There is much to gain from an entrepreneurial loss when you know how to move on and try something else. We spoke with three entrepreneurs—one who tried to break into the restaurant business, another in online retail, and the last who created a meetup site—about their experiences launching their businesses, then cutting their losses. The failed launches inspired their second businesses and a whole new mindset. Here's the advice they gave us.
Accept your failure
Manu Dhingra was co-owner of a South African restaurant in Manhattan called Bunny Chow. He opened his restaurant in September 2009, and shortly after the World Cup in March 2011, he and his partners shuttered the business. It took a bit longer to close down than they would have liked, and Dhingra recognizes now that it was partially because they hadn’t fully accepted the reality.
“Once I accepted the failures of the business, I was able to move on,” says Dhingra. “I felt a great sense of relief. We kept pouring money into the business, but it wasn’t working. No one wants to accept failure, but sometimes you have to cut your losses. I went down the list of all the things that I could have done differently but didn’t. It was then that I realized I had more control over what happened than I initially thought.”
Now Dhingra is focusing on his new venture, GluttNY, an events and supper club he opened in April 2011. (Note: the author is a partner in GluttNY.) He is also producing a short film about his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder following the September 11th terror attacks.
Stick with what you love and believe in
In 2003, when Sharon Gaffney started developing her last business, the now-defunct LetsMeetOut.com, she was still unmarried and looking for love. When the company finally launched in 2006, she was married and pregnant.
“I was executing on an idea that wasn’t my passion,” says Gaffney. “Our site centered around group dating and nightlife—I was married by the time the site got off the ground and pregnant with my son, so dating and nightlife were not anywhere in my list of priorities.”
Gaffney and her husband shut things down in 2007 and now Gaffney is refocused on a completely different endeavor. Inspired by a childhood love for stationary and letter writing, she co-founded MeebleMail, a Web-based, personalized, e-stationary venture in June 2011.
Emerge at the right time for you and the market
Five years ago, Jenny Schulder Brant, a fashion photographer-turned product developer, had an infant son and a daughter on the way when a product she had developed for her online retail shop was on the brink of taking off.
The “nursie,” was a “cool, sexy, retro-inspired nursing bodysuit that held your stomach in and allowed you to nurse with confidence and style in public,” says Brant. “I wanted to empower women to feel like the sexy strong women they were, especially right after having a baby when it is hard to feel sexy.”
Brant, however, found that the timing was off for her to run the site, jsugarmama.com, in the way she would have liked.
“Starting a new company right in the middle of having kids back-to-back was not the right time,” says Brant. “While I was proud of the product, I was also really looking to change my lifestyle and that meant slowing down and being present with my new family and letting things evolve more naturally, instead of pushing and stressing myself into a frenzy.”
This summer Brant has reemerged as an entrepreneur in a totally different career. She’s begun to set up a practice where she works as an Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant, counseling clients on how to make changes through diet and lifestyle in order to improve their health and vitality.
Find a partner with your head instead of your heart
Finding the right people to collaborate with can be a complicated process. Sometimes family or friends aren’t the right long-term business partners for a particular business.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Do their values gel with yours?” says Dhingra. “[You] don’t have to agree with everything or be best friends. It’s more, can you trust each other to do right by the business?"
Have a solid understanding of how to manage the variables of the business
LetsMeetOut.com found they focused too much on keeping the development of the product low-cost.
“We ultimately had four different developers and spent more in the end than we would have had we hired a quality firm at the outset,” says Gaffney.
Dhingra realized he needed to strike that balance in taking advice from mentors and people in the know, and simply being in control of his business regarding both staff and consumer demands.
Do one or a few things well vs. too much too soon
Gaffney was ahead of her time with LetsMeetOut.com with deals options like Groupon and check-in features like Foursquare. But it was too much all at once.
“All of the elements we had are successful sites on their own,” says Gaffney. “We wanted to launch with so many features and that set of features kept changing, our mistakes [were] with the development team and not sticking to a narrow focus. You can’t be all things to all people. Choose where your target is and focus on that.”
With MeebleMail, Gaffney is focused on one target market and is focused on centering on the one service.
“We have so many ideas and features we want to add, but we’re taking our time and following the plan,” says Gaffney. “[We’ve] spent more time planning the site and how we wanted it to work and then stuck to that plan. We also hired a development team that had the right experience and a large enough team to support our project.”
Be happy and take care of yourself
Make sure you’re still enjoying yourself and aren’t compromising your vision. This is your business.
“I embraced the idea that I could sell what I already made on a small scale,” says Brant. (She still has product available for sale.) “The best thing that came from my 'failure' was that I finally allowed myself to take a break and be a mom to my kids. It was through this experience of listening to my instincts, rather than my ego, that I found a whole new world of inspiration.”
Once Dhingra got over the initial disappointment of closing down his restaurant, he spent time figuring out what he wanted to do next.
“I took time off and spent time doing things that I enjoyed and wasn’t able to do before,” says Dhingra. “Then I was fresh and ready to go back to the basics with fresh ideas. I look at my failed business as an educational course. I learned so much and will avoid a lot of the same pitfalls in my new venture.”
Image credit: rpeschetz