11 Billion Dollar Businesses That Should Have Failed

So you’ve failed. Not once. Not twice. Maybe not even three times. Maybe you’ve failed twenty times in the last twenty endeavors you’ve ventured into.

Now you’re on the 21st and you just don’t know how much more you can take. You’ve come close, but it just wasn’t right.  You’re anxious. Thinking about quitting and getting a “real” job. You’re pondering throwing in the towel.

Do you know why you're already a success? Because you still. Haven’t. Quit.

Successful people don’t quit.

You have fought on even when people told you to stop.

You’ve kept at it even when you’re mom told you that you should be doing something better with your life. You’ve persevered even though you’ve had to skip a meal because there just wasn’t enough money for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner. You’ve succeeded in keeping your dream alive.

You aren’t the first person to try and fail and try again. And you certainly won’t be the last.

If you need a little encouragement, here are a few millionaires -- and billionaires,  who were standing exactly where you are right now: looking at their failing companies. Wondering what to do next.

One thing separated them from everyone else and led them to the success they have today. They wouldn’t quit. Here are 11 billion dollar businesses that should have failed. But didn't.

1. Dyson

5,126. That’s how many failed prototypes of bagless vacuums Sir James Dyson created that failed  before he created one that actually worked. It was fifteen years of failures before he tasted success.

A regular person would have thrown in the towel by then. A regular person would have stopped at 50 failures or 100. Hell, they may have stopped at five. They would have stopped after year 3 of failing or year 4. Not Dyson.

He just kept on trying. He not only revolutionized vacuum cleaners, he also revolutionized the way we dry our hands with his Airblade hand dryer that blows air in a thin fast motion to “squeegee” the water off instead of evaporating it.

As James Dyson says, “you never learn from success, but you do learn from failure.” He must have learned a lot: today, his net worth is $4.5 Billion.

2. Reddit

Started in 2005, the online news bulletin board was not getting the traffic it’s founders were hoping for. Which also meant, it wasn’t getting the investors the founders were hoping for either.

In 2005, that was par for the course in online business. But the founders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, decided to take matters into their own hands. Literally. They made fake profiles and started fake conversations to get other users to visit the site. They took “fake it til you make it,” to a whole other level.

Now contributors, called “redditors” have even gotten rich off this news source. And the company itself is worth a whopping $6 Billion. Not bad for faking success.

3. Airbnb

Founded in 2008 by three college buddies, who had the idea to rent out air mattresses in their apartment to people passing through when the hotels were sold out for large events.

They saw the idea as brilliant. But they were the only ones. They couldn’t get anyone to invest in it -- but they wouldn’t give up.  They asked investors repeatedly and were turned down repeatedly. They were so broke they lived on cereal.

And to make money, during the 2008 election year, they designed collectible presidential cereal boxes just to stay afloat.

But the three friends didn’t stop. They refused to give up and finally they got someone to see things their way. The company is now situated in a 3 story building fully equipped with a complimentary bar and in-house chef for it’s more than 500 employees.

The company is worth $25.5 Billion. How did they do it? “Being broke brings an incredible amount of discipline and focus,” co-founder Brian Chesky says.

4. KFC

Army. Fireman. Lawyer. Ferry Boat Worker. Salesman. Those are just a few of the jobs Harland Sanders had before moving from his Indiana home to take a job at a service station in Kentucky.

The offer was too good to pass up. Free rent. His own place. He just had to give a percentage of the sales to the service station owner. He perfected a chicken recipe and fed people passing through. His chicken was so good, the Governor gave him the title Colonel Sanders.

Sales were good for a while, until a new road was built and business died. Colonel Sanders traveled around to hundreds of restaurants trying to sell his secret chicken recipe. Nobody was buying.

Just when he thought it was over, he tried again. And he finally sold his secret recipe for $15 million. He was 75. He is still the face (and logo) of the famous KFC brand worth over $3 billion. He died a millionaire at 90.

5. eHarmony

After taking $3 million of investor money in 2000 to start an online dating service based on his experience as a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor, Neil Clark Warren came to a startling realization. There was still nobody using his service. 

He thought he would have to refund investors’ money and shut down the business he had poured his 35 years of experience into. In a last-ditch effort to save his dream, Neil Clark Warren went on the road, a PR tour to be exact. He talked to people, told them about eHarmony. He went on TV.

He put his face on every media outlet imaginable and slowly people started visiting. Now they visit in droves and his little dating algorithm site has put about $500 million in his pocket alone and returned billions to investors.

6. Nintendo

Nintendo is easily considered the pioneer of the gaming world. When they launched the first Famicom console in 1983, they thought they had a breakthrough product on their hands.

What they really had was a recall only a few months later that cost them almost everything. It forced them to go back to the drawing board. They re-released the gaming console with a new motherboard and sales started to rise.  

And then Mario and Luigi stepped in to save the day. The video game became an instant success around the world launching Nintendo into the success that it is today. Even since it’s inception, Nintendo has taken some other major fails with products like the Virtual Boy, the 64DD, and the GameBoy Micro.

And now, thanks in part to Pokemon Go, Nintendo is easily worth more than $40 Billion. That’s more than Sony Entertainment.

7. Blogger

Another social media site that could have never been is Blogger. The founder, Evan Williams, launched Blogger in 2000. It was ahead of its time. And was sure to become an epic failure.

Maybe because there was no clear business model. Maybe because there was no such thing as a “blogger” back then. Either way, Evan Williams was broke. So broke he had to let go of every staffer he had.

He was barely able to keep the platform alive for the next two years. Somehow he did. Selling it to Google. With $50 million padding his wallet, Evan Williams went on to found Twitter which has been massively successful (in 140-ish characters or less).

8. Continental Airlines

In 1994, Continental Airlines lost $600 million. Gordon Bethune stepped in that same year. He saw that the only real problem was management. He did some hiring and some firing of management only.

In 1995, the same company, with the same planes and the same employees made $225 million. After he addressed the management issues, sales continued to rise and rise.

Continental eventually merged with United whose planes are still in the air today, but if Bethune hadn’t stepped in and fixed that one little problem that was causing big problems--leadership--Continental would have been grounded for sure.

9. Ford

Henry Ford was twenty-three when he made up his mind to get in the automobile industry. He could feel the excitement of the idea of a horseless carriage. By 1896, with the help of a few friends and some scraps of metal, he had built a car like no other.

He quickly found an investor to help him produce his new car. But building the car wasn’t quick. He had problems getting parts. And he didn’t like how much the car weighed. With all the problems, his investor pulled the plug.

But Ford wouldn’t give up. He went back to that same investor, William H. Murphy, a second time with a new prototype. A lighter one. Murphy agreed to back him a second time. He also pressured him for fast production.

Ford didn’t like that one bit. So he walked.

If it hadn’t been for Henry Ford’s persistence--and the appearance of a third investor, Alexander Malcomson--the Ford Motor Company may never have existed. Malcomson encouraged Ford, who created the first assembly line of it’s kind and cranked out 15 Ford Model A’s per day, becoming an Automotive legend.

10. Tesla Motors

Hours from going bankrupt in 2008, Elon Musk created a Christmas miracle. His two companies, SpaceX and Tesla, had been having terrible financial difficulties.

Months earlier, Musk had applied for a contract with NASA that helped bail out his SpaceX project, but he still had to worry about losing his beloved car company. The contract with NASA closed and he had money in the bank.

Working quickly, he loaned himself money from SpaceX and used it to help bail out Tesla, all the while convincing investors to match $20 million (that he hadn’t actually come up with) to dig his company the rest of the way out of its financial hole.

That bold move worked. Tesla is currently worth around $48 billion.

11. Wheaties

The cereal we all know and love with the amazing Olympic athletes on the front may have never been if it weren’t for an accidental spill at the Washburn Crosby Company in 1922. Some of the “bran gruel” was spilled on the stovetop. It puffed up into flakes that tasted way better than the original product.

Although it wasn’t a money failure, it took the cereal scientists 36 tries--35 failures--to get the texture just right. They needed to be able to package the cereal to be sold without breaking it into crumbs.

Two years later, “Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes” had been renamed “Wheaties.” Commercials were being played on the radio and a year after that, athletes were adorning the boxes. All from one little mistake in the kitchen.

Pushing past failure is the price of success.

Appliances, food, games, technology, cars, and online digital course. It doesn’t matter the industry you're in. Or the goal you want to achieve.

There is always the risk of failure. But there is also the possibility of success.

Your outcome is rooted in a powerful question.  Are you willing to keep trying? Are you willing to get back up and push forward?

All those "almost failures" had one thing in common--relentless perseverance. 

They refused to give up and they believed in their idea.

Can you say the same?
 

 

Dan Waldschmidt