The business of the Washburn Crosby Company was making a “bran gruel” product until a dietician accidentally spilled some of it on a stovetop. The heat turned the gruel into flakes that tasted better than the goo the company had been selling. Thirty-six iterations later and the company’s Wheaties cereal contained tasty flakes that weren’t too fragile for shipping.
James Dyson designed over 5,000 prototypes before he had a bag-less vacuum. It shook up the 100 year-old motorized vacuum cleaner industry. According to Forbes, Dyson’s net worth is estimated at $4.9 billion.
WD-40 got its name because 39 attempts at creating an all-purpose degreaser and rust protectant failed.
We look at Elon Musk (Tesla), Sara Blakely (Spanx), Drew Houston (Dropbox) and Kevin Planck (Under Armor) and think success came easy to them. They all have their stories of toil and failure. Nearly every successful company has a tale of major challenges that got in their way.
Some obstacles are external and unexpected. Others are self-inflicted and mostly preventable. Here are a few things that can improve your odds:
Don’t let the lure of the finish line keep you from being thoroughly prepared for the race. First to market won’t do you any good if you can’t source the raw materials for your product, or you haven’t dissected your cash flow expectations. Successful businesses prepare to succeed slowly rather than fail fast.
Don’t talk yourself out of trying. You can’t always control your level of success, but you can control whether you take the first step towards it at all. Decide to try, and then to keep at it.
Ban these phrases from being spoken anywhere, by anyone at your company: “It’s the way we’ve always done things.” and “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” This kind of resistance is what gets you into trouble in the first place.
Focus means deciding what‘s important and capitalizing on it. It doesn’t mean limiting your choices. Take a lesson from Tony Hsieh and Zappos. You might be in the business of selling shoes, but customers will buy from you because of your over-the-top customer service.
Expect failure. Plan for it. Avoid the paralysis that can come with it. Make it your friend. Turn your own bran gruel into a product that’s part of a company that has a 32% market share.