Due for a Win?

Failing at business? Either you’re not cut out for it, or your turn is up.

by Jason Forrest
Forrest Performance Group

With a dozen and a half failed business ventures in a row, you have a choice in how you look at things:

1) You can decide you’re just not cut out for entrepreneurship.

2) You can assume you’re due for a win.

It’s a good thing Walter Monk chose the latter, because the 19th pursuit after that long string of failures made it big. If you can dream it, Walter Monk has probably pursued it. He’s done everything from lobster catching (though he didn’t catch any) to matchmaking. Monk has established himself as an authority through at least a dozen highly successful pursuits, including Pollmakers, which conducts online polls and is doing particularly well during this election season. With his next endeavor, called You May Play, he seeks to do nothing less than revolutionize the way we experience the internet.

The only thing Walter Monk has managed to do more than to fail is to succeed. Here are my top five takeaways from my very inspiring interview with Monk:

1) Fail fast. Being willing to fail drives people to give their very best in every endeavor, without a nagging voice holding them back. Fear drives people, too, just in the other direction. It motivates people to pull back and disengage. It’s not wrong to desire success and greatness, but it’s unwise to embrace only success. Success tastes so sweet because of the failures before. Walter Monk has had more businesses fail than succeed, but the ones that have done well have done very well. If you want to succeed, be okay with failing and failing fast.

2) Sometimes people who tell you it won’t work are wrong. In 1977, Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (later acquired by Compaq) famously said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” People always say new ideas won’t work.

Monk advises entrepreneurs to just go at it and test and see if people want what you’re putting out there because, sometimes, the things that seem the most out there are the ones that do the best. Monk has had 12-15 businesses that have reached at least a million dollars in sales. If you have the right amount of “I can do this,” sometimes you can.

3) But sometimes, they’re right. Monk spent over a million dollars of his own money on a company with upscale survival gear marketed to women. People told him it wouldn’t work, but Monk felt there was a market for his idea. “It got tons of press,” Monk says, “but almost no sales.” It was a failure of epic proportions, and he is still paying for it. This time (and a lot of others) the naysayers were right. When this is the case, refer again to point one.

Whether it’s a business venture or a relationship, sometimes you have to walk away even when you’ve invested deeply.

4) Pursue who you want to be, not what you want to be. Every person can contribute something. After 63 years and a mountain of business success, Monk is driven by a desire common to most people. “I want to help a lot more people,” he says. If you pursue who you want to be, the what falls into place. If you don’t, you don’t find joy in either. Monk says nothing compares to seeing people get to the point where they know “I can do this” and knowing he’s played a part in it.

5) Build the right team. Having the right team who do their roles very well makes entrepreneurship less scary. “The team makes the trains run on time so I can do what I do,” Monk says.

Sometimes, the safest place to be is the one that feels the scariest. Lions—with their intimidating teeth and deafening roars—are designed to provoke fear. But the real danger lies with the smaller, quieter lionesses. In the animal kingdom, the lion’s job is to roar and send prey scattering away from the startling noise—right into the path of the waiting lionesses, the true hunters. If gazelles knew to run toward the frightening sound, they would have a better chance of survival. The roar doesn’t represent the real danger.

Likewise, humans sometimes have an instinctive desire to shy away from pursuits that look and sound scary. But often, running toward those challenges and conflicts is the best (or only) way to grow and meet our goals. In business, those who run from the deafening noise never reach their full potential, while those who turn and face the fear thrive.

Monk’s whole life has been about running toward the roar. With each failure, he picks himself up and gets back in the saddle. In business and in life, it’s good to be persistent, courageous, and maybe even a little reckless.