Failure is never easy. Learning the right lessons from failure can help set yourself up for future success.
Look at Joe Kudla, CEO and founder of Encinitas, California, a fast-growing sportswear startup that was recently rated $4 billion in 2021.
When he launched Kudla Vuori in 2014, he had already done just that I tried and failed To get two more brands of clothing. One of them was a contemporary women’s clothing brand called Sammy Jo. The other was a T-shirt startup also called Vuori, the Finnish word for “mountain”.
“In the back of your mind, you don’t want to fail three times in a row,” Kudla tells CNBC Make It.
To avoid repeated meltdowns, Kudla mulled over his two previous attempts. He launched both as a side business while working a full-time job as an accountant, first at Ernst & Young and later with San Diego-based recruitment advisory firm Vaco.
Its biggest benefit: Remove the safety net, quit your job and go all out.
“The lessons I learned from those early companies was that for me to build a clothing brand, I wasn’t going to be able to do it on the side, as a side hustle or out of the garage,” Kudla says. “I would have to hop on two feet, and become a freak.”
He says that launching the current version of Vuori as a side business wouldn’t work for two reasons. First, it was difficult to convince investors to back him if they knew he wasn’t devoting all his focus to the company.
Second, he knew from experience that he might want to throw in the towel and go back to his full-time job if Furey struggled early on.
“Once the going got tough, I would say, ‘It’s not working,’ and just go back to the easy way,” Kudla says.
So, aiming to build an agile apparel brand that could rival the likes of Lululemon, Kudla quit his job at Vaco and raised $700,000 in a “friends and family” funding round to start making and marketing Vuori’s first products.
The company suffered intensely in its early days, nearly running out of money in less than two years. But without a clear backup plan, Kudla felt he needed to redouble efforts and find a way for Vuori to make money.
His ultimate solution — switching to an e-commerce sales strategy with lots of social media marketing, instead of selling clothes in gyms and yoga studios — worked, saving him from a third failure that would have left him with no income whatsoever.
Kudla’s first two attempts helped him in another way, too. The CEO says he’s always been drawn to the idea of designing and marketing clothing, but has little or no experience in the field, which contributes to those companies’ false starts.
The startup’s failures were his design school, he says: “They taught me a lot.”
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