By Bert Carder
It was December 2009 and I sat in my home office staring out the window. The thought that kept swirling around my head was, “I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe I have to close the business after 10 years.”
I had spent the previous two years fighting to keep things alive. The Great Recession of 2008-2010 killed the business, a SaaS-based solution to help Salon and Spa Owners with their appointment booking and marketing. We lost 50% of our customers in 2008 and the remaining 50% of our customers in 2009.
I had been close to a solution that would’ve saved the company in September 2008. I signed a pilot contract with a major brand that would bring 500 customers onto the platform. It would eventually roll into 80,000 customers nationwide if it worked. The partnership was meant to start in January 2009, but was pushed to July 2009. I just couldn’t hold on that extra 6 months.
Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I had successfully sold my previous two businesses, so I was not expecting this outcome. Letting a team of 7 people go and selling all the assets to creditors was fearful and humbling. I often asked myself, “What I did wrong or what I would do differently.” I came to two conclusions which I share often with my consulting clients.
First, I launched the business without understanding the market demand. I thought it was a great idea, and that it would save people money: everyone would buy it. In hindsight, I should have done more market research, and likely held off the launch until we raised more money.
You see, I was launching a new and innovative online appointment booking platform for salons that was going to disrupt the industry, but nobody understood the solution or had a budget for it yet. Back in 2000, salons weren’t looking for a product like this, so selling it was slow and expensive. I had to educate them on the product, provide credibility that it worked, and then validate the value it would provide for their monthly subscription… three different steps, all of which wasted valuable time. Yes, I was a trail blazer and was innovative, but I was also having to educate the market. It was expensive and left me financially vulnerable when the Great Recession arrived.
Which leads me to my second lesson: to be financially prepared for the ebb and flow of the economy. Sometimes things are red hot and you can sell just about anything, and sometimes things are cold and people become conservative with their money.
I lost money for years while I was educating the market and figuring out the best way to sell the solution. Even though I was launching the business during a growing economy, it took time to find the market and build a customer base to sustain the business. Six years passed until the market was ready and actively looking for online booking solutions like ours. If we had launched then, we would have been golden. Instead we were weak and vulnerable when the competition came rushing in to fill the market demand. Then the recession hit. We were not prepared for the market slowdown.
Anyway, in the end I closed the business, moved to Asia, and my life has turned out great. I had to close my business, but I learned valuable lessons I was able to take with me to my next venture. I realized I was not a failure, but an entrepreneur who was following his passion and working on making his dreams come true. And as Richard Branson said, “Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”
Bert Carder has an entrepreneurial background, having founded 5 companies over his career, one of which was a training and consulting company which he sold in 2006 to a Fortune 500 company before moving to Asia. His latest venture is a company called Local News Network based in Durango Colorado, which is disrupting the local news business.
He has delivered hundreds of workshops over the last 20 years on marketing, recruiting and sales training, as well as 1-on-1 business consulting and mentorship to CEO’s and Founders. He currently volunteers with the SBDC, providing consulting to SW Colorado business owners. His training is practical and coaching is real, drawing from his real-life experiences, successes and failures.