How 15 Failed Businesses Led One Founder To A Multi-Million-Dollar Success
Dal LaMagna has had quite the life. Since building a cosmetics empire, Tweezerman, and selling it for an undisclosed 8-figure amount, he has written a book, become a peace activist, is a small business coach, and he is simply enjoying retirement.
He spent 25 years working for himself, battling debt, and finally building a company that grew to $30,000,000+ in annual sales with hundreds of employees world-wide.
The most impressive part of LaMagna’s story, though, isn’t his success. It’s all of the failures he suffered along the way. And for LaMagna, there were a lot of them — 15 in fact — that he describes in his book, Raising Eyebrows, A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right.
Still, LaMagna persevered and finally reaped the benefits. We spoke with him about his many failures, why they didn’t work, and what he finally did to knock one of his ideas out of the park.
Failure #1: A holiday dance for students
Image: NJ DJ via Flickr
The idea: (Dal LaMagna) “At the beginning of my entrepreneurial days, when I was a student at Providence College, I was not a rich person. My family didn’t have any money, and I had to come up with ideas that generated their own cash flow instantly.
“The first thing I tried was running a dance called the Christmas Colors Capers; I figured students would be coming home for the holidays and I wanted to host a dance where everyone could hang out.”
The failure: “I borrowed $400 from a classmate of mine, but that night it snowed two feet.Â Only the band and police showed up. I had to pay the band, so I lost my borrowed $400 and my father lent me another $400 so I could pay it back.
“I got killed by the weather.”
Failure #2: A dance that used a computer to match attendees up with their dates
Image: Don Hankins via Flickr
The idea: “The next thing I came up with was a dance again in 1967, but this time it was set up by a computer. We used computers to match people at the dance, so I was one of the originators of computerized dating. It was such an unusual idea, I convinced the local station to promote it for free.
“As they were advertising the dance, people were sending us $5 to attend and filling out an application, describing themselves and the kind of date they would want to have. We got 400 or 500 people to come to this dance. That part was successful.”
The Failure: “What I did wrong was I then took all the money I made from that dance and spent it on advertising. All of it. And it just didn’t work. The world wasn’t set up to do computerized dating back then. First of all, people didn’t use credit cards, so you needed to send a check; you couldn’t go online and fill out an application. It just wasn’t ready, I was so far ahead of my time.
“Instead of just having another dance, doing the process the same way and budgeting myself, I blew it all on the advertising. I learned that you need to balance your creativity, resources and work the three prime functions of the business. If you think of it as an equilateral triangle, you have a product or a service that you develop, you excel that product or service, and then you run and control the business.
“I spent all my time and energy with the computer portion and I failed.”
Failure #3: Pans perfectly sized to fit lasagna noodles
Image: A Worthy Image via Flickr
The Idea: “Another time I had a product that I developed: lasagna baking pans. These were baking pans perfectly sized to match lasagna; I came up with that idea because I was traveling around the country hitchhiking, living out of my backpack, staying at my friends’ house. The reason they allowed me to stay for more than a week was because I was cooking for them. One of the meals I made was lasagna. When I boiled the noodles, I had to cut them because there wasn’t a pan to fit them.
“I sold that pan to a lasagna company in Los Angeles. I told them the idea, figuring that once I sold it, I’d have no trouble making it.”
The Failure: “Surprise, surprise, a square foot pan that was 3 inches deep made out of stainless steel with a cover didn’t exist. It wasn’t just something I could go buy from somebody, and when I sold it I thought I could. I figured one of these baking pan companies would make them. But no, I had to tool up to make the pans and place an order for 5,000 pans at $5 a piece.Â Basically, I needed $50,000.
“I didn’t have $50,000, so I didn’t have a product and that business failed. And that’s when I learned to do something with the money resources you have available. Don’t start a business that requires a lot of money, or a lot more money than you can raise.”
Failure #4: Making a movie
The idea: “One time, I tried to make a movie, but it was going to cost me a million dollars [to pull off]. The screenplay was very good and, had that movie ever been made, it would have made money. After working on it for two years, I finally found someone who wanted to make the movie. But then they wanted me to be a production assistant. That’s kind of aggravating. Someone who has the money says alright, I’ll pay you $20,000 for your movie idea, goodbye. That was the guy who told me to go find something to do with the money I have.”
The failure: “I needed a million dollars [to make that movie my way]. Where was I going to get a million dollars? It was impossible. Was something wrong with me to think that I thought I could go out and raise $1,000,000 for a movie when I’d never even made a movie before? I was overreaching and I got trapped by it.”
The biggest mistake out of all 15 failures: A drive-in disco debacle
The idea: “There is one failure that stands out as the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in business.Â I was converting drive-in movie theaters to drive-in discos in 1969. We got rained out every single day. It was the year of Woodstock and it was raining that July. People weren’t dancing at my drive-in discos because they weren’t even coming [thanks to the weather].
“However, the Coca-Cola company thought it was a cool idea and they were going to sponsor it. They wereÂ going to pay me to put these discos on, and we were going to do a test in Houston. We had meetings and reached an agreement. I asked them for $100,000 which was very bold of me (I had lost $60,000 up to that point on this project).
The failure: “Coca-Cola agreed, but I didn’t close the deal right away. I didn’t jump on it the next day. I didn’t figure out any of the details and just get it done and make them give me a deposit.Â That way, if they canceled, I would have still received the money. Well, two months later, the Cyclamate [a sweetener used in Coca Cola and other products] scare happened. [People found out it caused cancer and deformities in lab rats].
“Coca-Cola was reeling from that and, all of a sudden, they canceled every promotion they were running to concentrate on solving the PR crisis. The deal never came through. That is a mistake I never made again.Â Now, when I want something, I close the deal right then and there. I get the contracts done, and I get people to sign them.”
Finally, the 15th idea was a success
…Idea #15: Success!
“When I finally found a business that worked, it was a business that I started with $500, which was Tweezerman.
“I bought $100 worth of tweezers and I started selling them as splinter tweezers and then sold them as cosmetic tweezers.”
Business Insider: What did you do differently that made Tweezerman a success?
Dal LaMagna: “With Tweezerman, I had finally gotten to the point where I realized I needed to do something with the money I had, that I needed to be patient, stay focused, and not try to make $1,000,000 overnight.
“I discovered this Tweezer. I didn’t have to spend any money to develop it, it already existed. It was an industrial tweezer that I brought over to the beauty industry — it used to be an instrument used by people who handle diamonds. Every week I was successful because I was selling enough to make a living, plus buying more tweezers, and it just went on from there.”
BI: How did you recover emotionally from all of your failures and stay positive?
DL: “[My lowest point was] 10 years out of business school. I had gotten an MBA from Harvard, and I didn’t go to the 10th year reunion of my class because I couldn’t afford it.
“My friend and classmate Frank Suttell figured out that I had caused the average income of the class to drop by $80 because I had made such little money that year. That’s when I gave up. I went back home and lived with my mother, I borrowed my sister’s bike to go out and find a paying job.
“That’s when I wrote the first draft of my book. I wrote up all the things I tried and failed at — it came out to 300 pages. I realized no one would want to read a book just about failure. So I put in on my shelf and then 25 years later, after Tweerzerman succeeded, I went back and finished it.
“What happens is this: You discover you really don’t want to to work for somebody else, and if you don’t have a family to feed and you’re actually able to keep trying, you get another idea, pick yourself up and do it. You’re off to the races.
BI: Was each failure necessary for the eventual success of Tweezerman?
DL: “I made mistakes more than once. It wasn’t like I made a mistake and then learned and didn’t make it again. But I was very persistent. I didn’t give up.
“I got depressed, I admit. You get a great idea then you go off and it doesn’t work. What I finally learned was I needed to focus, not go off in 6 different directions with one idea this week and another idea the next. I learned to be patient, and I learned to be happy with success on a daily basis.
“People do succeed right out of the box. My boox is not the 10 points of success. It’s not written that way. My book is just a story, a very amusing story of all the mistakes I made and things not to do.”
To read more about Dal’s business successes and failures, read his book, Raising Eyebrows, A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right, which is on sale now.
SOURCED FROM : www.businessinsider.com
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