Business Failure: Learn From My Mistakes


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I am a failure.

Ten years ago, I started a small web-design company with a friend.  I had a larger-than-average stack of geek points and the ability to build a decent website.

We lacked two things.

  1. Design talent. For me, design–whether graphic, web, or print–is a very iterative process.  I build something, even if it’s crap, and incrementally improve it into something good.   I understand the technical details of good design, but lack that particular creative spark.
  2. Sales skill. I’m an introvert.  As such, sales–particularly the act of initiating a sale–doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’m bad at cold-calling and door-knocking.  This was supposed to be my partner’s responsibility.  As it turns out, his main talent was convincing me that he had one.

In short, we were trying to launch a tech company on a shoestring budget with nothing but technical skill.

The missing elements doomed us.  We never had more than a couple of customers and eventually surrendered to the inevitable.

Ah, well.  My investment was time.

The time investment came with some valuable lessons.

  • Get complementary talent.  You have weaknesses.  Find partners who are strong where you are weak and weak where you are strong.   That guarantees every will realize actual value in the partnership.  The whole will be greater than merely the sum of its parts.
  • Hire the skills you need. Make an honest assessment of your talents and skills.  Do the same for your partners.   If that talent pool is lacking something you need, buy it.  If you need a graphic designer, a writer, or a marketer, spend the money to get it.    If you lack something truly necessary, your business will stagnate.
  • Learn the skills you need. Sales is a learnable skill.  So is almost everything else.   Even if you lack the talent and won’t be doing the work, you need to have a solid understanding of the skills necessary to run your business.   Fluency isn’t necessary, but understanding is.   Learn about the principles of good design,  the art of cold-calling, and whatever else you are going to be relying on others to handle.

Starting a business can be rewarding, both emotionally and financially.  I’ve never let myself be limited to just one income stream, but I try not to let my emotional investment cloud my judgment.   Do things right and you’ll stand a better chance of making your business a success.

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    1. So, obviously you haven’t thrown in the towel entirely, and at some level you have succeeded with other businesses, right? (I’m a new reader, so please forgive anything I **should** have known.)

      As a fellow introvert, I find that the intent of the plan for the business is quite attractive, until I get to the part where you have to actually execute the sales part. Then, it all goes downhill (I have done this more than once).

      So, my question for you is: in your businesses since then, did you buy the skill of marketing, or did you learn it and use it (I understand you had to learn it but who is doing the sales for you now? My latest venture is also about to go under, simply as a result of my inability to even approach others with the suggestion that they might want to buy from me. I make excuses for them in my mind before I even approach them! And just the very thought that I might have to develop this skill -and use it – depresses me beyond words.

      My ultimate question (to myself) is: whatever made me think I would be able to market this business any more successfully than previous businesses that I was NOT able to market?

      • I haven’t thrown in the towel. I did two things.

        First, I found a partner who is a consummate salesman. He’s got a strength that I lack and need. So, I bought the skill of sales.

        I’m also learning the skill. Most people aren’t introverts and don’t mind extroverted sales tactics. Those methods drive me nuts, but they work and don’t piss people off, so I’m learning to do it. I’ve got an intellectual understanding that it’s ok, so I try to let that override my emotional feeling that it’s not.

        It helps that I’m not actually shy, so if my partner passes me a lead he’s already made, I can work with it, with no problems.

        As far as the excuses, read this: You are not telepathic. You don’t know that they have excuses. You are providing a service that fills a need. They need you. Help them out.

        If you can’t–or won’t–develop a sales skill, find it. Hire directly or enlist a partner.

    2. Refreshingly honest. I have read a lot about the importance of having the ability to sell. I, too, am one that has difficulty with that so I would have to find a partner with those skills. Glad to see that you learned something from the experience.

    3. I agree. Thanks for your honesty. Thanks for sharing what you have learned in order to help us.

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