How to completely fail at your business

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We love business optimism, but what about the other sucker: pessimism? Yes, you need to be optimistic -- but you also need to balance that with some pessimism.

Pessimism gives you realism.

Not confronting the realities of the situation is like driving a car with a punctured tire: Yeah, you'll survive short-term, but long-term doesn't look too good for you. It'll kill you if you don't confront the facts. Without pessimism+realism, it's like travelling Antarctica without a rockin' GPS system. Or, it's like dating Paris Hilton without knowing her past. (Zing!) With those crafty analogies said (which took us all night), we present Tip ^1 -- of a fantabulous series (so come back y'all!) -- on how to completely fail at your business:

Tip ^1: Confusing a Business from a Product. "Wha?!"

MySpace can fail; NewsCorp can't. Venti Caramel Frappuccino can fail; Starbucks can't. Most startups go into business thinking they're defined by one single product. And usually, that turns out disastrous. The reason? Most products fail. And all, eventually will. And when products fail, one-trick-pony startups will shut down their businesses. Their traction. Their momentum in making connections, in building a customer base, in understanding their values and strengths. And, most important: the momentum in constructing a solid foundation to build a kick-ass business for the future that serves customers worldwide.

What to tattoo to your head

"A single product does not define my business. A single product will not define my business." It's akin to saying "One failure does not define who I am." Your "great" product -- no matter how innovative -- has a high chance of failure. If you're not bracing for it, your business probably won't survive.

"But bastards, we have the best idea out there."

Our response: Segway, sucka. Millions put in. Considered the "It." Roads were to be built around the "It." We'd have to build traffic lanes for the Segway. Great idea on paper, it seemed. Had the backing of the world's greatest visionaries in Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. Result?


No matter how "great" the idea you think yours is, it can very likely fail. And, eventually will. "But what if my idea's prospering now?"

History Lesson: No single great idea has built an enduring business.

Let's go back to the disco era for a sec. It's important.

  1. 1970s: Bob, I just want to tell you about the eight-track player. Simply amazing. Greatest invention, ever.
  2. 1980s: Bob, I came across an amazing product. You can hold an eight-track player in your pocket. It's called the "Walkman". Most amazing invention, ever.
  3. 1990s: Bob, wow. Imagine this gem of an invention: a device that won't distort the sound. It's called a "CD player."
  4. 2004s: Bob, may day. May day. The mp3 player is destroying the CD player.
  5. 2006s: The iPod freakin' rocks! Everyone's using it now.
  6. 2008s: ______fill-in your greatest invention.______
  7. 2010s: ______uh-oh.______

Countless other examples exist.

A business that defines itself by one product will fail.

If all products eventually fail, and a single product defines your business -- guess what? When that "great" thing becomes obsolete by some other "greatest-thing-these-eyes-have-ever-seen" product, your business will die.

Instead, know what defines your business.

When you change your perspective into understanding the "business" concept, you get all tingly inside:

"No matter how many products I introduce, no matter how many 'great ideas' I have that will fail, my business will not fail. Instead, it will keep on ticking, fighting, and introducing more products. One of these days, one of my products will move mountains."

Start covering your business with a sweet safety net -- such that one product failure won't kill it. Your business needs to serve as a platform to build your products.

Enduring Businesses = More than 1-Trick Ponies

You know why Apple, Starbucks, and Disney has kept on rockin' the world for decades? If any of Apple's products (e.g. MacBook Pro, iMac, iPod, iPhoto, iTunes, eMac) fail -- Apple will keep on ticking and constructing other kick-ass products. If Caffe Americano, White Chocolate Mocha, Caffe Mocha, or Caramel Macchiato fails -- Starbucks will keep on fighting with more products to serve the world. If Pixar, ESPN, Touchstone, Disneyland, Lifetime, or any other products in its portfolio falls to shambles -- Disney will keep on ticking with others. These guys don't define their businesses by one single product. Nor should you. The sweet lookin' template:

"A single product will not define my business."

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Posted on July 27

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