"You can't give birth to an adult," said Smith, the founder of Ugg Australia Boots, during a main stage speech Tuesday at the Inc. 5000 Conference in Palm Springs, California.
"When your company is an infant," said Smith, "it's not going to get up out of the cradle and go to college. You have to feed it and nurture it."
Smith knows what he's talking about. Back when he and a friend decided to import the now-iconic sheepskin boots to the U.S. and sell them to the California surfing community, he thought he had found his rocket to fame and fortune. But the company only sold 28 pairs in its first year. It took years before the company broke the million dollar mark. But, like all infants, it grew and grew. Today, the company (which Smith sold in 1995) generates well over $1 billion in annual revenue.
Smith, who is a practitioner of yoga and meditation, also shared these four mantras for success -- tips for dealing with the adversity that inevitably visits entrepreneurs:
- Feast on uncertainty
- Fatten upon disappointment
- Invigorate in the presence of difficulties
- Enthuse over apparent defeat
Smith shared anecdotes about the many near-death experiences of Ugg, including finding out his primary supplier was choking him off while making boots for his chief competitor, which led to the creation of his mantras.
"When something goes wrong now, I say 'Damn. That's good,'" he said. "When something really bad or disappointing happens to you, you know that in 24 or 48 hours you will come up with a new and more creative solution. You realize you wouldn't have thought of it if it wasn't for that disappointment."
Smith elaborates on his "startup as baby" theory in his 2014 book, Birth of a Brand (Beyond Words Publishing), free copies of which he signed for conference attendees after his speech.