Perseverance is one of the most underrated virtues for entrepreneurs. No matter what business you’re in, no matter what the economy is doing, there are going to be hugely challenging times – many restaurateurs are going through this right now, with the way the recession has impacted our industry.
The Best Practice of Successful Entrepreneurs is His Refusal to Quit
When things look bleak, you might be tempted to quit. You might even have people whom you love and trust who are telling you to quit. But I’ve found in my own career – and there are so many examples of this – that often, if you hold on just a little bit longer, or try to do something just a little bit different, you’ll see much better results.
Some of the biggest names in business struggled with the prospect of failure before achieving their greatest success:
• Richard Branson: When he was trying to get Virgin Atlantic Airways off the ground, he got into a price war with British Airways. They almost drove him out of business. His advisers were telling him, “You have to sell one of your companies; you can’t keep both.” So he decided to sell his crown jewel – Virgin Records, for 500 million pounds. (This was in 1992, when the music business still made money by selling albums.) Selling Virgin Records gave him the ability to pay down the debt to support Virgin Airlines – and even though this was a tough, risky decision, Branson was confident that it was the right thing to do. He was committed to offering something better in the airline industry. His advisors wanted him to give up on the airline, and they couldn’t believe that he chose the airline over the record business. Later he said this was the best decision he could have made – he got out of the music business at just the right moment.
• Steve Jobs: He has become a hero of the modern business world, but back in 1985, Steve Jobs suffered a very public failure. Years after he founded Apple Computers, Jobs was pushed out of his own company and resigned as CEO in 1985. Fortunately, he didn’t give up – he came back to Apple in 1997, and transformed the struggling computer maker into the most admired and envied personal electronics company in the world. Everyone who has ever worked with Steve Jobs testifies to his relentless, uncompromising, demanding expectations of himself, his company, and everyone around him. Steve Jobs rebounded from failure to create the iPod, iPhone, and iPad – monumentally breakthrough products that have changed the world.
• Southwest Airlines: Southwest is one of the most profitable U.S. airlines and has a great reputation for customer service. A few years ago I spoke at a conference where one of the other speakers was a former CEO of Southwest, and he told a story about how after 9/11, Southwest took a huge hit (like the rest of the airline industry) and was down to a dangerously low level in their operating accounts (he said just a few hundred dollars in their operating account – amazingly candid and powerful insight into what they were really going through at the time). Thousands of customers were asking for refunds, afraid to fly in the days after the terrorist attacks on America. Other airlines were refusing to issue refunds, afraid to lose money. Southwest took a different approach – they honored their customers’ requests for refunds, and sold hugely discounted tickets just to get people in the seats and get people flying again. It was a risky move, but it worked – Southwest was one of the first airlines to recover from the airline downturn after 9/11.
When you look at all of these stories, there were probably lots of times where these people and their companies hit roadblocks that could have been deal-killers – where people around them were saying, “It can’t be done, it’s impossible.” The mark of a successful entrepreneur is that they hear that feedback, and then they say, “Okay, so it’s impossible. But if it were possible, how would we do it?”
Times right now have been tough for the restaurant industry – with the Great Recession and the slow recovery, there are lots of people in our business who are feeling beaten up and tattered. But let’s not give up. Let’s keep looking for ways to innovate and do things better.
The “Never Give Up” cartoon attached to this post was once hanging on my dad’s office wall at his restaurant in Panama City, Florida – I remember seeing this cartoon over the years while I was growing up. My dad was one of the most important voices that encouraged me to stick with my consulting business back when I was just getting off the ground.
I could have given up, but I didn’t – and I’m glad that I held out a little bit longer. I’m living proof that sometimes, even at your bleakest moments, things get better.
There are no successful entrepreneurs that are also successful nay-sayers. If you want to cultivate a spirit of perseverance as an entrepreneur, you need to surround yourself with people who believe in you, but the most important voice to listen to is ultimately your own. Pay attention to your own intuition, hunches, your internal compass. This will guide you in the right direction.