs a noncommercial Webzine called From the Window. Nightingale has a unique condition which leaves her unable to speak and mostly unable to move. She uses hand gestures and an assistant, called an enabler, to communicate with the world from her wheelchair.

After being kicked out of the Royal Academy of Music in her home country of England, Nightingale was left with no ties to the outside world--so she turned to the Internet, initially thinking that she just wanted one or two e-pals.

Soon, that wasn't enough, and Nightingale quickly saw her opportunity to use the Internet as a publishing tool and soon began asking people to write about the view from their "windows"--their places in society. "One further small jump took me into the grandiose idea of a worldwide mag," she says. Using basic paint and word processing programs, From the Window was soon born.

Keep on Truckin'
You have to admit, the day-to-day problems you face probably aren't quite on the scale of the ones Goizueta faced as the CEO of Coca-Cola...yet. Still, it's your business and it's hard to not take even the most minor setbacks seriously. Keep in mind, though, that when the going gets tough, the tough--like Lal Shimpi, Galbreath, Nightingale, and yes, you--persevere. That's the true secret to success.

Sure, there will be times when you get stressed out. When you do, just think about the T-shirt manufacturer in Miami a few years back who, in preparation for the Pope's visit, made shirts for the Spanish residents there that were supposed to say, "I saw the Pope." Instead, they said, "I saw the Potato."

You just can't help but laugh, can you?

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