Tag Archives: success

Overcoming Setbacks and Failure

14 Feb
Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl rose from the ashes of Nirvana, achieving his own success

If you’re like most people, setbacks and failure can rock your world and sometimes permanently. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you are more resilient but still susceptible to quitting. But if you’re like successful entrepreneurs, you simply don’t give up. Notice I didn’t write “most” successful entrepreneurs—because successful ones are partially differentiated by the fact that they just don’t throw in the towel. Now, they may quit a project, quit developing a product or service, quit pursuing an idea, and quit many things, but they never give up their quest for entrepreneurial success in some way. In fact, as Seth Godin points out in The Dip, successful entrepreneurs (and successful people in general) quit often; the key, however, is they know when exactly to quit and shift their resources elsewhere. It’s a fine line, balancing dogged determination with flexibility.

Rock stars arguably encounter more severe setbacks than most entrepreneurs. I say this because they have, as an industry, a disproportionate number of unexpected deaths—the ultimate setback—to contend with. When was the last time you heard of an entrepreneur dying of an overdose, throwing the entire company into potential chaos? Even Steve Jobs’ death, as striking as it was, was somewhat anticipated, at least within his inner circle. And Jobs left Apple with a plan for continuity after his passing. I’m guessing Jim Morrison didn’t do that.

This all comes to my mind in the wake of Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters winning their Grammy this week. There are many debates about the Grammys—that they are highly political, that they aren’t a fair measure of artistry and significant contribution to music. But it still remains true that you don’t win a Grammy if you aren’t successful in some way. And so it is with Grohl and Foo.

It’s almost hard to remember that Foo Fighters rose from the ashes of Nirvana, and if you’re under 25 this isn’t even part of your memory. But imagine what it must’ve been like for Dave Grohl on that fateful day in April of 1994. Of course, the overwhelming tragedy was the loss of his bandmate and friend Kurt Cobain. But swirling in that personal loss was also the loss of Nirvana. Few bands have lost such a major member at the peak of the band’s stardom. And more important, it was truly impossible for Nirvana to carry on; there simply could be no Nirvana without Cobain.

Dave Grohl epitomizes the intrepid spirit of all successful entrepreneurs. He quit (Nirvana) but didn’t quit (his pursuit of greater success). Do you know when to quit but not quit?

Learn from Joan Jett and Be a Runaway

21 Jan
Joan Jett rockin' in the '80s

Jett rockin' Norway in the '80s

I finally got around to watching The Runaways—the 2010 film starring Kristen Stewart, of Twilight fame, as Joan Jett. Because Jett was one of the executive producers, we can reasonably expect the movie to be a realistic portrayal of her start in rock and roll. It’s worth noting, however, that the film leans far more toward the tale of The Runaways lead singer, Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning). This makes sense when you learn the film was based on Currie’s autobiography, but will probably surprise viewers who expect more of Jett’s tale.

But the story still does give us a good idea of Joan Jett’s drive, ambition, and take-no-prisoners desire to be a rocker. (Consider this in light of her only being 16 years old when she started The Runaways.) And it was these traits that played a part in Jett’s becoming the first female rocker to start her own record label (at age 21), with the help of manager Kenny Laguna. This was their response to 23 record labels rejecting her solo album (after The Runaways had split).

Fast forward over 30 years to today. Unlike Joan Jett, we have so many more opportunities to produce and publish our own work, and at far less cost. Even promotion is easier with the Internet and social media. Have you been rejected by “23 labels”? Perhaps your “album” is a business idea turned down by investors. Perhaps it’s a book turned down by publishers. Perhaps it’s a product turned down by businesses in that space. Or perhaps it’s an actual music album. Whatever the case, maybe the signs are pointing toward being a runaway—and taking matters into your own hands.

Of all the lessons we can learn from rock stars, perhaps the biggest is to embody or emulate their incredible belief and investment in themselves. Otherwise, the means to success are really all there—we don’t have to press our own vinyl records, print the sleeves and covers, and sell them from the trunks of our cars, as Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna had to. But the one thing Google+, PayPal, CreateSpace, Twitter, Etsy, Kickstarter, WordPress, or any other tool on the Internet can’t give us is belief in ourselves and our ideas. This is what ultimately separates the rock star entrepreneur from the one who doesn’t ever quite make it.

Entrepreneur or dabbler?

14 Dec

One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make is taking on too much at once. Or I should say, taking on too much before you’re successful at one thing. This is understandable because, after all, the DNA of entrepreneurs compels us to start stuff. The problem, though, is the confusing message it often sends out to the world, as well as the dissipation of energy and attention.

I met a woman a few years ago who was selling custom scarves online, writing a book, looking to start a cafe, and getting her real estate license. I forget what else she mentioned. While I commend her Renaissance spirit, purely from a business standpoint (and she did say she wanted to be financially successful, not just have fun) she was making it harder on herself. My guess is, few people at the party where I met her walked away with a clear idea of what this woman’s about, other than being a dabbler.

If her pursuits where all under one brand umbrella, then it might be different. Conceivably, she could tie two of those ventures together, like selling custom scarves and opening a cafe, but that’s about it. The book could tie in, if the intended reader were very much within her target audience for the cafe and scarves — but that would still be pushing it.

The point is, 99% of the time, success comes to those who focus on a very singular pursuit to the exclusion of other opportunities or interests. I think this is a major, unspoken challenge for many budding entrepreneurs. We tend to think that if we throw enough stuff against the wall, something will stick. But look at the stories of successful entrepreneurs (and rock stars), and you’ll see this is not their story. Mark Zuckerberg was very singularly focused on making Facebook a success, as was Gene Simmons with KISS. Jeff Bezos started Amazon as an online retailer only selling books, while Bono helped start U2 to only make great, socially conscious music.

The good news is, you can keep your additional interests and dreams close to your heart, because success in one area will open doors later in others. Amazon now sells everything. Bono promotes and participates in many ventures. Gene Simmons has a TV show. And Mark Zuckerberg is trying to tackle problems in the U.S. education system. Not likely, however, that any of them could’ve achieved their additional (and possibly more meaningful) successes without having focused on making their first venture successful.

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