- Choose the right time and the right strategy
- Adapt to new circumstances
- Build a strong team
- Pay yourself a salary - even if it is a small one
- Confidence is Key
- Be careful when choosing a legal form
- Be careful who you do business with
Failure is simply part of the journey to success and is also always an opportunity to grow and become even more resilient. In most cases, it is not a single failure that leads to the downfall of a startup. But rather the combination of several fails that gradually weaken the company.
Stephan Peters, CEO of Sport Pioneers, and Andy Gugenheimer, SVP Business Development & Strategic Partnerships at Humanoo and CEO of Sportyjob & AG Sport Consulting, take an honest look back at their fuck-ups and learnings:
Andy Gugenheimer has founded a total of 15 companies himself or was involved as an investor and co-founder - that adds up to quite a few fuck-ups.
His second start-up , Promo-Stock, was perhaps his biggest failure and one of his most significant learnings. He had the idea in 1998 to create a B2B online platform that sold discontinued sporting goods to retailers across France - a forerunner of deal platforms like Private Sports Shop and Veepee.
The products were to be showcased on Promo-Stock via video. The problem? Unfortunately, there wasn't enough bandwidth to stream smoothly back then. In addition, manufacturers were not willing to send products directly from their warehouse to the customer. The bottom line was that the product couldn't work that way. On top of that, Andy and his partner were completely inexperienced and had no idea how to successfully build a business of this kind. After two years, the two had to pull the ripcord and Promo Stock give up.
Andy's learnings from this fail were:
1. Choose the right time and the right strategy
"We were too early for several reasons. Because we were still completely inexperienced. Because the technology wasn't ready yet. Because companies weren't ready to logistically implement our idea. Something that is commonplace today." - Andy Gugenheimer
When is the optimal time for innovation? In theory, always. But before any idea is developed, it is important to analyze the market, observe the competition and plan the right implementation strategy.
2. Adapt to new circumstances
"I was frustrated to see how other competitors were doing positively. We lacked the ambition to say, 'We're taking a chance on B2C.' We're going to rent a warehouse." - Andy Gugenheimer
If the original idea doesn't work, that doesn't mean you have to jettison it. Often, the better way is to develop it strategically and adapt it to technologies, logistics, changing society, target audience and changing demand
3. Put together a strong team
"If we had had two or three other people on the team, it could have really been something. As it was, it was just my partner and me. We worked seven days a week and still didn't get to the finish line." - Andy Gugenheimer
Things just work better together: with a broader range of skills, startups can respond more confidently to challenges. A well-assembled team can help you make decisions faster and take the right steps to become successful.
4. Pay yourself a salary - even if it is a small one
Good founders pursue a clear vision in order to be successful. They think entrepreneurially and leave as much capital as possible in the company, even if that means not paying themselves a salary. Nevertheless, a monetary incentive is an important motivational boost and also necessary for survival.
"I learned then that if you don't pay yourself, it's bullshit. No matter how small your salary is, you have to build that into your business model to create a positive mindset. We were working in our small apartment, just dealing with promo stock every day. It was too much and at some point there was no incentive to keep going with it." - Andy Gugenheimer
Stephan Peters' first entrepreneurial project was a B2B event agency, which he founded together with his best friend. Although there was no real business plan, the two threw themselves into the work with enthusiasm and had great success after the first two years. When one of the major customers did not pay his invoices and no more orders came in due to the economic crisis in 2008, the company had to be dissolved. The fact that the two had founded a GbR and thus their private assets were also affected was particularly hard.
Even if it comes as a surprise at first glance, Stephan is glad that he had this experience. Because it motivated him to found his sports marketing agency Sport Pioneerswhich has been running successfully since 2010 - and that is also due to the lessons learned from his fuck-up:
1. Confidence is Key
"If something doesn't go according to plan, you need to move on with it in the best way possible. Straighten your back and deal with it proactively. That's the only way you can look in the mirror at the end of the day." - Stephan Peters
For companies in the sports business, the same is true as for all other companies: Resilience and pro-activity are gamechangers and perhaps even the key factors for success.
That also means enduring defeat and staying determined to keep going when things don't go smoothly, as well as taking the initiative to achieve your goals and move forward. And being able to deal with setbacks constructively.
2. Eyes open when choosing the legal form
"Our accountant advised us against the GbR right from the start. It was the wrong choice for us, because we were liable for the company with our private assets and had to repay the debts over several years according to an agreement with the bank." - Stephan Peters
The legal form is the basis for the success and future of a start-up. The right choice can minimize the risk of insolvency, protect your business from unexpected costs and help it grow.
3. Be careful who you do business with
This applies to both your co-founders and your customers. Both can make or break your startup.
"I just do business differently today because the experience has had a big impact on me interpersonally. I'm much more sensitive to what my partners and customers do and say. If a customer frequently doesn't pay on time, consider whether it's worth continuing to do business with them. A background check on larger orders is always a good idea." - Stephan Peters
Every successful startup has experienced setbacks, and learning from those failures leads to an unbeatable growth mindset. Accepting this as a natural part of the startup process can help you refocus, adapt, and ultimately succeed. So don't be afraid of it - fuck-ups are simply a leg of the road to success.