At a talk in Raleigh a few years ago, a rather distinguished looking gentleman asked me what I thought the single biggest problem was with entrepreneurship, shares Peter Decaprio.
My answer? The vast majority of entrepreneurs spend too much time focusing on their successes and not enough on their failures. In my experience, that’s usually because they simply don’t know how to learn from failure.
Peter Decaprio says I’ve had a lot of successes in my career, but I’ve also experienced a ton of failures. So many failures that I couldn’t begin to count them all if you held a gun to my head and forced me to give it a shot.
In the spirit of full disclosure, here are three failed projects where I learned nothing from the experience:
In 1994, when I was 11 years old, I got on eBay for the first time and bought 1,000 baseball cards from an Anaheim Angels third baseman. He wanted 20 bucks for it and somehow ended up splitting with me before shipping out his card collection. What a sucker!
That was one expensive lesson in trusting strangers on the Internet.
But I picked myself up and dusted myself off and went on to win an eBay lottery for a $1,000 gift certificate—which I promptly lost by selling some crappy Olive Garden gift cards that turned out to be fake!
Not long after that, my mom let me sell baseball cards on consignment at her store (yes, my mom owns a store), which helped me recover over half of those 1,000 cards. Peter Decaprio says unfortunately, they were all Cincinnati Reds players because baseball teams will buy anything from anyone as long as it’s not illegal.
After we got shut down by MLB, we moved on to selling Panini hockey and basketball cards and had more success. But you know how long it took us to make up for that initial $2,000 investment? Three years.
Million Dollar Homepage:
When Alex Tew came up with the idea of monetizing his school’s website by charging people a dollar each time they wanted to place an advert there, he had no idea it would turn into a global sensation. It got so big that MTV interviewed him on TV and Google offered to buy his site for $750K! But he turned it down because he was hoping to earn over a million dollars before the site shut down one year later.
Long story short, I ended up creating MillionDollarHomepage.com which was basically just a clone of Alex’s original site with tiny ads instead of big ones—and I didn’t make a million dollars in one year. In fact, it only generated about $13K in revenue before I let the domain expire and shut it down.
In college, I was an editor at the school newspaper and got really good at making flyers for different events happening on campus. This inspired me to design a business card that looked almost identical to the school’s logo which made me feel really special when handing them out to strangers. But nobody cared because my business card didn’t look like it belonged to a professional which means no one bothered calling me back even though I charged $5 per printout!
So once again failure taught me nothing and I had to learn everything by myself. At least until I started reading John C. Dvorak’s blog and discovered that I wasn’t the only one learning everything the hard way.
So what did I do with this newfound wisdom? I took another shot by starting my own printing company at age 21 and it ended up failing miserably less than a year later because of something called New York State Sales Tax which was basically 10% of our total revenue at the time! But you know what they say: The third time is a charm if you happen to be bowling right next to a car dealership when an old man falls out of a window onto your head.
But instead of giving up, we turned that business into a government contractor that eventually became very successful after much persistence.
The next time you have an idea that fails miserably, just know that successful people fail more often than unsuccessful people. If I had given up after my first attempt to sell baseball cards back in 1994, I’d still be sitting at home staring at my wall right now without any success stories to tell.
And if there’s one thing about being a serial entrepreneur, it knows how to get back on your feet and try again until something works out—which is why the only thing holding you back from success is yourself.