Last year I attended a series of workshops at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship. One of them was on conscious communication and active decision making given by the founder of the UrbanOM yoga studio. One of the exercises was called “How fantastic”. It was done in pairs of two people and we took turns first saying “1, 2, 3” and later replacing one of the numbers with a clap. Basically it was an easy, fun and high-paced exercise (think UNO game) that was designed to make you fail. Whenever someone said or did a wrong thing they threw their hands into air shouting out “How fantastic”. The idea of the exercise was to rewire the brain to “like” failures.
This morning I thought about that exercise. No one likes failing. Even worse - failing something publicly. But the thing with failures is that we shouldn’t be afraid of them to the point when the fear paralyzes us. We have to try, do our best, and should it not work out - adjust our strategies and do things differently. We learn by failing.
I’ve also been thinking about how failures are perceived in our (post-Soviet Ukrainian) culture. I only need to mention a couple of sayings we have for you to get the idea. “If you don’t know how to do it, don’t even start trying (Як не вмієш, то й не берися.)” “A smart person learns from the mistakes of others, a stupid one from their own (Умный учится на чужих ошибках, а дурак на своих)”. When you translate them into English they sound unfamiliar and their ridiculousness becomes apparent. But that’s what we were taught as kids. We have been taught to settle down for what we have, for what we can do, for what is known to us. Talk about creativity and curiosity! It’s a wonder that thanks to my risk-taking personality I’ve always considered opportunities from a risk-reward perspective and attempted doing things I didn’t know how to do.
You can think about your business as of a series of actions and decisions. Each decision involves an analysis of potential risks and pay-outs that can be done using information that is available to us. Sometimes the analysis is wrong, sometimes the information your decision making is based on is flawed, sometimes you are simply out of luck and the timing is wrong. A successful business can seem to be a series of right decisions but in reality it’s a series of right and wrong ones. I take dozens of decisions every day, some are more important than others but it’s unreasonable to expect of yourself (or anyone else) that all the decisions will be right ones. It’s impossible.
We have failed our crowdfunding campaign and considering you have to be very loud about it to even have a shot at succeeding, we’ve failed it publicly. I remember a year ago when researching clothing rental competitors in Sweden I accidentally found a failed crowdfunding campaign of another company. It managed to gather 2 000 kronas and was still published on the website - for everyone to see and witness. That was on my perceived risk side of doing a crowdfunding decision. We have gathered 312 500 kronas but have still fallen short of the minimum goal of 600 000 kr. We received incredible support from our families and friends - people who know us personally - but have failed to communicate the attractiveness of the business to potential investors. That made me spend many days wondering “Are we that uninteresting?” No one prepared me for this and no one told me what amount of work I would have to put into this crowdfunding campaign and how personal it would feel.
Our plan wasn’t to make a family and friends round. Neither was it to get people to invest in us out of pity. We are actually convinced we have an amazing business idea that will grow, take over Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia by storm. We know the business idea is amazing because our clients love it. Our goal was never to build a service people would like. Our goal was to create a service that people would LOVE - and that’s what we have done so far. How many businesses can really say that?
While we were concentrated on our crowdfunding campaign our business grew further and last week astonished us again - beating all of our previous sales records. Additionally, almost every client who booked a dress with us last week also booked the hair and makeup package and thereby got that WOW Closet experience that we talk so much about.
We know that the attractiveness of The WOW Closet is not determined by how well our crowdfunding campaign went. In fact, it is a bit of a lottery and the result of it doesn’t say anything about how good or bad a business idea is. All the “How to Start a Startup” videos say that almost every other aspect of building a company is more difficult than raising money, it just seems that to me it’s the other way round. That’s both good and bad news I guess.
Anyhow, we will be celebrating the failure by hosting a “Fuck up party” where we plan to all dress in black and sing sad songs. Ok, that was a joke. We’ll simply host an afterwork in the end of November where we will have some wine and will watch The Intern movie at The WOW Closet. (It’s about fashion, entrepreneurship and female leadership). If you want to join us send me a message and I'll keep you posted. You won't have to dress in black.
And then we will redraw our financing strategy and will continue developing our business. Because that’s what we do as entrepreneurs. We find ways to make it work. Because succeeding in a hard way shapes us more than succeeding right away. Because the strength of a business is defined by its resilience and we are all more resilient than we think.