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Great success is built upon failure. That’s why today’s most successful entrepreneurs didn’t let their missteps stop them.
Michael Jordan famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Failure is, inevitably, part of any success story. Those at the top have pasts littered with start-ups that went under or ideas that never got off the ground. The greatest risks yield the greatest reward, but you have to risk it over and over again until you create something that sticks. If you never try, you’ll forever wonder “what if…?”
I started my first company in 1991 and self-funded the operation by charging $50,000 to my credit cards. When I had to shut it down in 1995, I was crushed. A failure at 27.
That same year I founded LivePerson. Though the Internet was in its infancy, I had a vision for how it could be shaped. My mission was to change the way people interacted with brands forever. Twenty years later, we’re a publicly traded, global company with 18,000 customers that range from mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 500s. Successful entrepreneurs know you can’t let a misstep be a step back. Here’s how a few people I admire met failure head on and rose above it through sheer perseverance.
1. Barbara Corcoran says failure is her “specialty.” The real estate-mogul-turned-Shark Tank-investor posits that all successful people excel in how they handle failure. She recalls a bad investment decision she made in the ’90s when she spent her first and then-only profit ($77,000) on a misguided endeavor that flopped. Instead of cashing it in, however, she rededicated her efforts in a platform that was unprecedented for her industry: the Internet. The only cautionary tale here, she explains, is to not sit back licking your wounds when things go wrong. What matters is how you bounce back and move forward.
2. Brian Chesky couldn’t secure a $150,000 investment. In 2008, Airbnb was a widely unknown start-up out of San Francisco struggling to get off the ground. That same year, they caught a break: Cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky was introduced to seven of Silicon Valley’s influential investors and offered them 10% ownership of the company for $150,000. Five rejected his proposal outright. The other two didn’t respond at all. Of course, today Airbnb is an international phenomenon that’s helped revolutionize the travel industry. It’s also valued at $25 billion. “Next time you have an idea and it gets rejected,” Chesky writes, “I want you to think of these emails.”
3. Sir Richard Branson took on Coca-Cola — and lost. Remember Virgin Cola? You don’t, and that should tell you everything. In the 1990s the Virgin Group tried to break into the soda market and go head to head with Coke and Pepsi. Coke and Pepsi responded by upping their marketing budgets and pressuring distributors against working with the Virgin brand. “We hadn’t thought things through,” Branson admits. Virgin Cola collapsed — as did Virgin Vodka, Virgin Brides, Virgin Cars, and several other endeavors encompassed by the Virgin Group. Throughout it all, Branson maintained that failure comes with the territory. “I have made hundreds of mistakes,” he writes. “I’m sure I’ll make many more this year and learn valuable lessons from every error. Anybody who tells you they don’t make mistakes has just made one.”
4. Jeff Bezos calls failure and invention “inseparable twins.” Much like Branson, the founder and CEO of Amazon has turned off the lights on several ventures. There was Amazon Destinations, Amazon Auctions, and the company’s first foray into smartphone territory with the Fire Phone. But Bezos expects failure to be a part of the game — and knows a home run is well worth the wait. He advises, “Given a 10% chance of a 100-times payoff, you should take that bet every time.”
Failure is a time for introspection. In the inspirational words of IBM’s former chairman and CEO Thomas J. Watson, “You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure, or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”
I built my company on the heels of failure. Each has taught me the value of perseverance, and, because of it, my business was able to stay alive during the dot-com crash — and it’s why it will stay alive after the next downturn. Per the age-old maxim, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In the business world, strength is the most important quality you can have.