Three small business founders who turned failure into success

Boost Juice’s Janine Allis on failing better

Janine Allis had an unusual path to success. At 16, she dropped out of school. In her twenties, she backpacked and worked her way around the world. It was only in her 30s, with three kids, that she started Boost Juice.

It’s easy now – with 500 stores and $2 billion in revenue – to think success was inevitable.

But failure loomed many times.

“We put our family home on the line with three kids at home and more liabilities than I could pay off in ten lifetimes. I had a lot to be fearful about. But being fearful also made me not accept defeat,” she told StartupSmart.

Even after some early success, failure hovered.

“In 2004-5, the business was in decline,” she says. “We had grown so quickly but there were cracks emerging. It was all too hard. That was the peak of my fear. But I look back now and think wow, the business would be nowhere as robust without that. The lessons of failure are so valuable.”

One of her biggest early failures came from trusting experts too much. That saw her sign a financial document with a significant error in it – that she was liable for. “Now I make sure I fully understand everything I sign,” she says.

For Allis, failure is fine if it happens once. But if the same failure happens twice, she kicks herself and ensures it never happens again.

“I look back now and think wow, the business would be nowhere as robust without that. The lessons of failure are so valuable.”
 

Envato’s rocky path to growth

The world’s largest digital marketplace began in a Sydney garage. Cyan Ta’eed and her partner Colin founded Envato – which now has 7 million users – on a shoestring.

“We got into debt and were living in my parents’ basement,” she told Startupsmart. “We got to a point where there was no other choice but to make it work.

The couple had taken a huge gamble. Even after Envato started to take off, there were no safety rails. “I didn’t realise just how much freedom we had to make mistakes,” she says.

Ta’eed had to head an expanding team with barely any experience.

“I was 25 when we started. You make some rocky mistakes because you’ve never done it before,” she says. She found managing people’s working lives a huge responsibility.

The challenge – and a few failures – made her hit the books to learn how to manage people effectively.

But it also made her aware that running a startup meant that some failures were inevitable.

“I’d been avoiding challenging situations where I might fail, so I made real effort to shift my thinking,” she says.

“Now, failure means thinking – what can I learn from this and do differently next time?”

failure means thinking

 

From bankruptcy to billions: Walt Disney’s story

These days, Walt Disney is seen as a man who achieved astonishing success. He won 48 Oscars and the company he founded, Disney, is one of the biggest and most admired companies in the world.

But Walt Disney’s success as a pioneer of animated films was by no means guaranteed.

At 22, he was fired from a Missouri newspaper for not being creative enough.

Soon afterwards, he founded his first studio, Laugh-O-Gram. Disney had no experience in handling employees or salaries and soon went bankrupt. He moved to Los Angeles with $40 and a suitcase and started again.

Half way through making the world’s first full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, he ran out of money and had to plead with new producers for money. Critics dubbed it “Disney’s Folly”. But when it was released in 1937, it was a staggering success.

 

Failing better

What do these three stories have in common?

Resilience in the face of failure – and a willingness to reinvent yourself when you do fail.

Use failure as a learning tool – and match every failure with a larger success.

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