Walt Disney and Malcolm Bell are inextricably linked.
Bell’s first taste of entrepreneurialism may not have happened without Walt Disney’s persistence.
He may never have spoken at TED, be a regular speaker at Google’s London campus- be setting up his most recent venture Mailcloud– or be heavily involved with the Harvard Business school.
It’s easy to think of Walt Disney as a pioneering success, a visionary who inspired countless children and adults around the globe. Yet as we delve further, we begin to understand that as is frequently the case, failure determines success.
He created more than 81 feature films and hundreds of short films. He earned more than 950 honors, including 48 Academy Awards. And of course, he built Disneyland.
Yet it’s often the tales less spoken that are truly telling of an entrepreneur’s character. The blood, sweat and tears that go on behind the scenes, all of which are bound within the very life form of the finished product.
In the early 1930’s, Disney found his company in $4 million worth of debt. The odds were clearly stacked against him.
Yet with barely enough cash to finance their up and coming project in 1938- a little film, known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was a runaway success, suddenly sending Disney’s then tiny animation studio into the stratosphere.
The film not only gave the studio a leg up out of bankruptcy, but also provided enough revenue to start building the Walt Disney Studios, whose work changed the world. This is true homage to the belief that failure determines success.
My point here, is that all it takes is one great idea to turn a series of failures around. In order to achieve greatness, you have to fail greatly.
Fast forward to 1990, and a 7 year old Malcolm Bell was being taken on the obligatory trip to Disneyland. I imagine every trip begins the same way- persistent screaming, arguing, and of course foot stomping- until eventually, parents give in.
It’s the fear of failure that people need to get over.
Yet this trip differed slightly, and would be the setting in which Bell’s career would begin. A magic shop. Probably somewhere on Main Street, where he bought some tricks.
“I would charge my parents one pound each to come and watch my magic show. And that was my first business”
He started a spate of smaller businesses throughout his childhood, including, aged 15, a web design company after reading HTML for dummies cover to cover.
Such promise as a young budding entrepreneur came to fruition in July 2011, when along with his wife, Dessi, Bell co-founded Zaggora, which made technology-enhanced workout wear to maximise workouts at the gym.
“Within 10 weeks of going live we sold 100,000 products. And within 18 months we bootstrapped to $40 million dollars, no investors and a customer base which spanned 140 countries”
Right idea, wrong time
Bell’s seemingly runaway success wasn’t all plain sailing though. With a series of mishaps along the way highlighting once again, that failure determines success.
The difference between success and failure tends to come down to a single differentiating factor. Those who batten down the hatches in the face of adversity, are the ones who make it home and dry.
“I love talking about my failures” says Bell, who imparts some wisdom on how failure determines success, and the importance of not underestimating the sheer power that being in the right place at the right time can have.
“Before I started Zaggora, I left a job to set up my own investment fund. It seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I slogged away with a partner I had met at JP Morgan for 18 months or so. No one would give us any money. It was the right idea, but just the wrong time. It was a disaster.”
Luck is often underestimated when it comes to the success or failure of a startup. For the most part, luck tends to be downplayed and side-lined because it minimizes what entrepreneurs yearn for: control over their own destiny.
The way of the samurai
Failure determines success, and the learning curve can be steep, brutal and long.
Forbes sadly found that 8 in 10 businesses crash and burn in the first 18 months. Thus, the likelihood is you’re going to fail.
Yet, as with Walt Disney, Malcolm Bell, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and many many more, it’s how you get back on the horse that matters most.
“Failure sucks and success is great, but what I think is important, is to draw the executional and operational lessons from things that don’t work out well. It’s the way of the samurai. It’s the life you’ve chosen.”
“A question I get asked a lot” says Bell “Is what makes a successful entrepreneur? Or what makes a successful startup?”
The question has a glaringly obvious answer, but is something that far too often is overlooked.
“I don’t know anyone successful who didn’t put themselves out there”
“It’s the fear of failure that people need to get over. Entrepreneurs need to be comfortable with the fact that some things will inevitably fail.”
We are living in a golden age for startups where the road back from failure determines success. Bell has learnt from previous failures and has infused this into Mailcloud. His new start up aims to shake up emailing, in an attempt to make us more productive beings.
“The team grew so rapidly at Zaggora. We didn’t put enough of an emphasis on things like company culture, team and the sort of values that my wife and I shared. Whereas now, at Mailcloud…we’ve put more focus into our values, the mission, and understanding what it is we believe in.”
For any entrepreneur, the realization that failure determines success needs to come sooner, rather than later. It’ll provide benefit in unimaginable ways.