Failure is never easy. Learning the right lessons from failure can help you succeed in the future.
Check out Joe Kudla, the 45-year-old CEO and founder of Encinitas, California, Vuori, a fast-growing athletic apparel start-up last valued at $4 billion in 2021.
By the time Kudla launched Vuori in 2014, he had already tried and failed to launch two other clothing brands. One of these was a modern women’s clothing brand called Sammy Jo. The other was a t-shirt startup he 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 collapsing again, Kudla studied his previous two attempts. He had started both as side hustles while holding a full-time job as an accountant, first at Ernst & Young and later at San Diego-based recruitment firm Vaco.
His biggest takeaway: Remove the safety net, quit your job, and go all out.
“The lesson I learned from those early ventures was that I couldn’t do building a clothing brand on the side, as a side hustle, or out of the garage,” says Kudla. “I had to jump in with two feet and get possessed.”
Launching the current version of Vuori as a side hustle wouldn’t have worked for two reasons, he says. First, it would have been harder to persuade investors to back him if they knew he wasn’t fully focused on the company.
Second, he knew from experience that if Vuori struggled early on, he might want to throw in the towel and return to his full-time job.
“As soon as it got difficult, I would have said, ‘It doesn’t work’ and just gone back to the easy path,” says Kudla.
With a goal of building an activewear brand that could compete with the likes of Lululemon, Kudla quit his job at Vaco and raised $700,000 in a “friends and family” funding round to begin manufacturing and marketing the first products of to begin before.
The company struggled intensely in its early days, almost running out of money in less than two years. But with no apparent back-up plan, Kudla felt he needed to double down and find a way for Vuori to make money.
His eventual solution – switching to an e-commerce sales strategy with lots of social media marketing instead of selling clothes in gyms and yoga studios – worked and saved him from a third failure that would have left him without any income whatsoever.
Kudla’s first two attempts also helped him in other ways. The CEO says he was always drawn to the idea of designing and marketing clothing, but had little to no experience in the field and contributed to these companies’ false starts.
The failed startups essentially served as a design school for him, he says: “They taught me so much.”
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