13 Oct Persist! – Entrepreneurial Success Tip #9
I believe you can’t succeed without persistence, perseverance, tenacity and a never-say-die attitude. They’re the personality traits you’ll need to get you through the difficult times. Persistence is a lot like pestering. My mom used to call me obnoxious because I would pester her for things I wanted. Perseverance is the ability to keep going when things are “severe.” Tenacity is needed when you face rejection. A person you hoped would invest says no but 90 days later you go back to them anyway because you have made a lot of progress and you just know they ought to reconsider.
That said, the fact is there will be times that, despite your best intentions, great positioning and a apparent good product, success is just not going to be in the cards. There could be a million factors and reasons why, many not your fault, but in the end it’s important to be able to know when to say “when.” At the very least, you may need to find a different “what.” One of the best examples of finding another “what” comes from my days at 3M.
I went to work for 3M in 1980, the same year they introduced the Post-it® Note. The Post-it’s 12-year journey from failed-attempt-at-developing-a-super-strong-adhesive, to becoming the omnipresent yellow sticky note is well documented. In trying to create one thing, a super-adhesive, 3M scientists had actually succeeded in creating the opposite – an adhesive that didn’t stick well at all. The rest is, as they say, history.
Sometimes it’s just not meant to be, or at the very least, not meant to be the way you planned. At this point you have two choices. It’s either the Charles Darwin School of Entrepreneurs where you adapt to survive, or you simply cut your losses and live to fight another day.
John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” and it’s no different when it comes to entrepreneurial endeavors. There’s nothing heroic about losing a home, a marriage or your life savings over something that has no chance of success, no matter how noble the idea. Knowing when to say, “when” is not the same as crying, “uncle.” Sometimes it’s just time to move on. But I have seen situations where you just haven’t had enough time to allow the product to catch on. Sometimes you just have to keep on trying. If there is evidence you really do have something people want, often tenacity will pay off.
About 2 years after our launch of ACT! people started saying to us, “you guys were an overnight success!” “You came out of nowhere.” I said to myself, “where were you 2 years ago when we were pushing this boulder up the hill?” We weren’t an overnight success. But “time” often is the most powerful marketing tactic there is. Just plugging away at something day after day with some limited success is often the key difference between success and failure. Many products or services reach a place in time where they begin to take off. You arrive at an inflection point when the critical mass you need arrives.
There is a unknown threshold that your product or service has to get over for you to succeed. Notice I said “unknown.” You don’t know where it is but you now when you’ve gotten over it. Suddenly word of mouth kicks in, sales happen more easily, people LOVE your product. You still have a long way to go but you know you’ve cleared the hurdle.
It’s often hard to tell when something should live or die. I think that is one of the benefits of having a good outside Board of Directors or even a Board of Advisors who can objectively evaluate a company. A few times I have been a part of a decision to end a company’s life. I once had to close down someone else’s “cool” start up where I had become CEO for a short while. I raised $7MM for a product we thought was ready to market. It took about 2 months but we learned the product not only did not work, it made the problem it was supposed to fix worse. I gave the money back to the VCs and closed the business. Emotionally, it was a hard call but objectively it was obvious what the right thing to do was.
At the end of the day your instinct is probably right whether you should stop or keep going.