Do You Know That These Guys Failed with Their First Business Attempts?
While some might naively subscribe to the mantra “failure is not an option”, for many more experienced individuals, it has simply been a vital stepping stone on the way to success.
It was Winston Churchill who said that “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”, and if some of the greatest entrepreneurs hadn’t thought like that, we wouldn’t have some of the most successful businesses around today.
Here we run down some of the greatest business moguls and how they learned from mistakes to turn early career failures into some of the greatest business success stories.
As one of the wealthiest individuals and owner of the largest PC software company in the world, Bill Gates is certainly no stranger to success. However, it was his familiarity with failure earlier in his career that prepared him for the task of building his software empire.
Alongside his one day Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Bill Gates founded the data collation company ‘Traf-o-data’ in 1972. While the process of automating the collation of data from passing roadway traffic was valuable (and worked), it generated only a meagre return and fell through when state provided services pushed out the need for private contractors.
Although not a roaring success, Gates and Allen gained invaluable experience and skills that were seminal in preparing them to make Microsoft’s first product a couple of years later.
In 2015, Ford shifted over 6.6 million vehicles making them the sixth largest automotive producer in the world that year. With additional shares in Mazda of Japan, Aston Martin of the UK and Jiangling of China, Ford is a multinational institution with over 100 years of history. However, it wasn’t always a road to success for Henry Ford.
His first foray into automobile production was when he founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899. Unfortunately, the vehicle’s production methods resulted in a lower quality and higher price than Ford had envisioned. As a result, the company was unsuccessful and dissolved in 1901.
Ford would later take what he learned from this failure into the Ford Motor Company, where improved assembly line procedures would play a major part in his development of a more affordable and ultimately successful motorcar.
While Walt Disney himself passed away in 1966, he had already formed a multimillion dollar studio and resort empire. An empire that reaches into the billions of dollars today with divisions in cinema, parks and resorts, media networks and consumer products.
Fitting to his cinematic ties, Disney’s story had its fair share of trials and tribulations prior to its happy ending. After working as an animator, he co-founded the Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artist Company which fell through after poor planning lead to very rocky beginnings. His second business ‘Laugh-O-Grams’ failed due to high studio costs and too many staff, quickly leading to bankruptcy.
It would be at his third attempt where Walt Disney would use the combination of dedication to his trade and the lessons learned from past failure to create the legacy we all now know as The Disney Company.
R. H. Macy
While Macy’s is almost synonymous with the American department store, founder R. H. Macy must have worried he was becoming synonymous with failure before hitting the big time with his flagship store in New York City.
Prior to this, Rowland Hussey Macy had made seven unsuccessful business ventures including four retail dry goods stores. Each of these failing in quite quick succession. What Macy learned from these failures was the importance of location. As a result, he moved to New York and established a new store at Sixth Avenue on the corner of 14th Street. Significantly further north of other dry good stores at the time.
His intuition paid off, with the New York store proving a success and expanding its range of products rapidly. Today Macy’s operates 789 department store locations across the continental United States.
Sir James Dyson
Success can so often be about trial and error, and few know this more so than Sir James Dyson. Although he met marginal success with some early inventions in his early years, it would be his patented bag-less vacuum cleaner which would be responsible for his now estimated $5 billion fortune and position in The Sunday Times Rich List. It would also be responsible for a multitude of failed attempts and financial losses.
An avid inventor already, the development of the Dyson vacuum was out of frustration with his - at the time - current Hoover’s diminishing performance. It was with no small amount of dedication that over the course of 15 years Dyson would spend his entire savings and develop an astounding 5,126 failed prototypes before finally seeing his vision come to fruition.
So What’s the Lesson to be Had?
Well, it’s not as simple as “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again” While that’s a part of it, the critical thing is that these juggernauts of business learned from the mistakes they made and took personal responsibility for their career success.
In the end, success comes with an element of risk but giving up is the only sure way to fail.