My Most Successful Failure
First, let me state that I don’t celebrate failure. But I do, as I wrote about last week in Fail, Learn, Lead, celebrate the learning that comes from failure.
Blogger Jason Markow started the idea of #FAILweek with the idea that people can share their failures, their lessons from failures, their thoughts on failing. That’s way too many fails for me. But I want to share my most successful business venture failure. Why successful? Because I didn’t lose 1 cent.
Several years ago myself and a few others had the idea of starting a new, franchise-able (a word?) restaurant. It was to be called Monsoons. We even had a logo, where my own weak artistic capabilities demonstrated its limits.
But we had much more than that. We had a chef, and a menu. we had an architect, and a design. And a darn fine design at that. We had a footprint plan, a franchise plan, and a financial plan. We had scouted and negotiated leases on several potential properties to launch with.
This was to capture the growing segment of fast casual, being able to eat with the convenience of fast food but the quality of a casual dining experience. It was to be pan-asian, taking advantage of an underrepresented market.
It wasn’t dissimilar to what Pei Wei is today, where I ate last week just to try it, and thought it was quite good. [That certainly doesn’t mean that we were right, just that this was some of what we had in mind.]
And then everything ground to a halt. The project died. And we moved on.
We failed. The business stopped. The reason, without getting into particulars, is that a key strategic decision had to be made about the method of starting and ramping. On this key decision, we had very different, but deeply held views. They were deeply held enough that there was no moving forward. Only brute force would have allowed some decision. It became clear, through the insights gained during this decision, that there were other beliefs that support it that would probably mean we would struggle again. It meant the business was dead, but for the right reason.
What made this a successful failure is that we had gotten this far without spending a single dollar, a single cent. Everything was done with the currency of relationships and the asset of hustle. People worked with us with the understanding that no promises were being made, other than the one that if this went forward, they went forward with us. We collaborated with people with the idea that if nothing happened, more opportunities would come along down the road. And in the end, everyone learned something about the restaurant business, architecture, marketing, real estate, or franchising.
There is nothing more important than having aligned principles among founders.
If one of you believes in the quick build and flip, and other in a sustainable organic growth model, every decision will be met with strain. If one of you believes in extreme outsourcing, and the other in extreme vertical integration, progress will freeze. If one of you believes in lawyering up, and other believes in handshakes, inconsistencies will mount.
There are a lot of differences that you can get over among a group of founders whether 2 or 10. You can come from different countries, different generations, different education levels, and socio-economic backgrounds, and you can be successful.
But if you don’t approach the business with the same fundamental principles, the best business plan in the world will not save you.