Originally posted on 6 Jan 2014

If certain people mentioned in this Blog had not believed that, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, we’d be missing many legendary businesses today. Some say that to succeed, you must fail first. In fact, the more failures the better.

Have you failed in business in the past? If so, you are in good company. To quote entrepreneur Ajaero Tony Martins, “the fastest way to build a successful business from scratch is to fail fast.” So, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. He should know: He is the CEO of Firefly Technologies Ltd, the founder of the Most Popular Business Blog in Nigeria.

It turns out that most successful entrepreneurs of today have faced some epic failures before. However, they rose from the ashes once more to create millions for themselves and their backers.

Here are some entrepreneurs and/or businesses that failed but climbed to the top again:

Anita Roddick – The Body Shop In 1976, when Anita Roddick opened the first Body Shop, a beauty products company in Brighton, two neighboring funeral parlors initially objected to the name. She fought back by suggesting to a local newspaper that she was a woman entrepreneur under siege. The publicity generated traffic to the store, and by the early 1990s, there were more than 700 Body Shop stores.

Colonel Harland Sanders – KFCSanders held a number of jobs in his early life, such as a fireman, insurance salesman and running filling stations. He began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. It was in 1967, at the age of 65, that he found himself broke and he wound up living in his car and driving to over 1,000 restaurants trying to sell his chicken recipe, asking a nickel commission on each chicken. Sanders identified the potential of the restaurant franchising concept, and the first KFC franchise opened in Utah in 1952. The company’s rapid expansion across the United States and overseas overwhelmed him and in 1964 he sold the company to a group of investors.
Donald Trump – the Trump OrganisationWell-known entrepreneur Donald Trump is considered one of best known real estate entrepreneurs in the United States. The son of Fred Trump, a wealthy New York City real-estate developer, Donald worked for his father’s firm, Elizabeth Trump & Son, while attending the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1968 officially joined the company. He was given control of the company in 1971 and established the Trump Organisation in 1980 to oversee his real estates. However, in 1990, partly due to the recession hitting his many projects and excessive leveraging, he found himself in a corporate debt of $9bn. Had it not been for the bailout pact of some 70 banks, the company would not have survived.
Henry Ford – Ford Motor Co.Henry Ford’s first venture, the Detroit Automobile Company, went bankrupt in 1901 due to its high prices and low quality products. He didn’t give up. Instead, he re-organised his first company to construct a new one, Henry Ford Company but that collapsed due to a dispute with a partner. In his third attempt, he almost faced failure again because the low sales he achieved made it impossible to pay back investors. Moments before his yet-to-become empire collapsed, the company was saved by angel investors. Hence, Ford Motor Co. was born. Although Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line, he developed and manufactured the first automobile that many middle class Americans could afford. In doing so, Ford converted the automobile from a relatively unknown invention into an innovation that would profoundly impact the landscape of the twentieth century. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionised transportation and American industry. As owner of the Ford Motor Company, he became one of the richest and best-known people in the world.  Henry Ford once said, “failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
Lawrence (Larry) Ellison – OracleLarry Ellison was born in New York City and (like his friend Steve Jobs at Apple) was put out for adoption. Ellison dropped out of the University of Illinois and worked as a programmer in California for eight years. He later pursued a business with his former boss and set up Oracle Systems Corp but it struggled. Ellison had to mortgage his house to obtain a credit line, and in 1980, Oracle still only had eight employees. It was around this time that Ellison stumbled across IBM’s research paper on the programming language SQL. He chose to rewrite it to be run on any computer. When IBM released its SQL supported products in 1981, Ellison was ready and Oracle boomed.Oracle started making promises it couldn’t keep though, and by 1990, the business was, once again, at stake. After the launch of its 6.0 version, it lost over $28.7m as clients couldn’t run it – it was infested with bugs. Deciding to start over again, Ellison fired everyone on site and put together a new management team. They liquidated accounts, tightened financial control and created a system which awarded sales reps when a product was shipped.In April 2009, after a tug-of-war with IBM and Hewlett-Packard, Oracle announced its intent to buy Sun Microsystems.
Richard Branson – VirginBranson’s first venture was a student magazine, and he was soon in trouble when he was arrested for breaking laws prohibiting the publication of advice on remedies for venereal disease. By the age of 20, Branson had already established Virgin Records, which experienced continuous cash-flow problems, even when sales were high. As he acknowledges, to pay off an overdraft, in 1971 he was questioned in connection with the selling of records in Virgin stores that had been declared export stock. The matter was never brought before a court and Branson agreed to repay any unpaid tax and a fine. Virgin Atlantic was founded in 1984, starting off with one jumbo jet for a year. Problems occurred when birds flew into an uninsured engine, resulting in an explosion. Branson had to pull out cash from his overseas financial subsidiaries and reconstructed the company. After a messy court battle with British Airways, Branson sold Virgin Music in 1992 to Thorn EMI.

Walt Disney – Disney

Since his youth, Walt Disney wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist. He found himself constantly rejected. A reporter once told him he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After Disney founded his first cartoon studio at the age of 22, a bad business deal made the company bankrupt. He weathered several major financial setbacks in the late 1920s and 1930s, including losing rights to the popular Oswald the Lucky Rabbit character. His company was $4 million in debt by the early 1930s.He and his brother Roy co-founded Walt Disney Productions, which became one of the best-known motion-picture production companies in the world. Disney was an innovative animator and created the cartoon character Mickey Mouse. He won 22 Academy Awards during his lifetime, and was the founder of theme parks Disneyland and Walt Disney World. There’s a house in Los Angeles where The Walt Disney Company got its start. In 1923, the house belonged to Walt Disney’s uncle, Robert Disney.

Anita Roddick – The Body ShopIn 1976, when Anita Roddick opened the first Body Shop, a beauty products company in Brighton, two neighboring funeral parlors initially objected to the name. She fought back by suggesting to a local newspaper that she was a woman entrepreneur under siege. The publicity generated traffic to the store, and by the early 1990s, there were more than 700 Body Shop stores.
Fred Smith – Federal ExpressAfter revolutionising overnight mail delivery in the 1970s, Fred Smith introduced an electronic delivery service, Zapmail, in 1984 to compete with fax machines. But Zapmail didn’t draw the anticipated interest and cost the company nearly $350 million over two years. FedEx abandoned Zapmail in 1986 and the company refocused its energy and became successful.
Mary Kay Ash – Mary Kay CosmeticsAfter 25 years in sales at Stanley Home Products, Mary Kay Ash resigned in 1963 frustrated that the firm overlooked her for promotions even as men she trained rose through the ranks. She began writing an advice book for businesswomen and soon realised she was writing a business plan for herself: Mary Kay Cosmetics was born. The company reached $2.5 billion in wholesale sales worldwide in 2009.She said: “For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.”
Steve Jobs – AppleAfter his forced resignation from Apple in 1985, Jobs spent the following several years developing NeXT, a computer workstation for educators. But with a high price tag and reports of numerous bugs, sales never materialised. The company burned through hundreds of millions of investor dollars. Apple announced it would buy NeXT in 1996, bringing Jobs back to the company as interim CEO. In the in between years, he helped build Pixar which was then sold for a mega amount to Disney. Back at Apple, he then developed the iPod and iPad, iPhone, iTunes and the iStore, making Apple the most valuable company in the world. Jobs is famously quoted as saying: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
Thomas EdisonIt seems almost blasphemous to hear that Thomas Edison’s teachers called him “too stupid to learn anything.” If only they knew that the small boy they were calling “stupid” would in fact give us the light bulb. But these insults were not the only experience of rejection Edison had. He was fired from two jobs for being “un-productive”. However, in 1877, Edison invented the phonograph which gained him a significant amount of notice. With that success, he continued to invent and work but it wasn’t until 1878 that he created his most famous invention – the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb. Before this, however – before he was seen as an important and interesting inventor – it is said that he failed 1000 times before he got the light bulb right. He was asked by a reporter about this figure to which he replied: “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.”

Please let me know of any other notable failures, turned into successes. 

The aim of any work effort is to be successful: What do we mean by “successful”? Everyone has their own idea. It could be making lots of money, building up a valuable business, becoming famous, making a difference to people, enjoying life, more holidays, more security or a mixture of these.  If you email me at mpollins@bizezia.com, I will let you have a free copy of Bizezia publication: 130 Reasons why some people are much, much more successful in business than others.

In part 2 of this Blog, I provide some interesting statistics on why businesses fail and which ones are most prone to failure.

Martin Pollins
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