Before I forget, since I do not intend to forget, let me share with you some of my stories of failure and how I was able to learn from them. Experience is a costly teacher, so it’s better you learn from the experience of others. Someone even puts it in an even more interesting way, “Experience is a cruel teacher, it gives you the lessons and examples after you fail”. I have had my fair share of failure experiences, and it’s time to begin to catalogue them, perhaps you can learn from mine, and avert yours.
It was one of my early years experiences in business. It was 1996, I was in part one Electronics and Electrical Engineering in Obafemi Awolowo University, and we were in one of those long courses called ASUU 101. It was our first experience spending a whole year on one single course, while doing the course as homework. The power tussle in the Nigerian education system had caught us in it’s grip, it was Federal Government Vs ASUU, two elephants where fighting and we the grass were taking the hit! It was such a relief when from this bout of idleness when a few of us had the pleasure of being invited for a Scholarship aptitude test in Lagos. The company was Chevron, and the venue was Nigerian Law School, VI. I was excited to head for Lagos in what seemed at least more academic than my plights then, but the excitement wasn’t really about writing an exam – I had somehow psyched myself up into believing that this Scholarship test, was a perfect business opportunity for me.
Don’t ask me how I came up with this “abnormal” business idea, but haven scanned through the dailies at the thousands of students invited from all over Nigeria for this same test, I was persuaded that “Trebor Sweet” was the ideal product for the Scholarship applicants, and I would make a fortune positioning as the one selling it. I did not confer with flesh or blood, no need for brainstorming sessions or asking the mentors. The idea was pure revelation, tongue on teeth, I could count my chicks when all I had was a hen.
I got some money together, and chattered cartons of Trebor – different flavours and colours. I was on my way to becoming rich, scholarship in the future, and money in the pocket, my story was being written, I thought. I had a few reality checks here and there, my friends asking me the rationale behind this business idea, and my family asking me how on earth I thought I would have the time to sell. Well, you guessed, sometimes family and friends don’t just know when you are about to breakthrough… or perhaps, when a dog is destined to get lost, the sounds of the hunters whistle sound like applause. I shelved every criticism aside, there was no stopping on this one, the die was cast – the Trebor bought!
The D-Day came, and I eagerly dressed up and loaded my Trebor series in the boot of the car. It was destined to be a day not to forget! As soon as I got to the venue of the examination, I was stunned by the long queue that had formed outside the fence. It was a clear 30mins before the test, but the protocols of putting your credentials together, lining up and submitting them was going to take quite some time. I had no choice but to fall in line, and the queue picked up after me in no time. I was physically on the line with my credentials in my hands, but my mind was hovering around the space, looking for the perfect spot for my Trebor.
As we submitted our documents, we matched in and took our seats. The test was about to begin – not one trebor sold. I maintained a positve attitude -“Things that become great, sometimes start awfully”. Things were definitely working out in my favour. The story can’t be over until I win, actor cannot die in the middle of an English film – this is not an Indian movie. I finished at record speed, but nobody could leave until all pencils were up – “The devil is a liar!” As soon as we were released, I ran out with the speed akin to what will be required if nature was really banging hard on the door and yelling my name. I rushed to the car to rescue my Trebor and place them within the reach of fellow students and applicants who have been dying to give me money in exchange for them. I couldn’t be so close and disappoint them, no, their days could not be complete until they have relished the sweet taste of the different flavours of trebor!
In groups of 2 to 5, they walked past me, too engrossed in doing a postmortem of the just concluded aptitude test, the last thing on their minds was Trebor peppermint or orange flavour. Nothing was wrong with my product, at least it had not expired, but I had misjudged the needs or wants of my target market. I didn’t lick my wounds for long, before I settled down and with the help of my friends, licked nonsense out of the Trebors. I liked the Trebor sweets so much, that blindfolded, I could tell you the colour of what I was licking. It’s hopeless to lose two things, better to lose money and lick sweet, than to lose sweet and lose money. I thought all the lessons worth learning on this episode had been leant, until I got another invitation for another scholarship test. Once beaten but not very shy, I gathered myself afresh, reviewed my overall strategy and modified my approach. The first run, my product was a sweet, now I decided to approach the opportunity from the streets.
Stay tuned, to learn the lessons that only failure could have taught me… share with friends and let me know you read this.