10 Fierce Female Entrepreneurs Share Their Stories of Failure (And What They Did to Overcome It!)
I don’t know about you, but when the time comes to put something new out into the world, ALL of the worst case scenarios rise up from the depths of my subconscious and smash me in the face.
In fact, it's happening right now.
Why? Because in about a month, I’ll be launching the US version of this business AND I’M FREAKING OUT.
What if Americans hate these bangles?
What if they don’t like all the swearing?
What if I launch my Kickstarter and I don’t hit my goal and my company fails and I have to fire people and I can’t make any money and I end up homeless in America?
Yep, I’m really good at the doomsday stuff.
But the reality is that launching a new business or project ALWAYS involves some kind of failure – we ALL make mistakes, and for most of us that’s where our greatest learning lies.
I’ve got a list of failures a mile long (In my previous business, I always said we failed our way to success), but I wanted to hear from other female entrepreneurs and hear about what they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are.
So here are some rockin’ chicks from all across the world sharing one of the many bumps they’ve had on their entrepreneurial journey.
1. From an Excited Launch to an Empty Bank Account. Making the Tough Decisions.Genevieve Le Hunt from Bake Mixes
After launching my business I made a huge song and dance about quitting my job and being self-employed.
6 months later, we had no money in the bank and NO cash flow and I had to swallow my pride and go back into a retail job so I could fund the rebrand of my products. Talk about embarrassing. On top of that, I had to ask my parents for help securing my overdraft with our family home. A far cry from the girl who’d left her job just a few months prior.
I finally got my first order from our distributors – and because the business was still so new, I had to make the entire order BY HAND. 2,500 bake mixes. It was me, my family, my cousins, and friends from my retail job working non stop to get it done.
After an insane working week, we completed the order and it was shipped. Celebration time! (Or maybe not).
When the order arrived in Queensland we got a call from the distributors telling us the the bags weren’t sealed properly and nothing could be sold until it was fixed.
Cue tears behind the cash register at work. I wondered if I’d ever get it right.
As a young female in food manufacturing with no experience I fail epically, all the time. But I now know that’s how we learn.
It’s been a long road, but these days, I’m back working on the business FULL TIME. We’re stocked in over 200 stores and on the verge of a huge product development contract. And this is just the beginning.
2. 24 Jobs and 6 Unfinished University Degrees – and then...Gemma Bradshaw from the Her&Co Project
Life never turns out the way you plan it to. I was supposed to take the twelve years of success at school and turn into success in life. At 32 years of age I was convinced I'd failed miserably.
24 jobs and 6 attempts at different university degrees was evidence that I was sucking at life. I was supposed to do great things but instead I was floating along in a rudderless ship and I hated it.
With absolutely no experience (or so I thought - turns out I've actually picked up some pretty handy and varied skills from my abundance of failed jobs and degrees), I started a digital storytelling platform called the Her&Co Project where I get to interview and tell the stories of girls and women from all over the world.
We raised over $3000 to get the project off the ground and are on our way to getting further funding for our next series of stories.
3. When you still don’t know if it will work.Kirsten Clarke from Pigeon House Studios
I am standing toe to toe, nose to nose, in a staring competition with failure as we speak! On a total whim I signed a lease, borrowed from friends, moved my kids out of our home for 9 years to create an awesome creative space. The fit out took twice as long and cost twice as much as expected, which has eaten into my buffer. So I'm running out of time to make it happen!! But weirdly, I'm the happiest I've ever been.
4. I had to give up my Business Name and lost $60,000 in the process.
Helen Maria Yost from The Tradettes
There are many failures, it’s hard to pick one. But I figured I’d share the one that was most painful.
I ended up in a Trademark Dispute over my old company name and I lost. We thought we’d done all the right things at the very start. I had asked our logo designer to trademark our company name and logo, but it turned out he hadn’t done it.
Two years later, we received a cease and desist from a patent attorney and I was SO shocked. At first we tried to fight it, but $25,000 later, we decided to start again. I had to change the whole company. Change the name, rebrand, alter the structure and the way we did things. Everything. Literally everything changed.
It was horrible. I felt I’d put everything into my first company – I was gutted. It was my blood, sweat, tears, personal money, company money, family time – I’d put everything into that name and brand, and I’d lost.
By the end of it all, I’d spent close to $60,000 in legal fees and rebranding, not to mention the time it took for my fiancé and I to do it.
We had to come up with a new name, something that wasn’t from the heart, and try to infuse it with the passion that had created the first company.
It was a logical name. A commercial decision. And turns out it was the best decision we ever made.
We’re having our first million dollar year in the SAME year that we lost all that money.We are having more success with our new brand, and we can grow larger than we ever would have if we had stayed with the original name.
We came out on top.
5. Trying to make it in “Man's World.”Anne Foster from Eli & Ark
I remember when I started out in banking. I didn't have the right university degree and, moreover, I had been a creative. Almost a swear word in banking terms! I was a journalist. A writer. A wannabe social entrepreneur who had turned to banking to learn the ropes. I had been working for one team in a big Investment Firm but it was suggested I interview as an analyst for another Investment team. I had the best marks, I had been doing work other analysts couldn't do... yet I was terrified. I didn't want to take the risk as I would surely fail. I had been put in a box.
At the same time I’d been offered a job at another firm. I approached my boss to tell him that I was leaving.
"Apply to stay. There is an opening as an analyst in another team." He asked.
"I won't get the job. You know that," I replied.
He stared at me. And simply said…
"Step over the edge".
I applied the next day, I interviewed alongside all the other commerce graduates (I was older than them) and then waited as the team went to a room to vote. I went down to a coffee shop to wait out the result. An Associate came down to meet me and put his hand on my shoulder. "I am sorry." He said. You were vetoed. VETOED? I asked? He told me who had done it. I had no understanding of why. Whatever the reason, I had very publicly failed.
I picked myself up, took the job at another firm and slogged it out working harder and longer to become the best. Insanely long work days became the norm.
It paid off. By the end of my Private Equity career I was speaking at global investment conferences or debating on panels with the world's largest Fund managers, many twice my age. I was earmarked to one day manage Funds ahead of so many of my peers. I was often the only woman in a conference or boardroom. I supported investment of one of the world's largest cleantech and renewable energy funds, changing the way global businesses
As a girl you will be vetoed. You will be told to stay in your box. To stop being so headstrong or bossy. But you will come out on top...
If I had never failed I would never have had the strength to stand up for myself. I never would have met the incredible bosses who taught me what good management was all about. I would never have gone on to my passion in sustainability and social enterprise, trying to change and shape the way we look after people and the planet today. So, may the words always ring in our heads... Try something you will most certainly fail at. Just step over that edge.
Roslyn Campbell from Tsuno
6. I crowdfunded $40,000 to start my own company, but it was $15,000 less than what I needed.
I launched my business through Pozible. The goal was to raise over $40,000 and that would be enough to buy my first container of sanitary pads.
Or so I thought.
My first mistake was not realising the manufacturers quote was in US Dollars instead of Australian Dollars.
My second mistake was forgetting to include the cost of postage in the orders (a $15,000 mistake).
So at the end of a 60 day campaign, I hit my $40,000 crowdfunding goal - but I was still way short of what I needed to get the company off the ground.
Talk about a freak out. Was I supposed to give all the money back? Throw in the towel? It had taken almost EVERYTHING for me to hit that $40,000 goal. Now what was I supposed to do?
Luckily enough, I had some generous parents who helped me out with some of the extra funds I needed, AND an amazing group of friends. On one hot Melbourne Summer Day, we created a “Menstrual Cycle” event – where they got on their bikes and hand delivered all the orders in Melbourne that could be easily reached by bike.
It saved me a tonne of money - Money that I didn’t have.
Needless to say, I learnt a lot – and right now I am on the precipice of launching in the UK and crowdfunding to expand my range to include tampons.
All the while feeling like I need to run away and get a job working for someone who will pay me a steady wage 😛.
I now have my own office and warehouse space after moving out of my bedroom and my cheap storage unit in Melbourne, and I’ve just started outsourcing some of the work like book keeping and PR.
I don’t know if I’m a success story yet, but I am still kicking. So I suppose that’s a good thing.
7. We’d JUST launched and we messed up one of our biggest corporate orders.
Lauren Shuttleworth from Words With Heart
I have made SO many mistakes on the Words With Heart journey. There was one occasion, when we first started doing corporate printing, where we received a huge order of custom notebooks for an event. We printed hundreds of books all with a black background and packed them up in boxes and shipped them off with just days to spare.
We were still perfecting our printing process, and didn’t think to put a protective celloglaze on the cover of the books. By the time they arrived to the client, all the books had been moving about and they ended up with white scuff marks on just about every cover. When the client called me to let me know, it was a major heart sinking moment. I hate disappointing people, and when its your own business it is super personal. I felt terrible and ashamed that we hadn’t delivered quality product, and suddenly all the profit we had made on the order was gone and then some (and then even more some).
Those thoughts started to surface - the ones like ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘See - this is too hard and risky.’ It was the most stressful (and expensive) experience trying to reprint them and express post them all in the nick of time. But we pulled it off!
That pain ensured that I never made that same mistake again.
Now we regularly produce custom stationery for some of Australia’s biggest companies, including Macquarie Group, ING Direct and Aussie.
Sarah Riegelhuth from Grow My Team and Wealth Enhancers
8. I poured in $50,000 of my own money, and then I had to walk away.
The first business I was ever involved with was probably the most significant failure that I've ever experienced. I agreed to go into partnership with a woman about 30 years my senior in an online business that provided personal insurance for women. She had existing business partners who weren't contributing and being a start-up she needed someone with technical expertise (despite having a well established career in finance, my original area of study was IT!). I agreed with her and then that I would buy them out, and that her and I would be 50/50 partners.
For a period of a few months while all the paperwork was being drawn up, I started personal funding the ongoing expenses of the business as she had run out of money (I'm cringing just writing this! Lesson no. 1 - it shouldn't ever take months to prepare a contract)…
$50,000 down and three months later the contracts arrived and they were not as agreed.
It was a 49% / 51% split in her favour and the share class I was being offered had no voting rights! So the equal partnership we had agreed upon was not to be. All of the trust we had established just fell away in that moment and I made a very tough decision to walk away from the deal. I never got the $50K back that I'd spent funding the business as I had no leg to stand on legally (I'd probably fight for it a little harder now), but I knew it was the right decision to make.
You can't go into partnership with someone you don't trust and that's the bottom line.
I learnt a lot from that and won't do anything without some form of written agreement now.
9. When you hire the wrong person.
Dusti Arab from thinkCHARM
So my biggest failure was a bad hiring decision. This girl came highly recommended from a business acquaintance who I trusted. Initially, she was great. But as we started working together it just became very clear she had a lot going on, AND she had a very different idea about work ethic.
Things started to go downhill. It culminated in her delivering sub par work to a client, missing some key deadlines, and I had no idea what was going on until the client came to me VERY very upset.
I ended up firing her, but the relationship with the client was too damaged, and we lost that client just a week later.
But as a result of losing her, I went through a process of hiring someone else for that position. I found someone who was the perfect, I’m so thrilled with her - I think she’ll replace me as the companies creative director.
10. I spent 6 months planning a Charity Gala and only sold 55 tickets.
Prior to Be., I was running a non-profit organisation called One Girl – we educated girls in Sierra Leone, West Africa. We needed a big chunk of cash ($50,000) to keep our girls in school for another year, so we decided to put on a Cocktail Gala.
We spent 6 months planning, and poured our heart and soul into this event, and it was going to be an amazing evening. But, we were 14 days out from the big night and we’d only sold 55 tickets. We needed at least 100 to breakeven, 125 to make a profit, so at this rate we’d be losing close to $10,000. A lot for a little startup charity.
One evening, I was so overcome by anxiety and fear, that I curled myself into a ball on the floor of my living room and just sobbed and sobbed. I was not only terrified of the night being a total failure (a big venue with just 55 people in it), but also that I was letting down 100 little girls in Sierra Leone who might not be able to go back to school because I couldn’t get the money to do it. I wanted out. This whole starting a charity thing was too hard.
After my meltdown, I figured there was only one thing to do – and that was ask for help. I wrote a blog post asking my community to buy a ticket or at least make a donation to cover the cost of a ticket, I got on the phone with the people who’d already said they were coming and asked them to bring a friend (or 5). In those final couple of weeks we sold an extra 55 tickets and we’d finally broken even.
By the time the night rolled around, we’d given up on our $50,000 goal – (revised it down to just $10,000) – but unbeknownst to us, a philanthropist was in attendance, and after an inspiring speech by a young woman from Sierra Leone, she told us that she’d match everything we raised on that night dollar for dollar. The live auction raised $25,000 – and so she matched it – so we got our $50k.
When I was on the floor, curled up in that little ball, I seriously considered giving up, going back to my old life and getting a job – I wanted something easy. But I refused to give up. In the years after gala we went on to raise over $3.5 million and support the education of more than 10,000 women and girls.
Being an entrepreneur is FAR from easy. To wake up every morning and face your fears every goddamn day takes so much strength and courage.
You’ve gotta me tough, you’ve gotta be strong, and you’ve gotta be f*cking fierce. It’s certainly NOT a journey for the faint hearted.
So in celebration of these extraordinary female entrepreneurs, I’m giving 15% off our epic F*cking Fierce bangles for the next 48 hours! Just use the code “ImAFierceFkr”.
It’s a F*cking Fierce bangle for some F*cking Fierce ladies.