Funny Thing About Failure

Just as everyone lies, everyone fails. At something. Sometime.

Could be a relationship, marriage, job interview, performance, free throw…almost anything. If you have ever tried anything, ever, odds are you failed. The  Internet is populated with meme’s about failure.

But is it really failure?

I would argue that failure, as such, doesn’t really exist. If you try and you don’t succeed, does that mean you have failed? No, it simply means it didn’t work. It may not have worked for a myriad of reasons, some in your control, some not.

The only true and real failure is not trying.

rsr_logo_lrgA few years ago, I had the idea to start making soap. So I did. I started a soap company called Round Soap Records. As the name implies, the soap is round and the names and colors of soap were all based on music (Purple Rain, Whiter Shade of Pale…that sort of stuff).  I built the web site, began making the soap, started a corporation and sold the soap at flea markets and tried to get it into shops on consignment.


He’s what I learned:

  • Personal hygiene items are, well, personal.
  • Scaling soap on a micro level like Round Soap Records was impossible on my budget.
  • Marketing is harder than it seems.
  • People almost always are genuinely interested if you are genuine.
  • Some people are just assholes.
  • I don’t love making soap.
  • Clever ideas are not a guarantee of success.
  • Salesmanship is truly an art form.
  • Everyone has an opinion.

Earlier this year, I ankled Round Soap Records, I shut down the corporation and stopped making and marketing the soap. Why? It didn’t sell and I didn’t have the resources, or access them, to stick it out through that stage.

Thomas A. Edison:  “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.

Was Round Soap Records a failure? Not by my standards. What I was doing wasn’t working and the economics didn’t make sense. After almost two years, I figured it was time to close shop.

Sure, it’s disappointing I didn’t get to sell my soap at Target or Wal-Mart or make a million dollars but the trick with creativity and being an entrepreneur is that you always figure you are the exception to the rule. You’re gonna be the one to beat the odds.

Whatever disappointment I may feel about having tried and not succeeding is an infinitely better feeling then spending the rest of my life wondering “What IF I had done that soap thing?”

I still have the website up and have enough product at home to last me a long time. I still sell the odd bar here and there. It’s a great product and I am very proud of it.

Rocky Balboa (from the last Rocky):  “It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep getting up.”

Sometime in the Spring I decided that whatever I was going to do next would have to be something I love doing (duh). I started thinking about the restaurant business and my years in it and then I started thinking that while television has mastered (?) the art of telling the stories about the back of the house (chef’s, etc) they’ve yet to do anything on the front of the house (waiters, etc).

Realizing that a television show was more than I could do myself and way out of my budget range, I decided to start a digital magazine. It had low start up costs, I partnered with a service provider that provided an awesome and easy to use tool ( and I could outsource a lot of the writing while still keeping control.

In July I launched wait(er) Magazine , a monthly subscription digital magazine (.99/mo) that focuses on the stories of the waiters, bartenders, baristas, etc. and the business of those in the service (or “serve us) industry. Available across mobile and web platforms like Apple, Nook and Kindle (Android coming soon-ish). I’ll even email you a .PDF, just contact me.

Sticker This was an idea that allowed me to mine and share some of the stories that I have about my years in the restaurant business. But more importantly, I knew that I could provide an opportunity for anyone who wants to share a story the ability to share a story…and get paid for it. As one who likes writing, getting paid for your work is always better than not getting paid for it and I believe if you put the work in, you should be compensated.

Over the weekend, someone referred to wait(er) Magazine as “cute”. And when I mentioned I paid writers they asked me if I did that out of “altruism”. I said “No. I believe people should be paid for the work they do. Also, I have subscribers who pay me so it would be exceptionally shitty for me to make money and not pay the people supplying 90% of the content.”  To me, that’s just good business. And while altruism is great…three isn’t a lot of space for it in a start-up.

I realize there are plenty of people, blogs, companies that make money off the labor of the Internet and all the things we do on it (hi Facebook). In media, we call that digital labor but I will spare you the discourse on that. For me, I wanted to keep advertising out. In this sense the magazine The Sun was a HUGE inspiration. I also wanted to provide a place for unpublished or established writers. Here again, The Sun was a huge inspiration.

So, how is it going so far?

Five months in to wait(er) Magazine and here’s what I have learned:

  • Some people are not very good at writing.
  • Some people are very good at writing.
  • Some people have high opinions of themselves and their ability to write.
  • Marketing is harder than it seems.
  • I still love writing and it’s nice to share that with other people who love writing.
  • It’s exciting, motivating, frustrating, disappointing to find someone who is simply a better writer than me (which is all of the contributors).
  • It’s a fine line between vanity project and actual business model.
  • Even if you pay writers, they still procrastinate.
  • It’s work I enjoy doing, even at its most frustrating.
  • It’s hard to make every decision. It requires vision, a plan and the ability to recognize when to change, when to hold and when to let go. It’s never gonna be perfect.
  • I don’t know shit.
  • I need an copy editor.

I’m still learning more each day. It’s an experience I am enjoying and I firmly believe that translates into the magazine. Does this insure that wait(er) Magazine will be successful? If we define success as financially profitable, absolutely not. But to me it is already a success because I enjoy it, other people seem to enjoy it, I think the stories are good, the subscription rate is growing…so, in my mind, it’s working.

Now, since I am bootstrapping wait(er), there will come a time when the magazine will have to be self sustaining. That’s just business and I don’t have a trust fund to fall back on. But for now, it’s all good.

So then, what is the funny thing about failure? It doesn’t really exist to me. Not as long as you put yourself out there and try. Sure, it may not work and you may get chastised, ridiculed and loose money. All of that is still a better feeling then spending your whole life wondering. Besides, I assure you, if you don’t do it, someone else will.

One of the many curses of the creative is that people will inherently dump all their own bullshit, fears and insecurities on you and what you want to do…until you achieve success. They’re the ones using the word “failure” and chattering behind your back.

If you want to do anything yourself, you can never let the word “failure” be part of your vernacular.

You’ve got to know and understand that the odds are against you. Despite what you read and see, people stumble and fall creatively more than they run across the finish line. The trick is to get up and keep going.

You can go to the best schools in the world and learn the mechanics of being creative, however we define creative: business person, writer, actor, flimmaker, playwright, etc. The one thing they can’t teach you at all those schools is how to be creative. You either have it or you don’t.

Creative doesn’t necessarily mean making something out of nothing either. More than anything it means believing in yourself even when you are so full of doubt you want to scream. It means having the vision, drive and tenacity to find the energy and angle to keep going and the intelligence to say when.

F*CK failure.

Seth Godin: Persistence is doing something again and again until it works. It sounds like ‘pestering’ for a reason.

Tenacity is using new data to make new decisions to find new pathways to find new ways to achieve a goal when the old ways didn’t work.

Telemarketers are persistent, Nike is tenacious.

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