Entrepreneurs experience a wide emotional pendulum, from euphoric highs to heart-wrenching lows. The ability to pick yourself up from the inevitable setbacks is a critical element of success. Three successful entrepreneurs describe how they faced and fought back from their lowest moment that almost ended their dream.
Beware of false diagnosis
Mei Weng found a way to dramatically improve the accuracy of biopsies, and she was certain that her company, Instapath Biopics LLC, would be a success that could improve countless lives. When she started reaching out to doctors to vet her concept, she was astounded to find them unimpressed. "Five doctors in a row told me that they didn't think it provided any benefit," she says. "One told me, 'You seem like a smart girl--you should go do something else.'"
And when she heard those words, she was suffering from a horrible case of flu, the result of tracking in and out of so many hospitals to speak with physicians. Weng had been working on the problem of inaccurate biopsies for half a decade, and in light of the doctors' comment, she says, "I felt like I had lost five years of my life."
At this devastating moment, she remained committed to her idea and kept going until she made a surprising discovery: she had been talking to the wrong kinds of doctors. "There are hundreds of different kinds of doctors, and the ones who we thought would most benefit from our approach didn't find value in it," she says.
However, a type of physician who she considered almost as an afterthought--an interventional radiologist--became ecstatic about her invention. "With the traditional biopsies, there would be a 20- to 30-minute delay between steps. The five physicians who shot down the idea didn't care because they had other tasks to fill that time; the interventional radiologists simply had to wait, so speeding up the process was critical to them.
Lesson: Listen to critics, but don't automatically accept their judgment, even if they have stellar credentials and experience.
Instapath Biopics LLC won Get Started Louisiana 2017, one of a nationwide series of high-paced pitch competitions created by Cox Business.
Keep on the offensive
Lauren Thom, a single mother of three, had a great job with the Louisiana Farm Bureau that provided her with a company phone, car, and benefits. But she had a hankering for more, and using her 2009 tax return refund she founded a side business making fun t-shirts for women, called Fleurty Girl, and even opened a storefront in New Orleans.
That year, the New Orleans Saints got into the Super Bowl. She printed T-shirts with their popular slogan, "Who Dat."
Immediately, Thom received a cease-and-desist order from the NFL. When TV and newspaper reporters showed up at her store, Thom made a heart-stopping decision: She would give up her good job and benefits and put her full effort into the T-shirts. The story of the NFL trying to scare off a single mom got so much attention that her business took off, and the NFL even sent an apology. Fleurty Girl now operates four stores along with a thriving online presence.
Thom says people perceived that the controversy made her business, but she said in reality it was a setback that could have nearly killed it.
Lesson: Keep going in the face of adversity, and double down on smart tactics, like improving customer service, to keep you moving forward during tough times.
Thom was a judge for Get Started New Orleans 2015.
Keep your eye on the ball
Talk about early bloomers: Susan Cox began working as a telemarketer at age 13, became a project manager for a large company at 17, and launched her first business when she was only 18. She was also an early entry in a new technology field: Her company, LogoJet, pioneered a way to print on wood, metals, plastics, glass, ceramics, stone, rubber, and even curved products using simple inkjet technology. The company's technology gained fame as "The Original Golfball Inkjet Printer" for being able to print on the dimpled surface of a golf ball.
However, her entrepreneurial zealousness was almost her downfall. "My younger self would go after business at any cost, even if the business was not a good fit with our core product or strategy," she says.
Early on, she was approached by a company that sold business opportunities, and wanted to include a white-label version of her printer in their offering so customers could create their own promotional materials. Even though the price she was offered made margins uncomfortably tight, the potential for a huge-volume sale was mouthwatering to a young startup. She spent a lot of cash to prepare for the massive influx of orders, but they trickled in, rather than gushed. "It could have put us out of business," she said.
Later, the same customer approached her with a similar, but more solid offer, and she turned him down. "I don't remember ever having said no before," she said. "It was a challenge for someone who thrived on deal-making to say no." However, she realized the big sale clashed with her business model. Rather than make white-label technology for other people, LogoJet was dedicated to direct sales of its own branded products.
Lesson: A big sale can be a detriment if it detracts from your core strategy and business.
Susan Cox was a judge at Get Started Louisiana 2017.
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