Failure is the stepping stone to success. These entrepreneurs know it only too well


Failure and success are two sides of the same coin,the coin being the coin of will. If your will is strong, your success is imminent. If it is feeble, well, failure will soon be knocking on your door. This is not my belief. This has been the case of many entrepreneurs who have made it big. Those who appear as big, glittering names on forums like this were once scorned, spurned and rejected as many as 36 times. So, can their failures teach us something that even their success can’t? Probably, the most important lesson of all – failure is the first step to success.

Image credits: Shutterstock

Vera Wang

Claim to fame:Most sought-after wedding gown designers globally

What failure taught her: “Don't be afraid of failing. I think not trying is worse than failing. Have the courage to try. Otherwise, what are we here for?”

Number of failures before success: 2

Did you know VW’s childhood dream was to become an Olympic figure skater? She trained hard for it but alas, it was not to be. That was her first heartbreak. While this gave her considerable unhappiness, she refused to be halted in her pursuit for prominence. Soon, she found herself driven to the world of creative allure – clothes. Her foray into the fashion world began when she was hired as an assistant to Vogue’s then fashion director, Polly Mellen. Applying her skating aesthetics and meticulousness, Verawas promoted to become Vogue’s fashion editor within just two years. At 24, her lifestyle was spinning out of control as aneditor,andher love for designing clothes had taken the proverbial backseat. Unable to quite take the plunge, Vera finally quit the magazine when she was rejected for the position of Vogue’s editor-in-chief. Stung and bruised, the petite lady did not let the sad turn of events dampen her spirits. Her fame had already reached the right ears, and soon she found herself designing accessories for Ralph Lauren – finally venting out all her bottled up creative energies. But the melancholic fact always stared her in the face – her name had failed to appear on the Olympic billboard and continued to elude its presence on the labels that she designed.

The sense of failure in Vera’scase wasn’t becauseshe failed to succeed but because“I never really achieved the level that I wished.”Having battled setbacks and emotional breakdowns, today, rooted firmly on her optimistic perseverance, she runs a billion dollar industry. Life did come a full circle for this skating prodigy when she designed costumes for figure skaters like silver medallist Nancy Kerrigan (wore a Vera for the 1994 Olympics), Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek. Vera has also dressed up celebrities like Chelsea Clinton, Karenna Gore, Ivanka Trump, Campbell Brown, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey, Victoria Beckham and Hilary Duff in her wedding couture gowns.

Arianna Huffington

Claim to fame: Co-founder of The Huffington Post

What failure taught her:“Failure is not something to be afraid of; it is not the opposite of success. It is a steppingstone to success.”

Number of failures before success: 36

At Cambridge, she was the “classic fish out of water,” says Ms Huffington herself of her 17-year old self. The writer of thirteen books, mother of two and the face of one of America’s most popular blogs, Arianna was cut out for success and therefore, failures too, both of which she continues to deal with poise and grace.

Failure and success have run hand-in-hand in her life. After the roaring success of her first book,The Female Woman (translated into 11 languages), her second book After Reason was rejected by 36 publishers. But she went on in pursuit of what she believed in – herself. The rejection emboldened her fiery spirit and she went on to write 13 books that continue to inspire people. The writing took another form when she and her business partner, Kenneth Lerer, discovered “the power of the internet” and launched The Huffington Post on May 9, 2005. The launch was met “by a cacophony of ill-wishers”.

She has had her background questioned, her marriage challenged, her accent ridiculed and her debating skills publicly flogged.She has faced rejections that would make most give up at the mere thought. But she didn’t, and as a result, offered readers The Huffington Post with its eclectic mix of original journalism, links to articles and blogs by anyone from Barack Obama to a homeless teenager.It is read by more than 75 million people every month.

Steve Jobs

Claim to fame: Co-founder of Apple

What failure taught him:“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

Number of failures before success: 2

He is often lauded as the business world’s comeback kid and is certainly one of the most predictable names in a list such as this. While he was always enigmatic, he wasn’t always successful. He was a college dropout. He has slept on the floors of his friends’ homes and walked across town to the Hare Krishna temple for free meals. He was fired by the company he founded and publicly humiliated for the same. He started the computer company NeXT, which did not live up to his expectations. Soon, however, NeXT was bought out by a then dwindling Apple and Jobs was reinstated as the CEO. The rest, as they say, is history. Jobs’ success and failures are often talked about almost interchangeably.But behind his remarkable deeds washis belief in himself and his vision. He never tired of trying, failing or succeeding, and the only thing that stopped this phenomenon was the final exit. But the ‘ultimate comeback kid’ used his time in the world to spread the joy of ceaseless creativity and a love for failures.

Fred Smith

Claim to fame: Founder of FedEx

What failure taught him:“I am not afraid to take a swing and miss.”

Number of failures before success: 3

Most of you have used or are at least familiar with FedEx. Today, it’s the perfect synonym for delivery. But what about Fred Smith, the man who started it? His story is another ‘None to Won’tale. He started the FedEx operations in 1973 and racked up $29 million is loss in the first 26 months. After recuperating fairly, (from the $27,000 he won at blackjack) but still heavily indebted, he made the company go public in 1978. Circa 1989, he turned towards Asia and purchased the $880 million Flying Tiger cargo line. Unfortunately he found it difficult to integrate the two. As a result, FedEx’s net income dropped from $185 million in 1989 to just $6 million in 1991.

The next great setback that Fred and Fed suffered came in the form of The Great Recession, which simply battered FedEx. In 2009, the company barely made a$98 million profit. This was a typical fall from monetary grace from two years prior, when the company had punched in $2 billion in profits.

The story that FedEx tells todays sings a different, more expected tune.The company ships over 10.2 million packages daily in 220 countries –a feat that stands firmly on the solid foundation of manya-failure.

Ups and downs, curves and slopes, the journey of an entrepreneur is anything but a straight road. There is always another impossibility waiting at every turn. But is it waiting to be proved right or to be turned into a possibility? Your answer will define you as another entrepreneur or put in the same league as the few superentrepreneurs.