In 2009, I started a website for women to buy and sell pre-owned wedding dresses. As a 30-year-old artist with no experience in tech or business or weddings, I was an unlikely entrepreneur.
I had passion for this idea, and a real desire to create a simpler, safer way for women like me to buy and sell online. So I put everything I had into the site, which I called RecycledBride.com.
Six months after launching, Recycled Bride made a profit – an astounding sum of five thousand dollars. Being profitable that early was exciting and made my head spin with possibilities. I would chase big dreams. I would embrace risk. I would build an empire! So, I took my $5k and expanded. I put every dollar into launching another website - this time for the resale of baby and kids items. I called it RecycledTyke.com.
When I discussed my new project with mentors and advisors who had start-up experience, they warned me quite sternly about the dangers of getting 'distracted' from my core business this early on. And my 'mom friends', AKA our prospective customers, said that they loved the idea, but couldn’t find good examples of things they would actually buy and sell on Recycled Tyke.
I ignored them all. There was no room for naysayers on my rocket ship! And the clock was ticking – what if somebody got there before I did? I invested into technical development and started allocating half of my time to designing and building Recycled Tyke, while also continuing to grow Recycled Bride.
When RecycledTyke.com launched in spring of 2010 it was met with a resounding thud. No matter what I did, the site just wouldn’t take off, and because I was pouring so much time into this new business, Recycled Bride began to flail and its profits disappeared. I’d managed to create a promising business, then gone and messed it all up by expanding – I was now left with not one but two failing companies. Just six months after it launched, I abandoned Recycled Tyke.
This must be what the end feels like, I thought. I’d wasted precious time and money. I’d made bad decisions. I must not be a good entrepreneur. I wondered if I should quit. But I had to pay the rent and I’d been out of the art scene for so long that I didn’t know how to go back. So, I put one foot in front of the other and threw all my energy back into Recycled Bride, desperate to make it profitable.
And a funny thing happened – it worked. Recycled Bride began to grow. And grow. And maybe, just maybe, it grew because of what I had learned from failing. I was scared straight and approached my work with a ruthless focus on results. This time I did more research and more listening. I doubled down on learning Photoshop, SEO, CSS - anything that would make me an independent machine so I didn’t have to pay contractors. And when profits returned, I put them in the bank.
Eventually, the site grew so big that we were able to attract attention from investors. And because I’d rebuilt it myself, brick by brick, I had a lot to share. I knew every number, every piece of technology, inside and out. I even had an idea for a new site (and this time, I’d spent a year researching it). I wanted to launch a buy-and-sell marketplace for women’s fashion. It was a huge category, a product that customers really wanted, and I was well-prepared to build and market it. In 2012, we got our first investment – that’s how Tradesy was born.
Today, Tradesy has 115 team members, more than 4 million members, and we’ve raised more than $40 million in venture capital financing from investors like our Virgin hero, Sir Richard Branson. I’ve never shared this story with our team or our investors, but I’m proud to do so now. The failure of Recycled Tyke taught me to A) carefully research anything before putting money behind it, and B) never get distracted from the core focus of my company. Without those lessons, Tradesy may not have grown as it did.
Failure and success may seem like opposites, but they’re each essential parts of the same journey. The lessons you learn from failure – especially the big, scary ones – should be embraced, examined and kept close to your heart. They will guide you as you travel the road to building your dream.
– This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.