As difficult as it may be to accept, failure is part of success, and no successful business has ever avoiding failing at some level. In fact, some of the greatest success stories were built from previous failures. The key in each instance was that failure was harnessed as an ally to learn from, not an enemy to fear. Here are five examples where those involved faced failure on multiple occasions, built on their respective mistakes, and persevered toward tremendous success.
- R.H. Macy – A dry goods retailer in the mid-19 century, Macy suffered through several failed retail ventures before striking gold with his modest New York City shop in 1858. Less than two decades later, R.H. Macy & Co. had become a massive department store, with an equally massive future still ahead of it.
- Colonel Sanders – One of the most recognizable images in American pop culture, Colonel Harlan Sanders traveled across the country looking for someone to sell his fried chicken. After countless rejections and being forced to sleep in his car, Sanders finally struck a business deal in Utah, and Kentucky Fried Chicken was born. At present, KFC is one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, with over 18,000 locations.
- Henry Ford – Ford’s mechanical brilliance was nearly overshadowed by his stubbornness. His initial financial backers were meddlesome moneymen, and Ford grew tired of having investors interfere with his vision. By breaking away from the status quo business model (and the substantial funds that came with it), Ford developed his own recipe for success … a plan that would be achieved on his own terms, thus making him one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history.
- James Altucher — Businessman and author James Altucher freely admits his failures and successes. After running roughly 20 companies (mostly unsuccessful), investing in 30 companies (mostly successful), and advising/being on the board of a dozen companies (mostly successful), Altucher developed a model for practical leadership. He objectively looks at what he did as a leader (good and bad) then offers strategies for avoiding his mistakes and failures, thereby streamlining the process toward success.
- Rovio – Anyone familiar with the game Angry Birds can vouch for its addictiveness and popularity. What appears to have been an overnight commercial success however, was quite the opposite. Software maker Rovio struck gold on its 52nd attempt (!), after spending eight years and flirting with bankruptcy before finally creating the massive gaming hit.
As you revisit your own business plan, take stock of instances of failure, process them, and keep moving forward. Learn from failure, and let it guide you to shaping a different approach. If you can turn failure into a positive, liberating experience, you will find that it can be a valuable tool that spurs you onward to success.
John Meyer (@johnameyer) is Head of Strategic Partnerships/Marketing at The Company Corporation. He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and connecting them to resources that help them thrive. He is also a political strategist and art collector in his free time.