Failure Is Not An Option, Or Is It? The One True Way To Achieve Success When starting your business, you can't even consider failure to be an option. But with 95 percent of businesses failing in their first five years, what are you going to do to make it work?

By Leonard Kim

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Back in 2013, I felt like I was a failure.

To understand why I felt this way, let me go a little bit into my work history:

  • In 2007, I tried making a music-related startup. I blew nearly all my savings.

  • In 2008, I worked in real estate. I had $50,000 in commissions lined up for one month of work. The market crashed and the banks wouldn't fund my deals.

  • In 2008, I went to work at an investment fund. Shortly afterwards, the stock market crashed.

  • In 2009, I was VP of Marketing for a startup in the lead-gen field. I took that company from $0-$50k in revenue in three months. The company got top heavy and fell apart.

  • In 2010, I was VP of Marketing for a startup that provides discounts at restaurants and bars. I took that company from 100-1,000 vendors in nine months. The next round of financing never came through so that collapsed

By this point, I thought I was a total and utter failure. Everything I tried to do to achieve success and make millions of dollars collapsed right in front of my eyes.

Was I ever going to be the successful entrepreneur I had set myself out to be?

Things were looking slim. I knew that 95 percent of companies fail within the first five years. Hell, I lived that statistic over and over again.

In fact, it seemed impossible to get to where I wanted to go, so I gave up and got a job at a Fortune 100 company.

I thought maybe I could just work my way up to the top and give up on the entrepreneurial dream I once had.

The only problem was that I wasn't a culture fit.

After two years of working with them, I outperformed everyone in my department, time after time. But never once did I get a promotion or a raise. I was experiencing exactly what it was like to watch the rich get richer while the poor (me) kept getting poorer.

I never considered failure to be an option, but here I was, failing again.

Then one day, it dawned upon me. I would get nowhere with this company. But I couldn't go off and start another company, could I?

Related: What You Can Learn From These 4 Reasons for Failure

If I did, I'd be knocking back at my grandmother's door, telling her that I was getting evicted again, begging for her to take me back in.

That's when I discovered something that would change my life. In fact, it is something that will absolutely change your life as an entrepreneur as well.

What I discovered was the art of the personal brand.

What is a personal brand?

A personal brand is when you put your branding efforts behind yourself as opposed to a company. In turn, you become an expert in your field.

Let me explain how that changed my entire life, and how it can change yours, too.

1. Find a niche

Before, I would write copy for companies and spread it through social media. It would work most of the time, but it didn't generate enough revenue to keep a company afloat. With these skills I had acquired, I redirected my effort to writing about my stories of failure online.

What happened in turn was that I had found something that others were interested in reading. I created an audience that wanted to hear what I had to say.

2. Be honest

Some of my stories were insane. People couldn't believe how honest and genuine I had been in what I had wrote. But my audience valued it. Some even decided to take it upon themselves to create lasting friendships with me.

My network went from a lot of salespeople who were only out for themselves to a world-class network of some of the world's elite.


They valued the genuineness of what I wrote about.

3. Provide value

I didn't just provide stories. I provided value as well.

Want to know how to create a business plan? Sure, I explained it in detail, step by step.

Want to know how to structure equity for your company? Done.

I slowly started to move away from my stories. Instead, I shared the valuable lessons I learned throughout my career. Thus, I built a reputation as being an expert in my community.

4. Build demand

While my personal brand was building, I was pulled in many directions, from wanting to build an ecommerce startup to being asked to work on projects by other entrepreneurs. I dabbled in some of these projects, but nothing really stuck.

As time progressed, I found that there was one thing in common. People kept asking me if I would teach them how to do what I did. They kept asking me to take them under their wing and mentor them.

I could have started a consultancy, but I knew of the time limitations I would have by dealing with clients on a 1on1 basis. Being a seasoned entrepreneur, I knew I needed to make something scale instead.

So I started doing my homework on what kind of business would be the right fit for where I was in my life.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Benefit From 3 Types of Failure

5. Stack your success

While I did my homework, I continued to spread the message. Not long after, I was featured in publication after publication, podcast after podcast, on the radio and potentially even in TEDx this up and coming year.

But I was only able to do that by celebrating each small win, going back to the drawing board, then moving for another win. After each win came, I stacked my successes so they combined.

Now I ended up having a collective of well over 100,000 social media followers on multiple platforms, 10 million views on my content and a reputation where I could say "jump' and people would ask "how high?'.

6. Define your brand

When all of this combined together, I figured out how to define my brand.

People wanted to know how exactly to do what I did. Thus, I figured the best way to do that would be to teach people how to do what I've done through a group environment.

I decided to create an online course that teaches others how to build their personal brand like I have at InfluenceTree.

But if I tried starting this business back in 2013, I would've been laughed at and thought I was a joke. I mean, I had nothing but a track rate of failure, right? Plus I wouldn't have built up any demand for the product.

Yet, I was only able to create this demand by investing in the only thing that I could depend on that didn't have a 95 percent failure rate: Myself.

So if you want to be successful, you need to go back to the drawing board, stop promoting your company as your number one priority, then start investing in your personal brand.


Because if you present yourself as an expert in your field, people will buy into whatever company you associate yourself with. Or they will even tell you what they want to be buying from you, like they did for me. Get rid of the 95 percent failure rate by investing in the only thing that is guaranteed to have your back: yourself. The profits will follow.

Related: Don't Be Disheartened if You Fail to Hit Your Crowdfunding Goal

Wavy Line
Leonard Kim

Managing Partner of InfluenceTree

Leonard Kim is managing partner at InfluenceTree, a brand accelerator where Kim and his team build and develop your (personal or business) brand. He also spearheads digital strategy for USC's Medical Enterprise. On the side, Kim is a keynote speaker and blogs at He currently resides in Los Angeles and loves cupcakes.

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