F is For Failure But You’re Still A Good Person

Business Failure Tipped Boat ImageDo you remember the time you had that revolutionary idea that was going to make you rich?

You were all tingly and awash in visions of telling your boss to take a hike and speeding off in your Ferrari. It was going to be an epic day.

Then do you remember how that idea tanked miserably and you tried not to mention to anyone that your epic day turned into an epic fail?

Yeah, I’ve been there too.

I’ve had to suck it up and admit that my business idea didn’t quite pan out as planned and I still had to work for The Man. It sucked. It’s humbling. And yet it’s an essential part of the growth process from a business and personal development perspective.

Today is all about admitting that we’ve been there and we’re wiser for it. It’s one thing to hit a pothole on the roads of your journey; it’s another thing entirely to work in circles repeatedly slamming the same one.

Oh, and you can thank Sarah for inspiring me to share this post. You can read hers here when we’re finished.

First off: It’s OK to Slip Up

We’re not going to hit one out of the park on our first swing. We may not even on our 10th; but we can adjust and keep working to get there.

It’s OK to be all jeeped up about your latest idea. That passion will fuel your drive and creativity so embrace it. It’s also okay to tell everyone what you’ve got coming down the line, particularly if you feed off the encouragement and input you’ll get.

But if your idea doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it after:

  • Countless sleepless nights
  • Numerous iterations of the initial concept
  • Telling the world you are on the brink
  • Adjusting on the fly

Then you either have to reach out to others for insight (perhaps even ask a savvy community) or admit that you’ve invested too many resources into a failing project.

Just know that it happens to the best of us and since the scenarios are too vast to discuss here, only you’ll know when it’s time to let go (try not to let your ego get in the way).

Educate others in business

Let’s be honest, we all get a chuckle out of other people’s bonehead ideas. It’s a tad humorous watching someone careening toward the metaphorical wall. But let’s play nice.

If you’ve “been there, done that” offer your fellow businessperson some advice. Don’t shoot down their idea. Simply share the good, the bad, and the ugly with them. You never know, they may take the idea in a direction you never thought possible.

So, encourage others but educate them as best you can based on your experience. Do you remember all that frustration and humiliation you had from your fail? Well…helping others avoid the same mistakes is where you’ll find redemption.

Educate yourself

Your business strategy needs tweaking. So does mine. We’re growing and nobody’s born knowing everything they’re supposed to for success. Before you embark on a new endeavor get down and dirty with market research and also ask yourself some important questions…

  • Why are you going to even attempt this? (your deep-down, core “why”)
  • Who is this going to help?
  • Does it solve a real pain or problem?
  • Will I be offering something with my own USP or am I another “me too” marketer?

Take the time to learn about the market, the potential pitfalls, costs, and your exit strategy. Use your noodle and reflect on your mistakes. Then do your absolute best to apply that knowledge so you don’t make a goof of yourself again.

My business fail reel

Now, bear in mind this highlight reel dates back over 10 years ago so I feel comfortable sharing these with you. They helped mold me into who I am today. Sadly, this is by no means a complete list.

That said, here are a couple gems from my past…

Fail #1: One day I woke up and thought it would be sheer genius to buy and sell cars without

A. Being licensed
B. An inspection station or mechanic
C. Registering the vehicles
D. A car lot

It turned out the police in my State didn’t appreciate me driving around in unregistered vehicles purchased from public auctions.

Go figure.

The story is long and involves a lot of blue flashing lights, but the bottom line is all those shenanigans wound up getting my drivers license pulled for a time. They also abruptly ended my promising career as a used car dealer.

Fail #2: There was this earth-shattering idea of mine to send Company XYZ (don’t recall the real name) a $39 registration fee. What for, you ask?

So they would send me product circulars (think: paper brochures) and the envelopes to “stuff” them in. I was convinced I was going to stuff envelopes all the way to a beach house in the tropics.

The package came, the circulars were junk, and I stuffed the envelopes like a boss anyway and then mailed them out.

I wish I had some great follow-up here but that’s the last thing that happened. I mailed them. Then I never heard anything from anyone involved in that process ever again. (Now that I think of it, I’ll see if I can track them down to get my $39 back.)

And finally…

Fail #3: The year was 1999 and I bought a book on HTML. It was time for me to build a website and make my first million.

The site went up in about a weekend; spinning GIF images, marquee text scrolling across the screen, garish colors I mean you name it. This was a prize-winner (hey, I’ve gotten better).

My angle: selling floppy disks loaded with info products along with master resell rights. I was even kind enough to let eBay help me regurgitate a few of those into the marketplace. The site sold zero but I did have a few successful auctions.

(I’d be okay with never having to face the winning bidders in my lifetime.)

There’s still a box of those floppy disks sitting in my shed (I don’t know why I kept them). But, luckily for all of you, I’m fairly certain my brother and I were the only two humans that saw the site.

We can never un-see that site.

Learn from your mistakes

So, we all make some silly moves. It’s life. We have to learn and you may even be in the middle of a project right now that isn’t quite lining up perfectly. That’s all right. You’ll get it. Just learn from your mistakes and realize that you’re not alone.

Then I want you to keep on trying.

You can share your fails below if you’d like or poke fun at mine :) Either way, let’s put our failures behind us because where we’re headed together, there will be no epic failing.

Photo: styro


36 Responses to F is For Failure But You’re Still A Good Person
  1. Danny @ Firepole Marketing
    March 30, 2011 | 12:56 pm

    Wow, Jon, this is a post that takes courage. Of course, we all have spectacular failures in our pasts, but don’t we all hope that nobody will hear about them?

    Of course, since we all have them, we don’t think less of those who share – on the contrary, we think more of them.

    I’d share stories, but we’d run out of screen space… I’ve been in this world since I was a teenager, and there’s a lot of room for failure in that long a time period!

    • Jon
      March 30, 2011 | 10:20 pm

      Danny,

      The fails are there. Hey, I’d rather share a few of them than have them crop up when I least expect them because someone outed me! Thanks for the respect; sharing these stories isn’t for everyone. I just don’t mind putting myself out there even when it comes to “what not to do.” Hehehe…you’ll have to share a story or two by email now, I mean enough with the cliffhanger already. :)

  2. Murray Lunn
    March 30, 2011 | 1:52 pm

    Hey Jon,

    Awesome stories of failure (not in that way) because they show that sometimes things don’t pan out. I know I certainly have a few failed ventures under my belt that I can look back and have a quick chuckle because if it wasn’t for those slip ups I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.

    So yeah, it’s much more about just trying something and learning from the process than trying to hit it out of the park. The good thing is that ideas are free; we can think of something and go after it. The tough part is to actually do it; that’s where the fear of failure comes in. But, if we think of it just as any other learning process than we can go after your ventures with an open mind – if it takes off than woot! if not than you learned something to avoid in the next launch.

    Thanks for sharing man, it’s good to learn from what didn’t work so we can go after the things that do.

    • Jon
      March 30, 2011 | 10:18 pm

      Murray,

      Yea totally awesome fail stories! Ha. Just playin’. Sometimes things don’t pan out anywhere near the way you had hoped. That’s okay.

      “Ideas are free…” dang man, I wish I said that somewhere in my post. Glad you’re here to add to the convo. You have a great perspective on things because if it doesn’t work the only thing you can do is exactly what you said: avoid it on the next round. Thank you!

  3. Kelly
    March 30, 2011 | 2:03 pm

    Hi Jon, I found your website through Adrienne Smith. I love this post – I think you should add the part about “It’s ok to fail – but if you are going to fail, fail BIG and fail FAST – that way you can learn from your mistakes and move on”

    And as far as my failures – I think I could win this little contest, how about:
    1. Not firing a guy when we should have and he took us to the CA Labor Board and we had to pay him $6,500. (CA ALWAYS sides with the employee – no matter how ridiculous their story.)
    2. Paying $100k to a Canadian company (going against our gut feeling to go with another company) – and having them not produce and jeopardize a million dollar project.
    3. Trying to hold onto our studio and employees for months longer than we should have – putting us $150K in debt.
    I’m sure there are many more, but then I’d have to sit and think about it. Personally I’ve made some real whoppers too, but I’d rather not make those public.
    So did I win? :-)
    Kelly

    • Jon
      March 30, 2011 | 10:15 pm

      Hi Kelly!

      Welcome and I appreciate you sharing your time with us here. Isn’t Adrienne awesome?!

      Ouch! Your #1 was bad enough but #3 at $150k really takes the wind out of your sails. You win, Kelly, but you’re wiser for it. I hope you’ve let those go and fully recovered since.

      Wow you do some impressive stuff over at xpletive! I’m going to have to dig around there more and check out all those “levers.” Thanks again for stopping by.

      • Kelly
        March 31, 2011 | 10:13 am

        Oh yay – I win! We are still recovering. I should also mention that we have had some fantastic wins. We are kind of like Babe Ruth – we’ve had some phenomenal failures followed by gigantic wins. Thank you for checking out Xpletive.

        Yes, Adrienne is awesome – we are fast becoming friends.

  4. Jk Allen
    March 30, 2011 | 2:42 pm

    I appreciate you for keeping it real Jon.We can’t win them all. In fact, we learn best from our failures. It’s that experience that positions us better the next go-round.

    I’ve had my series of failures. Back in the day, just after getting into the real estate business I was on the verge of closing a deal. A broker (who I knew personally) stepped in to assist me, and ended up making some fraudulent maneuvers; listing himself as the agent and keeping a $18k check. Boy did I learn a lesson from that one!

    I’ve had many others, and each makes me who I am today. I’m all the more trusting, because I’m all the more about my business, intelligently and not laid back as I was in the past. I’m laid back, but I’m not laid back in the sense of knowing what’s going on.

    I love the tone of this post. To me, this is what community is about. Reaching out for others to share their failures in hopes to inspire others that we all go through it. In fact, if you’re taking any risk, you’re sure to get some of those F’s along the course. They aren’t permanent, unless you make them that way.

    Thanks Jon!

    • Jon
      March 30, 2011 | 10:10 pm

      Hi Jk,

      Thanks for hearing me out and sharing your wisdom. You always find the right words. I don’t know how I would have reacted to someone snaking an $18k commission from me; I don’t think I’d be very friendly ;)

      You seem to have figured out who you are, Jk. That’s what makes all this so authentic for you and compelling for the rest of us to draw closer to you and your work. As Kelly said in this thread, keep failing big and failing fast so we can learn and move on!

  5. Sarah Russell
    March 30, 2011 | 5:48 pm

    Hahaha – Jon, I love this :) Glad I could help inspire you with some post ideas!

    Also – you were in MRR in the 90s?! That’s kick ass!

    Thanks for sharing :)

    • Jon
      March 30, 2011 | 10:06 pm

      ha! Yes, it’s all your fault. Yes, and the 90′s were an embarrassing time, my friend. I don’t know what in the world was going on in my mind. The kind of stuff that was happening with all the resell rights was nasty; I know Frank Kern got pinched pretty hard (but not until the early 2000′s I think). You’re welcome :)

  6. [...] Alford recently shared some of his biggest business failures. What a great example that is. Experience doesn’t have to be all about the wins, it can be [...]

  7. Marlee
    March 31, 2011 | 10:21 am

    Hey Jon!
    This is such a valuable post. Thank you for sharing your truth. By doing so you inspire others to do the same and you enable us to learn from you! Win-Win.

    I have to admit Fail#2 made me LOL – a lot. That is just too funny. But what I gather from it is that you were willing to do anything to get closer to where you wanted to be.

    You kept taking action. That is were it all starts. You never gave up, and I know you never will!

    • Jon
      March 31, 2011 | 6:05 pm

      Marlee,

      You’re right, I’m too stubborn to quit :) I’m glad you got a kick out of fail # 2; it’s easy to point and laugh at all those things now! It’s so refreshing when I see the A-Listers share their fails; it makes them seem “human” again. I’m just trying to share what I like to see – thanks so much, Marlee.

  8. Frank
    March 31, 2011 | 11:26 am

    Jon,

    It has taken me a really long time to accept that failure is okay. It just doesn’t feel good especially when you think you have appropriately calculated a prepared for all possible outcomes. I have learned the hard way that failure sometimes is an acceptable outcome. By failing you learn what doesn’t work and you learn it quickly. But failure teaches you more than success ever will. It teaches you how to adapt, it teaches you how to cope, it teaches you how to perform under pressure. I guess? I am still learning this lesson. So Jon thanks for this post I needed it.

    • Jon
      March 31, 2011 | 6:10 pm

      Wow, Frank. I very much like how you stated it:

      “[Failure] teaches you how to adapt, it teaches you how to cope, it teaches you how to perform under pressure.”

      That is so true and I should have mentioned, as you did, that failure teaches you more than success, you are right on. I keep seeing better stuff in the comments than my post, ha! It’s hard to accept that failure is okay and it’s even harder to get back up and keep pressing forward but we must. We’ll never know how close we are to success if we just take a few lumps and then throw in the towel.

  9. Ilka Flood
    March 31, 2011 | 7:00 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    First off, thanks for sharing your stories!

    Failure is not the end, but rather a stepping stone to success. We all have to experience failure. Some of us more than others, but it’s the only way to learn and get better.

    You haven’t really failed anyway …unless you quit.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

    Ilka

    • Jon
      March 31, 2011 | 10:28 pm

      Ilka,

      That was enlightening, thank you! We haven’t failed unless we quit – great point. Welcome to the site and I appreciate you taking the time to add to the conversation. Let’s hope for fast and pain-free little failures this year on our way to the top :)

  10. Rowena Bolo
    March 31, 2011 | 11:04 pm

    Hi Jon,

    OMG, thank you for keeping it real, Jon! I now do not wonder why you are where you are now, because you’ve been through a LOT…

    I’ll bookmark this post most definitely as this is so encouraging, and I love how you delivered your story. You did a fantastic job on this, and yes, all the comments are awesome (what a big bonus just for dropping by your blog :-)).

    I can’t wait to read you next post.

    - Rowena

    • Jon
      March 31, 2011 | 11:26 pm

      Rowena,

      Hi there you made me smile with that comment. Thank you for the praise and I will continue to keep it real. We can all learn a lot from other people’s mistakes as well as our own. It’s always great to have you here…see you again soon.

  11. Janet @ The Natural Networker
    April 2, 2011 | 8:16 pm

    Jon, aloha. To use the in vogue language of the day, what a “transparent and authentic” post this is. One thing I must add, is that these were not failures. As Edison said when he created the light bulb on his 10,000th attempt, “I know 9,999 ways it doesn’t work.”

    Having had my share of brilliant ideas that followed routes similar to yours, I must admit that I far prefer being able to laugh when the memories of the those experiences are in the distant past as opposed to fresh.

    Happily for me, in most every instance of my less than stellar business enterprises, I either met someone who became very important in my life or I learned a tip or insight that made a huge difference in future business endeavors.

    And, of course, the more decisions you make, the better you become at making them. Because you make more decisions, you recognize “bad” ones sooner. It becomes far easier to say to yourself “what on earth was I thinking?” and let that decision go rather than staying attached to it because at least you made a decision.

    Thx so much, Jon, for sharing a part of your journey with us.

    Enjoy a fantastic weekend. I’ll be back next week to see what you have to share with your readers. Until then, aloha. Janet

    • Jon
      April 3, 2011 | 8:02 am

      Janet,

      It’s wonderful that you always had a positive takeaway from each misstep. As you said, each decision or mistake we make strengthens our decision-making ability and helps us spot problems earlier. Hooray for learning from our past!

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts (and a great Edison reference).

  12. Jane | Find All Answers
    April 3, 2011 | 1:03 am

    Hi Jon,

    Wonderful post. You have taken time to look back into your past. Most people fail to do this and they can never win!

    Failures are just consequences of our mistakes and they are no big deal as far as we look back and realize our mistakes once in a while. Not accepting ones mistakes and altogether forgetting those mistakes are dangerous.

    You have put those mistakes of yours in a hilarious manner.

    Great post and very useful for many of us.

    Cheers,
    Jane.

    • Jon
      April 3, 2011 | 8:04 am

      Hi Jane,

      Hilarious? I’ll take that :) Thanks, Jane and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Perhaps one day we’ll hear a tale or two from your “oops” archive? haha If not, then just continue learning from your mistakes and best wishes on your journey to the top.

  13. Nanette Saylor
    April 3, 2011 | 2:40 pm

    Good afternoon, Jon–
    Thanks for making me smile!
    Yes, it feels good to laugh at ourselves once in while doesn’t it?!
    And to know that we actually do learn along the way…even if some of our lessons take a while.

    Here’s a great Ben Franklin quote:
    “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong”.

    And then, he got it right!

    I appreciate your insights. Thank you.
    Nanette

    • Jon
      April 3, 2011 | 7:15 pm

      Howdy, Nanette.

      Well you’re smiling along with me because it all I can do now is be good-humored about it all. Yes, that’s a good quote too along with Janet’s T.Edison quote in another comment. Thanks for the inspiration.

      I hope you’re able to smile at your mistakes as well being on your self-discovery journey!?

  14. Udegbunam Chukwudi
    April 3, 2011 | 3:57 pm

    Been there done that. The fake a** gurus with their hyped up sales letter got the best of me and had me believing I could start making millions online selling ebooks thus I launched my first business plan of selling plr ebooks. One month later I realised I was chasing fools gold and decided to restrategize and find a better business model which is why I launched my blog setup service with the hope of adding more services in the future. Business has been slow but I’m sticking to my guns. I’m gonna make it work.

    • Jon
      April 3, 2011 | 7:12 pm

      Udegbunam – you can do it. Just keep that perseverance solid and you’ll get it. You may have a few slips and trips but be flexible and fast to get back up and try again, my friend.

      I’m sure most of us have been duped by a cunning salesperson out there at some point along our paths. As long as you/we’re wiser for it now then no shame in it! Thank you for your honest reply.

  15. Dahlia Valentine
    April 3, 2011 | 5:10 pm

    Hi John… I hate failing. Hate it, hate it, hate it. And I’ve had some epic failure fall neatly into my lap over the years. I haven’t done things perfectly. I’ve fired clients that I probably should have dealt with. I’ve gone into debt, came out of it, got back into debt again, and once again re-emerged. Not the kind of roller coaster I enjoy being on.

    What changed me the most was parenthood. Once I had my daughter I became much more focused. I worked harder and longer. I saved way more money. I thought more carefully about the moves I made.

    I’m 8.5 years into motherhood, and I still make mission critical mistakes, LOL. But I find that I’m way more resilient because I have to be. When I do fail, I brush it off and keep moving forward. There’s no time for “Why me’s?”. And I always tell my kiddo about the failures I make so that she understands that it’s okay to fail… but you have to keep moving forward.

    What really matters is that you keep moving forward despite your obvious failures. You mourn a little and then you get back up and keep going. That’s the true mark of a winner. You, Jon, obviously know the secret to success already!

    Dahlia

    • Jon
      April 3, 2011 | 7:10 pm

      Oh Dahlia, I agree. Failure is the pits – I really dislike it as well but I tolerate and learn from it.

      Ha! “Why me’s?” There is no room for those types of questions, good for you. Sounds like you’ve been bruised, cut up, and had to do some healing of your own. You strike me as a persistent type always setting higher goals and striving after them.

      Thanks for sharing and I knew I wasn’t alone on this one :)

  16. Oliver Tausend
    April 4, 2011 | 3:40 am

    Hi Jon,

    thanks for sharing your personal experiences. I agree with some writers before me that this takes courage. People who criticize you for your failures are most likely those who have never risked anything. I have plenty to share here, starting with bad stock investments, (legal) tax evasion that became very expensive in the long run and failed new-customer-generation-strategies after having spent time, money and blood and sweat for my education.

    Take care

    Oliver

    • Jon
      April 12, 2011 | 9:35 pm

      Hi Oliver,

      Thank you for reading about my personal experiences. Oh boy, it sounds like you’ve had an exciting ride as well! You’re a wiser man for it and you won’t repeat those mistakes. I agree that if I’m being criticized for my failures, chances are, those people probably avoid risk altogether.

  17. Devesh
    April 4, 2011 | 11:02 am

    Hi Dahlia,

    Glad to see you’re sharing your failures. I don’t know how many failures I’ve made before starting technshare.

    I started a warez blog with adsense account and got banned and then i thought can’t make money.

    After some time i tried again with another adsense account and wow this time i made $70 but again after crossing $80 mark my account go banned.

    And this way i learned how to make money blogging LOL :D!

    Thanks for sharing this incredible post Jon. !

    ~Dev

    • Jon
      April 12, 2011 | 9:37 pm

      Devesh,

      Don’t feel bad, we’ve all lost count how many mistakes we’ve made until now :) Technshare is looking like a successful project so good for you!

      I’ve never been a fan of Adsense and I can see you’ve become disenchanted as well. On to bigger and better things; best wishes.

  18. [...] F is For Failure But You’re Still A Good Person – by Jonathan Alford, jonalford.com [...]

  19. [...] won’t even bore you with tales of my stint in the auto sales industry moons [...]

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