Failure is one of the most critical parts of success. I don't think I'm the only one who believes this, but it's not something I hear in discussion or see in writing very often. I've failed plenty. Each of these failures has helped me learn more about myself, my business ambitions and, most importantly, how to build a sustainable business.
When I moved back to Austin from Washington, D.C. in early 2009, I had an expressed desire to become an entrepreneur. I cashed out my 401k just before Q4 2008 (when things got really really bad) and went to work as the first Austin employee for a social media consulting firm (they have an office in LA too) started by one of my old college lecturers. At this gig, I saw what it's like to build out a business in the first 6 to 9 months, but quickly realized consulting was not my ideal concept of entrepreneurship. I wanted something that could benefit the public, not just my clients. So my first failure in my entrepreneurial journey was taking a job instead of taking the full plunge with the money I'd saved in my 401k.
The good news was I'd used the gig to score an independent consulting gig with FedEx that would pay more than my annual salary for a year while I launched Sneak Attack, my popup sneaker boutique concept. I'd spent months planning out the marketing strategy, securing inventory on the grey market, and developing relationships with event promoters where I'd hoped to do the pop-ups. The problem started when I accepted a Downtown brick-and-mortar location from the RunTex founder without understanding the financial troubles his company was in. The downfall of Sneak Attack wasn't the pop-up model, but the high fees associated with maintaining a brick-and-mortar business simultaneously. I'd pivoted the business without intending to the moment I accepted the downtown location from a company whose own financials were in grave danger. My second entrepreneurial lesson learned was that every decision must be scrutinized heavily because you can't always predict the outcome.
Again, though, there was a silver lining...the reputation of Sneak Attack's pop-up business was good enough that I was able to pitch a founder of SXSW on a style program which I would partner with a friend to turn into Style X. Style X was a ton of fun to create and run for a couple years, but it was also a painful process because while we were able to run it ourselves, we had big brother - SXSW - looking over our shoulder. SXSW provided us the resources to launch and run Style X, but they also didn't give us hard metrics for what they would constitute as success which created a situation where something a little as personality differences could disrupt the whole thing. I'm extremely proud of what we accomplished here; we helped bring attention to brands like BucketFeet, Tortoise & Blonde and ZANEROBE, we brought folks like Marcus Troy, John Varvatos and Billy Reid to Austin and also had editors and founders of companies like Huffington Post, Refinery29 and Nylon, but ultimately the partnership with SXSW was one in which neither side would be happy long-term and the best thing to do was move forward separately. Fittingly, Style X no longer exists but SXSW is now doing a style program built from the foundation we set.
From the death of Style X, AvecMode was born, but the issue here was that my hope was to turn our access to events like SXSW and ESPN X Games into a data play enabling brands to leverage our unique access to consumers and event attendees to build technology solutions. My business partner's hope was to turn AvecMode into a leading event production firm. I expressed this concern to him in the early going realizing I was still in my 20s at the time and he was approaching 40 and with a wife and child; my point being we had different levels of risk tolerance. The partnership died, but AvecMode lives on, successfully I believe, as an event production firm that works with some amazing brands and events. What I learned here was how important it is for the co-founders of a business to have shared vision for what they want to build.
I took the job at Bazaarvoice because I realized that there were some technology- and operations-specific experiences I lacked and without these skills I wouldn't be able to become the full-fledged entrepreneur I wanted to be. Sometimes a step back leads to two steps forward, and that's exactly what happened in my short time at BV before and after their IPO. I was able to work cross-functionally with hundreds of employees in dozens of departments, work with recruiting and HR, shepherd a project with sales and client services teams in the US and Europe, act as a connector between the marketing and product organizations, and - more than anything - find a mentor in Heather J. Brunner, co-founder in Chase White and investor in Matt Curtin. Brett was 100% right during my final recruiting call before I'd accepted the job; working at BV was like getting my MBA. I learned on the job.
In each of these stops I failed over and over. I failed to see the big picture or failed to be patient or failed to be tactful or failed to be strategic or failed to manage effectively. I failed.
Too many people run from failure. Even more hide from it, choosing not to take a stand in their lives and what they want in it because of a fear of failure. Well, I'm here to tell you that I'm only 31 years old and I've failed enough for a man 20 years my senior.
But you know what. Failure isn't the big picture here. The big picture here is that I learned. I learned how to see the bigger picture, how to be patient, how to communicate more effectively, how to manage and handle more of the financial and operational aspects of the business that aren't as glamorous but extremely necessary. I learned how to make better decisions.
I am not a perfect entrepreneur or business person. I don't always make the best decision. I don't always do what others think I should do.
But Localeur almost went out of business nearly a dozen times in the last two years due to a lack of funding but time and time again we delivered, we executed, we grew, we produced, we improved, we fought, we pushed through, and we got smarter and better.
Chase and I are first-time tech entrepreneurs. We have the expectations we've placed on this idea and business ourselves. We have the expectations of 40 angel investors. We have the expectations of 250 Localeurs in 12 cities. We have the expectations of over 300,000 users. We have a mountain of expectations and a long climb to meet and exceed them.
But I'm fully comfortable with the position we're in today because, as the CEO, I trust myself (and Chase) to learn from our failures faster and quicker each time, make better decisions each time get to make them, and execute more flawelessly the next time. We're on our way.
Part of my nightly prayer to God is that I'm blessed with the opportunities, lessons AND challenges He wants me to experience. Localeur is my opportunity. I've had plenty of lessons and challenges. Now, I can wholeheartedly say that I'm learning more from successes than failures. I am so grateful to each and every single person who has helped me at every stop mentioned here and the ones prior to that have gotten me here. Thank you.