Tag: Small Business

Famous Failures – Walt Disney

It’s hard to believe that the “happiest place on earth” was the creation of someone who grew up in a household that was about as far from happy as you can image.

Meet Walt Disney. It’s another name that is well known throughout the world. Disney has come a long way from a cartoon mouse that Walt drew by hand to the latest Disney movie, Raya and the Last Dragon which was created with a budget of over 100 million dollars.

However, Disney never set out to become a household name. In fact, his beginnings have a whole lot more to do with escaping from a bad situation and trying to find his place in the world.

Walt Disney grew up with a father so cruel and abusive that Walt’s elder brothers couldn’t leave home soon enough. Walt himself made his escape before he was considered an adult. He tried to enlist in the army to fight in WWI but was rejected because of his age. So, he lied about his age in order to get a position as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. When the Red Cross sent him to France, Walt arrived after the war had already ended.

With such rough beginnings, it should come as no surprise young Walt kept drawing as a way to hold onto his sanity in difficult times. After the war, he tried to make a living off his drawings, first as an apprentice to an animation studio, then later in a studio of his own, which he formed with his friend Ub Iwerks. That business failed due to the inability to gain customers. He then created an animation business with a co-worker by the name of Fred Harman, but that business went bankrupt within a few years.

Not one to be easily put off by failure, Disney dug in his heels and tried again. He headed for California, which he felt would become the epicenter for the movie industry, and set up shop. Here he had success with Oswald, a cartoon rabbit that the public loved. So did the unscrupulous people he was working with. His animators were stolen right out from under him, as was the very character he’d created.

Most people probably would have quit somewhere around here. Not Walt. He instead created a mouse named Mickey and kept going.

From there, Disney never rested. He tried his hand at a full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which became very successful. On the other hand, he also tried things that were considered ‘flops,’ such as Fantasia and Pinocchio. His was a career full of ups and downs. When he opened Disneyland, just about everything that could go wrong, did. Instead of throwing in the towel, Walt simply dug in and worked harder to make it the success he knew it could be.

The life of Walt Disney teaches us many things. First, it doesn’t matter where you begin. The point is to get started. Second, you can’t let disaster get you down. You simply need to pull yourself up and move on without looking back. No matter where you are in life, keep going. The only thing that can hold you back is you.

Famous Failures – Jeff Bezos

If you wanted to compare prices on a product, do you know where 9 out of 10 buyers go online to do so? Do you know which online seller sells more than 12 million products annually? Which online seller averages more than 200 million unique visitors per month? The answer to all three questions is Amazon.

In 2020, Amazon’s net revenue was more than $386 Billion.

Yes, that’s BILLIONS.

From an early age, Amazon’s founder & CEO, Jeff Bezos wanted to be known as someone smart. As a kid, his heroes included Thomas Edison, which makes sense, considering his dreams involved building something no one had ever seen before. To get there, he realized he had to be highly educated on multiple topics. With that in mind, he read profusely and drank in as much knowledge as he could. As a result, he became a top student at an elite university. Upon graduation, he worked for smart startups before eventually selling everything and heading for Seattle to try doing something entirely new all on his own.

With only $10,000 to start and a load of debt, Jeff and his wife began selling books online out of their garage. At the time, few paid any attention to them. After all, who would want to buy books online? Even his parents expected him to fail. To everyone’s surprise, the online bookstore, named after the longest river in the world, succeeded. Within 3 years, he’d made $54 million and wasn’t about to stop there.

Jeff Bezos saw how the world was changing around him. People were going to the internet for more than memes. Over the next several years, Jeff dipped his toe into many things, expanding Amazon to include everything from travel services to groceries. Not everything worked, the aforementioned travel services, for example. Yet other things took off like a rocket. Now, millions of people worldwide do their shopping for everything from above ground pools to zucchini on Amazon.

The exciting thing to learn here involves taking chances. When you look over the history of Amazon since its inception almost 27 years ago, you’ll find a lot of great ideas alongside some that weren’t great at all. (Anyone remember the Amazon Fire Phone?) Some of those mistakes cost the company millions. The point is that Jeff never gave up. He was willing to take risks. Which is how a company that entered the stock market at $1.96 a share in the 1990s came to be worth $3057 per share at the writing of this article.

What can you learn from Jeff Bezos?

Don’t be afraid to try. If you fail, it’s not a big deal. Get up. Try again. Keep trying until you make it. Keep trying until, like Jeff Bezos, you find what you’re good at and succeed.

Famous Failures – Stephen King

Who comes to mind when you think of famous authors? To readers and non-readers alike, Stephen King will almost always show up near the top of everyone’s list.

Why does everyone know his name?

Stephen King exemplifies the sort of success story every author dreams of. Not only are his books popular, but many of them have been adapted quite successfully for television and as movies. He’s known all around the world as being one of the great storytellers of the weird and creepy.

So, what’s his story? And how does his story apply to yours?

Stephen King was a writer at heart all the way back to his school days when he used to scribble out short stories for his friends. Writing wasn’t his original career ambition, though. He’d set out to become a teacher, and only resorted to writing when he couldn’t find a job in his field.

However, writing didn’t come easily either. When writing his first novel, Carrie, he was plagued with massive self-doubt – so much so he threw away his initial attempts. But with the encouragement of those around him, he went on to finish the book, got it published and watched as it turned into a great success.

Too much success.

The stress of having to produce another book when his first had proven so popular caused Stephen King to question himself further. He didn’t feel he was equal to the task and started drinking heavily. This was the beginning of a struggle with alcoholism that would nearly ruin him.

In the end, he persevered. He forced himself to seek out help for the problems holding him back. He didn’t let alcoholism destroy him and went on to achieve significant accomplishments. Now he’s one of the most recognized authors in the world. He has sold more than 350 million books worldwide, has published 63 novels (including 7 published under the pen name Richard Bachman), 5 non-fiction books and written more than 200 short stories.

Stephen King’s story is important because it addresses a malady that many people, regardless of profession, fall victim to. It is that prevailing belief that we are not good enough. Most everyone has moments where they feel like they’re not good enough at something. Sometimes they resort to unhealthy ways of dealing with the pressure when they feel like they can’t perform to some unattainable standard set by themselves or by those who influence them. Some people, much like Stephen King, resort to drugs or alcohol to cope when it all seems too much.

What we need to remember is this: We are more capable than we think. No matter how far we’ve fallen, no matter how much we feel like we can’t…we CAN. It may not be easy, but we must make the decision to get up and keep going. We need to write that next word, we need to put in that next hour of work, we need to try one more time until we achieve what we would have called impossible only a short time ago.

Famous Failures – Soichiro Honda

Situations can change in an instant. One moment you’re moving right along on one path, thinking all is right with the world when suddenly, the carpet is pulled out from under you. Technology shifts, something becomes obsolete, you find yourself embroiled in a worldwide pandemic. Suddenly, what you’ve been doing for years no longer works. What do you do?

For Soichiro Honda, the answer was to shift and adapt. Like Honda, you need to find the next best solution, regardless of how crazy or off the wall it seems at the time.

Honda started out back in 1939 with the idea of creating a piston ring for Toyota. His prototype flopped almost immediately. Undaunted, he threw himself into the project determined to bring his idea to fruition. He succeeded! His invention enabled him to gain the contract he desired. Suddenly, a major problem erupted on the horizon – one entirely beyond his control: WWII.

With a shortage of material with which to build a factory, Honda might have given up. Instead, he created a new kind of concrete he could use in place of more traditional materials. However, problems continued to abound. His new factory was bombed twice, and when he was finally ready to go into production, there wasn’t any steel.

There was, on the other hand, plenty of empty gasoline cans to be found, discarded by the American fighters.

Taking advantage of what was on hand, he used what was readily available to him. It seemed fate was finally smiling down on him. But fate can be just as cruel as she is generous. An earthquake completely destroyed Honda’s factory. After this many severe setbacks, a lot of people would have taken them as a sign to get out of business altogether. Not Soichiro. He chose to persevere.

In the meantime, with resources slim – especially fuel for vehicles – Honda set out to solve his own problem. What he found was a solution for everyone else as well. He motorized a bicycle with a tiny engine so he could get to work. This engine was something his neighbors admired greatly and wanted for their own. Seeing an opportunity to make a success in a direction he had never considered previously, Honda set out to mass-produce a small engine that could serve the needs of the community. This engine went on to become the foundation of his company.

His real success came during the 1970s American fuel crisis. With a demand for cars that used less fuel to travel more miles, Honda leveraged his knowledge to build fuel-efficient vehicles, making him a leader worldwide in engine technology.

Soichiro Honda accomplished a great deal in his lifetime. Being willing to adapt to circumstances and looking for the opportunities in the midst of crisis rather than becoming caught up in his setbacks, he created a product which launched his success.

Entrepreneurs who seek success should learn from his example. No matter what life may throw at us, no matter what setbacks we may experience, we must avoid giving up and giving in. Instead, finding the opportunities that exist within all predicaments, we must choose to move on.

Famous Failures – Post-It Notes

Did you know you probably have one of the world’s greatest failures as a product sitting on your desk right now?

The Post-It Note was an accident that never should have happened. The original creator of this innovation, Spencer Silver, was trying to find an adhesive to use in the construction of airplanes. Looking at the strength of the glue on a Post-It Note, it’s easy to see he missed the mark by quite a bit. There’s absolutely nothing strong or even permanent about a Post-It Note.

On the other hand, what he did create was an adhesive able to be used to hold one thing to another, which could be easily peeled off and used again…all without leaving any kind of sticky residue.

Now, most creators would look at a failure as just that, one more failure. If they were smart, they might examine the mistake to see what they did wrong in order to improve their next attempt. Here’s where Silver deviated from that response. He realized his mistake was interesting. And while it didn’t solve the original problem, he couldn’t help but think it might solve someone else’s. He started talking to people at his company, 3M, to see if anyone could come up with some kind of use for what he’d inadvertently discovered.

It took time and a lot of brainstorming. While his adhesive was impressive, no one had a practical application for it and told him to scrap the idea. Only one person, Geoff Nicholson, saw this product to be as interesting as Silver did and worked with him to come up with an idea for how to use it.

Initially, they found the wrong solution: put it on a bulletin board and you could stick papers to it without thumbtacks, then peel them away without leaving a residue on them. But the application seemed limited. It was a man named Arthur Fry who rounded out the team by suggesting putting the glue on the paper itself. This was the tweak that led to the overwhelming success of the product.

Here was the turning point for the Post-It Note. They figured out how to apply the glue to paper, but even then, 3M had a hard time getting on board. The initial marketing on the product resulted in no sales. It wasn’t until someone else developed an alternative marketing strategy that the world discovered just how unique and useful this product was. The marketing strategy? Provide free samples to consumers so they could gain an appreciation for the value of the product.

The story of the Post-It note is all about failures and what we do when things don’t go exactly as planned. It’s about being able to look outside the box and to find a use for something when the original intent doesn’t work out. More than that, it’s about perseverance and not giving up when you know you’ve got something good but the rest of the world just doesn’t realize it yet.

Famous Failures – Milton Hershey

Who knew a candy bar could lead to a success story?

Hershey chocolate has become a staple in countless people’s diet. Whether you are a person who loves the straight-up Hershey bar or are more of a Kit Kat or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup sort of person, there’s something on today’s market for every chocolate lover. Many of us can’t imagine life without chocolate, although only 150 years ago, only the rich could enjoy the delicious confection.

Chocolate had been around for centuries. But candy was something made by hand, taking a lot of time and effort to create which made it too expensive for most. Thankfully some people saw it didn’t have to be that way.

Meet Milton Hershey.

Hershey was the sort of guy who loved dessert. He also had a knack for sniffing out business opportunities. Unfortunately, most of his ideas didn’t work out very well. In fact, if it hadn’t been for relatives loaning him money – along with a good bit of luck coming his way – his caramel business would have died out in the 1880s.

Finally enjoying modest success, Hershey continued to keep an eye out for opportunity. He found a massive one in 1893.

Hershey noticed few were paying attention to a contraption at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A German chocolatier had a machine which could produce chocolate much more simply than current methods, with a lot less work. Although his field wasn’t chocolate, but caramel, Hershey knew a good idea when he saw one. He purchased the machine to adapt to his own work, thinking chocolate-covered caramels might be a good idea.

That didn’t work out exactly as he planned. What did, though, was making chocolate bars. Those candy bars took the world by storm. So much so, Hershey was approached in 1937 to come up with a bar that wouldn’t melt easily but could add nutrition to supplement soldiers’ diets overseas. As a result, during WWII, Hershey was making 24 million bars a week for the military!

After the war, Hershey’s success was secured. He branched out into other kinds of chocolate bars, continually trying new things and expanding production until Hershey’s became the successful company we know today.

Hershey might have been a failure initially, but he had a lot of drive and determination. When something didn’t work, he left behind, pursuing instead what did work. When he was approached to try something new, he immediately rose to the challenge. He asked, ‘how can I do this’ instead of focusing on ‘I’ve never done this before.’

To succeed in today’s world, you need the persistence of people like Milton Hershey. You should never turn your back on a lucky break. Most of all, you shouldn’t forget to embrace the sweet things in life. You’ll be amazed where they might take you!

Famous Failures – Henry Ford

Who you listen to has an incredible bearing on your success. Continually listen to the people around you who are always criticizing your ideas and dreams will hold you back from realizing those dreams. On the other hand, surrounding yourself with people who encourage you and challenge you to stretch is a surefire way to make progress in achieving your goals.

Henry Ford faced such a situation.

When you think of Ford, cars are probably the first thing that comes to mind. That or the process we have come to know as the assembly line. Despite the Ford brand being as dominate as it is today, Henry’s success was not immediate. In fact, he failed miserably twice before finally making a breakthrough and achieving his dream.

Ford was just twenty-three years old when he first discovered the wonders of the internal combustion engine. Fascinated, he immersed himself in the mechanics of it with the idea of attaching it to a horseless carriage. He even came up with a prototype that seemed extremely promising.

Unable to develop the project further on his own, Ford sought financing so he could take the automobile to the next level. He secured this reasonably quickly so his success should have been certain, right?

The problem lay in the prototype. The car he’d designed initially had too many parts that were difficult to obtain. He had to keep tweaking the design to make it into something able to go into production. In short, he took too long to get the desired results, and the financiers lost faith and backed out.

Undeterred, Henry Ford dug in and tried again. This time he focused more attention to the production aspects. He somehow convinced his backers to give him a second chance. They did, with the stipulation they could bring their own manager in on the project.

This also led to failure. Ford felt micromanaged by someone who didn’t understand his vision. When this second attempt fell apart, it could have been the end of his dream. He still believed in both the product and his ideas regarding production. Instead of listening to those who said it couldn’t be done, he hung in there. This time he searched for backers who came to see and buy in to his vision and were willing to allow him the freedom to act as he saw fit to make it a reality. This was the real beginning of the Model A Ford, which was the foundation of Ford’s success in automobiles.

Ford was a visionary in that he never allowed anyone else to stop him from doing what he knew he could. When someone or something stood in his way, he found a new way around the problem and surrounded himself with those who supported him. In the end, he succeeded through persistence.

You can, too. Align yourself with supporters, not naysayers. I’m not talking about conformists or lackeys. I’m referring to people who believe in you even if they can’t fully envision your dream. People who will challenge you, stretch you and force you out of your comfort zone. Surround yourself with people who support you and there is no limit to what you may achieve.

Famous Failures – Bubble Wrap

Have you ever had what you thought was a really great idea only to have it turn out to be not so great after all? Now imagine someone else picking up your discarded idea and proving it actually was quite brilliant.

This is what happened to Al Fielding and Marc Chavannes back in 1957.

These two gentlemen were working on an aesthetic problem. They wanted to create a textured wallpaper in order to create an interesting effect in a room. Their solution? Take two shower curtains and put them together so that pockets of air would be trapped between them. This sheet of plastic could then be put up on the walls to make for unique and charming décor.

The world didn’t exactly come flocking to their door.

Undaunted they tried again. Same product: different marketing approach. Maybe this unique bubbled plastic could be used to insulate greenhouses.

Not really. It sort of worked – but – it was not something every greenhouse owner couldn’t live without.

It took two years for someone to figure out what to do with the product. Frederick W. Bowers, who worked for the company which made the sheets of plastic with air pockets, realized they would be perfect for the transport of computer equipment for a company which had a sudden need for this kind of product – IBM. The material, now called ‘Bubble Wrap,’ was absolutely perfect for the job. The rest, shall we say, is history.

Bubble Wrap is one of those products that seemed to come along by accident. As a wallpaper, it wasn’t a great idea. (Just imagine your kids going around the house and poking the bubbles to pop them?). On the other hand, someone who was willing to think outside the box, or more accurately, think creatively about what to put IN a box, was able to come up with a use for the product no one else would have ever considered.

Thankfully, the creators of Bubble Wrap hadn’t given up on the product. They knew they had something interesting, they just didn’t know what to use it for. Sometimes you must experiment with your ideas to discover what you really have. Sometimes you have to think more creatively about what you have at hand.

The point is not to give up. Failure should never be anything more than a marker to tell you it’s time to attack the problem from a different angle. Learn from the mistake, then move on. Imagine what you’ll come up with when you do!




Famous Failures – Albert Einstein

Stupid. Failure. No good. Idiot.

Albert Einstein heard all these phrases about himself and more. Growing up was tough for young Einstein. He didn’t express himself well and he struggled in school. Even his teachers gave up on him, deciding that he was impossible to teach. Those around him considered him mentally retarded, and no one thought he would ever make anything of himself.


This doesn’t sound like an auspicious beginning for someone who is considered to be one of the greatest geniuses of all time, does it?

Einstein seemed to meet failure at every turn. He wished to attend the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology but had to take the entrance exam twice before he was admitted. Even then, his troubles weren’t over. His teachers laughed at his ideas, calling his doctoral dissertation “irrelevant and fanciful.” After college, no one thought much about him. He worked in a patent office. A situation which turned out to be perfect because the work was so mindless giving him plenty of time to think.

And think he did. A lot!

Albert Einstein used his extra time to work out several theories. In fact, he became so caught up in his ideas, he grew absent-minded and oblivious to the world around him. In the grand scheme of things, maybe it didn’t matter quite so much whether he forgot to wear socks with his shoes. The important thing was what he developed, what he created in those deep thoughts. From the Theory of Relativity to every one his subsequent theories, it soon became evident that Albert Einstein’s thoughts were considerable. So much so that he became a professor himself, and even won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

Imagine what his critics had to say about him then!

From Albert Einstein, we should learn not to let the world define us. No one truly knows what you’re capable of but you. Even if you don’t always express your ideas well, it doesn’t mean those ideas don’t have merit.

Albert Einstein is also an excellent example of what it means to do your own thing. His ideas didn’t mesh with the way people typically thought about the world. Even in his lifetime, not everyone saw things his way. This didn’t stop him from expressing himself and standing by what he said.

So be smart like Einstein. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with the world. More importantly, never let anyone else tell you what you can do. That’s for you to show them.


Famous Failures Series – The Wright Brothers

When is the last time you flew in an airplane? (Thanks to Covid – it has probably been awhile!) How long did that trip take you? More importantly, how long would it have taken you to reach the same destination if you’d never flown at all?

Without Wilbur and Orville Wright, the world would be a very different place. But did you know the Wright Brothers, who revolutionized powered flight, never finished high school much less had a degree from college?

To the outside observer, the Wright Brothers didn’t look like much. They started out in an entirely different field from where they wound up. Initially their interest lay in newspapers and the printing process. In 1889 they built their own printing press involving components created from such diverse objects as junk iron, a gravestone, and even an old buggy top. For the next seven years they struggled, first to produce their own newspapers, and then as printers. The problem? They never could get community support on the newspapers they produced. Even their mechanical achievements failed them. Despite their designs in printing presses becoming better over the years, they never garnered the clientele to make a business out of that particular service.

In the end they abandoned printing completely. They were not defeated though, and turned their attention elsewhere – at the current bicycle craze. Even this enterprise took time. It took them more than two diligent years of hard work to create a bicycle design both lightweight and functional enough to become popular.

You probably know the rest. From there they turned their eyes to the skies. The same issues they’d had in bicycles they saw as being the problem with the current airships being developed: the problem lay in keeping the craft lightweight enough to attain altitude, while maintaining ease of control, with enough power to keep the plane in motion as it went. In short, they felt what was needed was a craft you could handle as easily as a bicycle in the air.

Again, the Wright Brothers had to dig in and prove themselves diligent. Early failures had them wanting to give up on more than one occasion. In 1903 they proved the idea was possible with their success at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

What can we learn from this story? First, your official education isn’t everything. The important thing is to keep learning, sometimes through trial and error.

Second, never give up. Failure is bound to happen. It’s what you do next that counts.

The Wright Brothers persisted, and because they did, they were able to attain new heights. So will you if you hang in there and keep going. Like the Wright Brother’s airplane, you’ll get your ideas off the ground in no time!