We always talk about ‘the taste of success' but not ‘the smell of failure.’
So, here goes my story…
My name is Louise Woodhead and I’ve had a startup that failed!
I graduated in 1999 and met my husband at work a few years later. One of the key commonalities in our relationship was hospitality: respective backgrounds in the on-trade, an appreciation of good wine and spirits, and a shared sense of fun!
We got engaged (at a party!) and married in 2003. In 2004, whilst out drinking one evening, we had the notion to open a bar. The next day we still liked the idea! So, we toe-dipped it over the following weeks to see if it had legs.
Six months later, we left our corporate jobs and home and moved to the other side of the world
To Australia: as our research pointed to them having the most advanced hospitality sector.
Over there, we drew up a business plan by day (on the beach – obvs!) and worked in bars at night. Learning our trade. After four months, afraid to miss the proverbial boat, we returned to the UK to set up the business. And moved in temporarily with my mother-in-law, up North.
Three and a half years later, we were still living with my mother-in-law… In my husband’s teenage bedroom (separate story, separate blog!).
So, between 2004 and 2007 we developed our product, working around the clock to define it, articulate it, and sell it. As such, the idea progressed from a standalone pub to a high-street licensed retail brand, with Manchester flagship and a cross-country roll-out plan.
Tequila was our USP and our ambition was to re-position it as a premium spirit (at the time there were 500+ premium tequila brands on the market, many of which were sold in the US; but virtually none in the UK).
We identified a venue, recruited and managed a cross-functional project team of 30, and produced a 5-year business plan that raised £1M. Without track record or significant funds of our own. Sweat equity was our investment. And we did a lot of sweating during that period…largely because of how much tequila we had to drink!
Then one very dark day in 2007 we got a call from our investor to say that the Financial Crisis was coming and consequently he had to pull out of the deal.
I cried hard.
Then we got up the following day and put plan B in place. Which was to fold the business and return to London. When we got back, my husband refused to return to a 9-5. And has worked for himself ever since. Something I've only just begun to understand.
But I made a vow to myself that day never to face risk - or failure - again. And so, I spent the next 10 years in employment, working for others. Predominantly risk-averse corporations. And world leaders. Trying to protect myself from future failure and find the same sense of fulfilment that I felt during the startup. But I never did.
Until last year, when a serious of seemingly fated circumstances led me to confront my fears and rediscover the brave version of myself. Me before failure.
And so, this is what I learned from my experience. Take-outs that I hope will help others: particularly those considering, or already on the startup journey:
Love what you do – I didn't start out my career with this objective. I didn't have a vocation or understand my purpose. And because I just never saw work and play through the same lens. All of which made me unhappy for a long time. So, work out what brings you joy and do that!
Understand your drivers – we’re influenced by our peers and for most of mine in the business world, it's money and lifestyle. So, it took a while for me to realize that these weren’t my own. I'm driven by innovation and creativity. Without them, I become tired, withdrawn and pessimistic.
Don’t be complacent – I put all of my eggs in one basket and thought my business plan was fool-proof, so I wasn’t prepared for factors like world recession. This time I’m striking a better balance between generating an income - and having the time, energy and focus to set up the business.
Surround yourself with like minds and positivity – it can be a lonely journey to follow a different path from others. And that of a start-up is particularly challenging with much rejection. You need to be resilient and protect your own wellbeing. So having a strong support network helps.
Don't give up – I have ‘perfectionist’ tendencies and so failure hit me particularly hard. It took the best part of 10 years for me to forgive myself and grant myself permission to try again. Now, when faced with the options of ‘quit’ or ‘die trying’ I'm pledged to the latter.
So…anyone up for a celebratory shot?!
Contact Louise: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07967 312 244