9 August 2015
Growing up, I have distinct memories of being branded a failure.
I remember teachers getting incredibly frustrated with me and no matter how hard I tried, nothing seemed to work.
In fact the harder I tried, the more frustrating it became for me. I was convinced I was going to do well, but then when the results came through, it was a harsh reminder that the teachers and my parents were right!
When I left home at 16 I did so with a point to prove. I remember listening to my father saying I’d never be able to hold down a bin mans job. My first job at 15 was in a screen printers in a factory in Denbigh.
It was a mile from where my mum worked. I walked over there on my lunch. My hands were cut to pieces. My job was to break down For Sale signs (the type used by estate agents) and throw them in a skip. There was a pile of a few thousand when I arrived at the beginning of the summer. I’d have quit there and then if my mother hadn’t said, “Your father said you’d not be able to stick it out!”
My father was an accountant and my mother a teacher and so it was doubly frustrating for them that I was not following in their footsteps. Success in their eyes involved going to University and getting a good job with a well-respected brand.
By the time we were waiting for my O levels (GCSE to you younger folk!) my parents were resigned to the fact that I would not pass a single one. So when I actually came out with 4, it was actually cause for celebration. And celebrate we did!
That was in the summer just before I left for the bright lights of Manchester.
Without qualifications and without a job, what were the chances of success? I’d love to know the actual odds.
But 30 years on now I reflect on my upbringing, what was really happening?
I may have been a failure as a school kid, however I was being taught to bounce back. Rightly or wrongly, I was developing into an incredibly resilient force that didn’t know a way of giving up or quitting. In fact my psychometric test revealed that “You could not disrupt this guy. He is what we call a rhino. His skin is so thick you cannot insult him.” Many people have tried, many competitors, but I can only thank them for giving me reasons to persevere and try even harder.
If you think about it, hearing teachers and parents in earshot tell others you are thick and you wont amount to anything, immunises you from other peoples negative opinions, more importantly it gives you the fuel to try even harder.
So is being a failure part of being a success?
I now believe this training was later to become invaluable. When things would get tough, that’s when I felt most at home. In fact the tougher things got the more my skills would stand out. I realised I was able to hold large groups of people together and keep people focused whenever pressure mounted.
On reflection all this was perfect training for what lay ahead. Building a business like UKFast in a fast paced technology world, when all the odds are stacked against the thousands of people trying, seems an impossibility, yet all I could see is the road ahead and not the millions of hazards that lay ahead.
With no money and just a dream and just the feeling that we had to build something special that helped people and provided a layer of customer service that just didn’t exist elsewhere in our industry.
So where does failure fit in building a brand or great business?
Well I think its more important than you realise.
I could tell you thousands of stories of my examples, or friends of mine who have done incredible things, but it’s much better to use entrepreneurs that have gone before and paved the way, carving out new innovations and channels against the odds.
The best of these has to be Steve Jobs who was still fighting until he died in October 2011.
Steve Jobs described himself as “Everything I’d ever done correctly, had required a moment where I’d hit the rewind button.”
In his book he says, “If something isn’t right, you can’t just ignore it and say you’ll fix it later; this is what other companies do.”
His attitude was to rework something when you discover its not perfect. Its something I can associate with massively.
With a teacher and accountant as parents, accuracy and attention to detail was paramount.
But exactly how important is failure and what is failure?
Failure means that you have been trying and trying is the single most important thing in the world. Its what drives us and its why the human race is evolving faster than any other species.
Whilst Steve Jobs failed in a many things as he developed the Macintosh, he learnt as he went on and he kept trying.
I always use the mantra that each decision is merely a stepping stone to the right answer. This way, you can’t ever fail.
Business Week wrote an article about Apple’s venture into retail shops, condemning the decision. The articles title read.
“Sorry Steve, here’s why Apple stores wont work.”
They wrote “Maybe its time Steve Jobs stopped thinking quite so differently.”
If they’d paid attention to Steve’s original advert, they might have noticed the slogan was think different and not differently. Jobs viewed the word “different” as a noun. Its this same attention to detail that Jobs put into the launch and design of the then new Apple Stores.
Business Week weren’t alone. Retail consultant David Goldstein declared, “I give them 2 years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake.”
Steve Jobs’ venture into retail broke numerous records and within months his shops were averaging 5,400 visitors per week.
In the first 12 months he broke a further record beating all retail shores globally being the first retail company to hit $1.2 billion.
When designing his shops, moments before they opened the doors, on the advice of a colleague Jobs put the launch on hold and realized he’d done it wrong and went back to the drawing board. He decided to organize the shops not around product, but what people do.
Its might not seem a lot now we take the Apple Stores for granted, but how much of the success is down to dog-eared determination, not to give in, but never to compromise and never be intimidated in changing and facing failure head on.
So if you are trying to build a brand from humble beginnings. Don’t be too bloody minded to believe that you are always right. Take on board the ideas of people around you and if you fail, pick yourself up and have another go.
The worst thing you can do, is not try! You will spend a lifetime of regret if you don’t at least have a go and give it your best shot.
Being in business isn’t for everyone, but if you have a burning desire to have a go, then don’t let the fear of failure hold you back.
If you are a proper failure like me, you will surely succeed!
Thomas Edison dubbed the “wizard of Menlo Park” the place in Palo Alto where Jobs was to spend his entire working life, was famous for developing many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.
One of my favourite and apt quotes of Edisons is;
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work”
He also said “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
So you have no excuses. Good luck and most of fun, have fun making your mistakes!