Embracing Failure In a New Business
By Kathy Zucker
Life has a way of not working out the way we expect. Most of us go with the flow and make the best decisions we can at critical junctures. But when you are launching a new business, how do you factor in unpredictability?
I deal with the uncertainty by doing research, establishing goals, timelines and estimating income and expenses. And then I assume that I will have to discard 80% of my plan.
Why does that happen? Does it mean that my plan was flawed? No, it means there were industry or infrastructure issues that no amount of research could have uncovered; the only way you can truly know what it is like to work in an industry is to actually work in it.
When I started working as a marketing director for a beverage company, I had zero experience with beverages (the principals knew this). I assumed that we would be able to easily change the can shape and design plus create an all-natural formula.
What I found was that the flavor company and bottling plant were only setup to handle cold filling of that specific size and shape of can. I spent six months researching an all-natural formulation only to discover that the bottling plant required use of a preservative (big no-no in the all-natural world) rather than pasteurizing the product according to Whole Foods standards, which would require a hot fill.
Not only would we have to completely change all of our suppliers, with whom we had existing relationships, but our costs would also escalate since a hot fill is a much more expensive process. By working with a new manufacturing team, we also would be dealing with a different time-frame and payment structure (some suppliers have to be paid upfront, others offer credit terms).
We tried to compromise by working with the flavor company to substitute natural ingredients for artificial ones, but we were never able to replicate the taste of the original product, plus we were running out of the beverage so had to produce a new run. After six months of research and development, we wound up staying with the original formula, in the original can.
Creating an all-natural product in a stand-out package would have expanded our market and retail base, but not at the cost of the business fundamentals of having a great-tasting product that worked well. And it’s not like the time spent on R&D was wasted; I was simultaneously creating the product’s online presence, implementing a social media marketing plan and developing relationships with retailers and distributors that led to the product being stocked at the Ritz Carlton’s 40,000 square foot main facility in Florida and appearing at a major San Francisco trade show.
In parenting and business, you have to go with what works and cut your losses. With each new experience, I learn to spot failures earlier so the next time I can move on more quickly. Failure is part of learning; it is much better to embrace it and learn than to deny it and engage in a lengthy, costly struggle that ends in the same place; nowhere.