The Golden Age of Failure

Do you know your business could be much bigger than it currently is, but aren’t sure how to get there? I can help!

Ways to FailIt’s bad, it’s tragic, it’s even horrible. To fail that is.  Seems like there’s a lot of it these days. Banks failing, cities and towns failing – even kids failing in school. How could any of this be good?

Some Interesting Failures

What if I told you that a particular guy named Fred submitted homework assignment to his economics teacher who gave him a “C” grade then went on the be a multi-billionaire later in life, would that surprise you?

What if I told you that his original idea was both flawed and brilliant at the same time, and he should have realized it would never have worked, but had the germ of an incredible idea, does that sound familiar?

Who am I talking about?

I am talking about Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx. Maybe you remember when it was called “Federal Express” and there’s a reason why it was named that way. The original idea tried to solve the problem of the 7-day wait to clear checks. The old way was cumbersome and mechanical, The Federal Reserve never anticipated the number of checks per day that our banking system would eventually need to handle.

Enter Fred. His idea was to load all the check processing hardware onto 727’s and create a hub and spoke depot where checks would be delivered every night, then flown to their destination while being processes mid-flight. Hence the name: “Federal Express.” The problem was the equipment was too heavy!

Failure That Leads to Success!

But that hub and spoke idea seemed interesting, maybe package delivery would work, it was the diamond in the rough.

Ah Ha! Not bad for a failed term paper. Fred knew he was on to something and he kept thinking. So maybe failure wasn’t so bad after all?

LightbulbWhat about Tom Edison? He failed not once or twice but 2,000 times trying to invent the lightbulb. He was looking for a substance he could use as a filament that wouldn’t burn up. It took years before he discovered Tungsten and when he did, everyone forgot about his failures and saw only the bright light of his newest invention. As a result, he lit the streets of Menlo Park, NJ and the rest is history.

The Stigma of Failure

We feel bad when we fail and that’s not good. As a culture, we view failure as being a loser, losing something and worse… it makes us not want to try again. What about you, have you had that same experience? I know I have. It’s overcoming that desire to quit that makes successful people continue to try.

Early on when my partner Neil Ayer and I started Timeslips Corp back in 1985, we built a product around an IRS regulation. It said that “contemporaneous record keeping” is required to deduct a personal computer as a taxable business deduction. We spent 9 months building an elegant software solution only to find out that the IRS relaxed that ruling just as we had completed the product.

We Failed.

But it was a short-lived failure because of mindset. We immediately started to brainstorm and discovered a wealth of potential in people who keep track of time! From failure to enthusiastic optimism in about 4 hours, we were already planning how to convert our system to this new idea and so “Timeslips” was born. We may have succeeded building a product for expense deductions but instead because we “failed” we built the most successful time tracking software product for lawyers ever invented. But all because of a failure… We Succeeded!

Steve Jobs failed to get a college degree. He did OK for himself without one. So did Bill Gates – Both famous failures. Now it’s time to give yourself a break from the harsh self-criticism of having failed.

Failure is Not Fun. But it’s the BEST Way to Learn!

The crushing defeat of failure is all about how we look at the events in our lives. Yes, of course, there’s an impact; you may run out of money or you may lose someone close to you but… but maybe those things are part of what makes you successful in the long run. If I asked you to tell me about a time where you failed but eventually succeeded, could you? Of course, you can, we’ve all experienced that happening. Maybe life was better after you’ve failed for a reason you couldn’t see before you did!

Encouraging Successive Failures.

All great marketing starts with testing a concept. There’s no stigma there, we are trying to fail quickly so we can test the next thing. All great sales scripts are iterative. They start in one direction and after trial and error, we fix them so they work better than before. No problem there, right? So why are we so hung up on failure? Because we want everyone to think we are successful and most people are too busy thinking about themselves to focus on you. Right?


I try to fail quickly, that’s my goal. I give myself permission to do that. I don’t wait around when something isn’t working, I try to make it work and see what kind of feedback I get. As I try something new, I am testing to see if the results I get are unreasonably good. If they are, I keep expending energy in that direction. If not, I try and find out why and try something different.I iterate. When that fails I decide it’s not going to work and I move on.

BicycleThe Magic Bicycle Contraption:

I had a friend many years ago, his name was Steve. He invented a cable-pull bicycle drive system. It was pretty brilliant but no bicycle manufacturer wanted to buy his invention. So he started his own bicycle company… but it failed. So he tried to raise money to start another one, that failed too. He then tried to license it, unfortunately, that also failed.

Twenty years later he was still trying to make something from his one great idea. Persistent? Yes. Successful? Not at all. He never gave himself permission to fail and then move on. I realize that’s extreme but we all hold on too long sometimes while in other cases we don’t try enough times to make it work. Where’s the balance?

Guide to Failing with Purpose:

  1. Start with understanding yourself, know what you are good at and know your Why. In my last blog article, I wrote about how some successful companies dominate their niche by using their why to attract perfect clients who become rabid fans. You can review that post here:
  2. Work hard on your client avatar; WHO is your perfect client and put yourself in their shoes; discover their pain and make sure to solve it. If your product covers multiple verticals or multiple company types, build a separate avatar for each.
  3. Find a 3rd party; a coach or another business owner (who’s not a competitor) and meet regularly. Make them be brutally honest about you and your skills, then decide where you fit inside your own company. If you are the leader, the techie or the rainmaker, then hire those who are experts in those disciplines you are not.
  4. Go Public! – Get out there, mingle and meet, go to trade shows, masterminds, business roundtables – everything you can do to meet like-minded successful people.
  5. Try new ideas, set the goal in advance of what should happen. Cut your losses quickly and then try again.
  6. Be focused. To quote my favorite fast food icon: “We do chicken right” To me that means; no burgers, no pizza, no subs, no hot dogs. Just chicken but really awesome, butt kickin chicken! That’s a specialty and can be dominated just like your niche can.
  7. Have respect for the power of the price tag. Know when being low priced makes you undesirable and when a high price makes you elite. Decide, try, test and see where your price needs to be and then keep testing because it could change as your reputation grows.
  8. Finally, be cutthroat in building your team. Hire slowly, fire quickly. Make sure your team members are really on your team and work hard to include them, it will pay big dividends if you do.

 The Best Way to Succeed!

I believe it’s up to us to set the example for our staff that it’s OK to fail, in fact, it’s encouraged. Obviously, not making stupid and costly mistakes but trying new things and testing quickly. I am good at that, I do it all the time.

It always helps to work with someone who’s both failed and succeeded before, which is why I wrote this post. Come work with me, let’s take your business ideas and give them the best chance of success ever! Just get in touch, gratis, and let’s see what happens.

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