How massive failure eventually led to a seven-figure business.
“This experience is probably at least as valuable as an MBA from an Ivy League university.”
That’s what my dad said after I folded my first startup and totaled my debt: $250,000. Back then, those words brought little consolation. Only in retrospect did I recognize their truth. That humiliating failure taught me so many lessons–lessons that helped me build an even better business.
1. Business is not about making money.
Businesses have to make money, but that is not the essence of business. Business is about building a sustainable way of making the impact you care about making. It takes resources to make that impact, and that’s where money comes in.
2. The audience comes first.
Most businesses start because an entrepreneur has an idea for a product. But a business is more likely to be successful and create more impact by putting the audience first. Build or find your audience, learn what solutions and delights they want, and deliver.
3. Be human.
Business takes place between people, so show the human side of your business. Encourage conversations with your audiences, including those who aren’t customers. Respond to every communication with a human face.
4. Partnership is the new customer service.
Sometimes, customers don’t need customer service; sometimes they need partnership. In a partnership, you and your customer are both committed to the customer’s goal. You both have responsibilities. Partnership is particularly important for businesses that offer transformation.
5. Live beyond your comfort zone.
The only way to grow is by going outside your comfort zone. The ideal stretch is in the Zone of Proximal Development: the area between what you can do on your own and what you could perform successfully with the help of a teacher or knowledgeable peer. Get comfortable with the discomfort, be bold, and take risks.
6. Embrace the plot twists.
Behind every success is a series of failures and persisting through them. Whatever the setback, don’t make it the last chapter of your journey; make it a plot twist. If you quit after failing, then you really have failed. But if you learn from what went wrong and pivot to a different direction, you’ll eventually find a way that works.
7. Be open, be honest, be vulnerable.
To build authentic connections, we need to be vulnerable. Vulnerability means owning the imperfections of your life and business, including failures and mistakes. Maybe a product has flaws or a team member committed a blunder. Acknowledge it and make things right for your customers and followers.
8. You have enough.
You may count your shortcomings and conclude that you don’t have what it takes to succeed. Everybody has advantages and disadvantages; all we can do is play the cards we’re dealt. Your desire to serve others and make an impact is enough for you to get started. A second grader may not know a lot, but he or she knows enough to teach a first grader. Move forward from where you are right now.
9. True success is co-created.
According to the Ikea effect, buyers perceive a product as more valuable if they helped create it. Co-creation makes your product special to your customers. So always validate your product ideas with your audience, and then do a piloting process to let your them co-create the product with you.
10. The worst failure is the failure of imagination.
Failure of imagination means you haven’t used your imagination to pursue a big-enough goal, or you’ve been pursuing a goal that wasn’t your own. It would be a shame to do all that work to achieve success only to find it doesn’t bring you fulfillment and happiness. Aspire big, imagine, and re-imagine what the world can be and what your part is to make that happen.
These lessons have helped me rise from the ashes of my failed startup and build a seven-figure business, without selling my soul or losing my values. I hope you’ll find them helpful, too.