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Why My First Successful Business Was Ultimately A Flop (And How To Learn From My Mistake!)

Cat LeBlancIt’s time to spill the beans.

You may or may not know that when I started out on my entrepreneurial journey, I did exactly what I generally recommend people NOT to do: I quit my job with no business plan in place and no idea what business I was going to start.

I had savings to last me around a year so it wasn’t complete lunacy. I do like to take calculated risks.

I leaped before I looked

The reason I took this kind of crazy leap was because of my job. At the time I was working at an investment bank supporting trading systems. If you are in IT, you may know that supporting these kinds of systems – the ones connected to the money – are the most high stress. Whenever anything would go down we would have several layers of management running around panicking about the 12 billion dollar yen trade that was about to fall through if we didn’t fix it. We (all three of us) were actually told that there was so much money flowing through one of the systems we supported that if it were to go fully offline it would actually affect the Australian economy.

Apart from the stress, this corporate gig of mine involved two weeks of normal 9–6 work and then one week of “on call.” My on call weeks would go like this: On the train home from work – phone rings, (phone only ever rings in an emergency) I would go home, work. Try and break for dinner. Phone would ring. Try and go to bed – yep, phone would ring. Three a.m., finally get to sleep, phone rings. As you can imagine this job was turning me into a zombie, and there comes a point where you really don’t care what the overtime rates are.

I was so busy and under so much stress, there was no way I could start a side business. So I had to leave to even MAKE a plan.

Of course, I was under a lot of pressure to make something happen once I decided investment banks were not my scene. I have IT skills, I’m great with systems, good with people and am pretty flexible. I read all the literature I could find on starting a business, business models, and the economics of making money in business. I needed something where my skills would be useful and the plan was for my partner to quit too once I had it up and running – so we needed a business that fit his skills too.

After going through what felt like 101 different ideas we decided to go into car batteries. Bet you didn’t see that coming!

Building a successful business – that I hated

 

We were pretty certain we could make money in car batteries, and it fitted my boyfriend’s skill set perfectly. My part was setting up the IT systems so we could track our stock, managing the finances, and most importantly telling a customer when they called what battery they needed so we could make the sale.

So we worked out our processes, I set up the IT systems, which was kind of fun – nerd alert! We put our first ads up and people started calling us. They wanted our product and it was working. My boyfriend didn’t want me driving round to random people’s houses (thank God!) so we would go together and we got to meet many weird and wonderful characters. We had high margins, and if anything in that particular business model getting stock was more of an issue than getting customers.

So why did I quit?

Because I hated it. I hated having to talk to people about something outside of my zone of genius. I know NOTHING about cars. Well, next to nothing. I knew enough to sell people the right battery, but I didn’t feel good about it.

Our whole plan sounded good in theory, but I discovered I didn’t want to be the girl who answers the phone at the office, either. I wanted more than that. Yes, we could have hired people out after a period of time but I wasn’t committed to getting it to that point, and it was a big stretch to get it to the point of my boyfriend quitting his job to join me. And once he did, then basically he would be doing everything – so what would I do?

A little sadder but wiser, I started exploring different options, and really exploring the online world and my personal passion – business strategy.

The true meaning of being an entrepreneur

I started a successful business, but it wasn’t the right business for me. I was almost as miserable working on the car battery business as I was working on banking IT systems. (OK, not quite that bad, but it might have got there if I hadn’t quit.) Turns out, it was my boyfriend’s dream business (and he plans to start it up again soon). But because I was desperate to do SOMETHING, I didn’t take the time to find the right business for me, and I wasted six months working towards someone else’s dream.

Ouch.

Ultimately, what I know now is that you have to, more than anything, start the right business for YOU.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. (Beware of anyone who says it is!) The reward is in doing something you love and building your dream. If you’re building the wrong business, someone else’s dream, it’s really no better than working in a corporate job – maybe worse!

What’s your dream business?

How did you know your business was the right one for you?

If you haven’t started your business yet, what’s holding you back? What stories are you telling yourself about why you can’t have your dream?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments below…

2 Responses to Why My First Successful Business Was Ultimately A Flop (And How To Learn From My Mistake!)

  1. Thank you for sharing Cat!

    These are really valuable insights, I’ve seen other people too starting business, or starting to work on business, just for the sake of it, instead of for the love of it. I had the benefit of a lot of really switched on and good advisors before I got started (yourself included!) and now am on the way to a business I really love.

    I knew this was the right business for me because it combines several things that I love and it is all about giving :) It’s perfect! It couldn’t be anyone elses dream, nobody else is the same as me. It’s a very individual business ;)

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