All entrepreneurs have their world turned upside down at some point. Business partner embezzles money; legislative change destroys the business model; lawsuit; bad press; death of a key man; former friend launches a slander campaign. The list goes on and on.
Sometimes an entrepreneur has two or three of these “black swan” events in their career. But it doesn’t matter how hard you get hit or if you fall down. The only thing that matters is if you rise again. Often, entrepreneurs rise to new heights after a black swan event.
Here is advice from 11 entrepreneurs who encountered almost unimaginable setbacks and came out the other side even stronger. Some of these entrepreneurs’ stories are unknown, but trust us when we say they’ve been through the wringer and back.
1. As long as you have your family, business doesn’t mean sh*t!
I lost millions in revenue overnight when states changed their laws, stopping us from shipping wine to those states. The only thing that got me through, and continues to gets me through anything, is the health and well-being of my family. If you ever lose perspective and think that business is more important than your family, ask yourself: what if that business situation worked out perfectly but the people you care about most were going through health issues or pain?
— Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee), Founder and CEO of VaynerMedia and NYT bestselling author of#AskGaryVee
2. Something terrible can lead to greatness
I had 22 jobs and was fired from seven of them before starting my business. That pushed me to start a job of my own renting apartments in NYC. If I had been really successful at any of those jobs, I wouldn’t have become self-employed.
When my boyfriend (and business partner) left me to marry my secretary, I was devastated. When I finally built the courage to end the partnership one year later, he told me I would never succeed without him. I did and sold my new business for $66 million 20 years later.
On the heels of every setback is an equally large bounce-back if you’re smart enough to hang in there and find it.
3. You don’t have to go through it alone
Be willing to ask for and to accept help. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.
— Roberto Orci (@realboborci), Hollywood super producer and screenwriter whose movies and TV shows have grossed over $5 billion worldwide
4. Now you know who’s really there for you
Huge failures make you realize who your true friends are. It doesn’t matter how many Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections you have. The more setbacks I had, the more I refined a system to sort out who my real friends actually are. It can be very blurry. I put people into two buckets: friends and friendly. If someone wanted to be friends, I would push them to their limit to test their true intentions.
— Jay Georgi (@mnytks), Founder of Nadvia and Operations / Management / Profits Retention Coach
5. Now you know what not to do
I failed seven times back-to-back, then bankrupt and rock bottom on the eight. Failed 20 times investing and lost millions, and was removed as CEO of my own fund. I once got rejected 52 times in 60 days. Each failure taught me resilience, persistence and what not to do. Write down 100 things not to do in your business EVER, and use that list as your foundation for every future business. Failure is just an event, it will pass. It’s not a permanent situation unless you let it be.
6. You are not a failure
In life generally, but in entrepreneurship especially, many outcomes are beyond your direct control, and the best you can do is tip the odds in your favor by consistently making good decisions. Just because you fail at doing something doesn’t make you a failure. Remember that being good has nothing to do with achievement. You are a good person, worthy of love and belonging, independent of what you achieve or don’t achieve.
7. Figure out what you can do, and just do it
Earlier this year, a client didn’t pay us what they were supposed to, and with their second bill they didn’t pay at all. The estimated loss of revenue was around half a million dollars. We focused on what we could control: we applied for a few loans, we cut what we could. We looked at growth opportunities, and we all went to work. We let the lawyers deal with the non-payment. By the end of the year, we will have eclipsed the losses easily.
8. Know who you are, and show everyone what that means
You’re not your title, accolades, accomplishments or future goals. The value in a setback is that it gives you the opportunity to go deep inside and remember who you are. Your passion, your grit, your courage — those things will carry you through the dark times. People may be smarter than you, but never let them trick you into thinking they’re better than you. No matter what happened, there is a solution.
— Nafise Nina Hodjat (@ninahodjat), Founder and managing attorney of The SLS Firm
9. This is actually an opportunity
Every setback, no matter how unimaginable, is a rare chance to learn, prove your core values, deepen relationships, adapt and change course. The key is in how you act — not react. Get perspective. Take a breath, run a mile or have a bourbon with an old friend. Hell — do all three. Find that shift that opens up this setback and turns it to your advantage. What would the hero of your story do?
— Chris Plough (@chrisplough), Entrepreneur advisor and serial entrepreneur
10. Sell, sell, sell
The only thing which has the power to bring any entrepreneur or business back from the brink is to fully focus on increasing sales of the highest margin and most demanded products. Do NOT get distracted trying to deal with nasty political wars. Keep your entire focus and your team’s entire focus on exponentially increasing sales. Without cash, you will fail. With cash, you have power to come back and power forward.
11. This setback puts you one step closer to success
I’ve always believed in myself. The problems you need to solve to become successful are small. Elon Musk is flying people to Mars, so why can’t we create a cool little internet business, or whatever else it is you want to do? Some people work a boring job and solve boring problems; I don’t understand that. Life is meant to be lived. We are meant to do cool stuff. Just because there has been a small setback, it doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you are that much closer to your desired success.