In my new book, Rock Bottom to Rock Star, I talk about a number of people who’ve inspired me throughout my life – entrepreneurs, mentors, artists, and anyone that I’ve witnessed living a rock star life, or like I say, owning their own stage. I study the lives of great entrepreneurs so that I can learn from them, and one of the greatest examples is the late Steve Jobs. I consider myself a lifelong student of Jobs—I have a signed photo of him on the wall of my office; I’ve hired people he’s worked with to speak to my team; and I’ve watched every documentary, movie, and read every book on him that I could find. But it’s not his successes I’m most interested in—it’s his failures.
Once upon a time Apple was the laughing stock of the technology industry. They called Jobs a has-been. They mocked them for even showing up at tech conferences. That’s how bad his reputation once was, compared with today, where both Jobs and his brand are immortalized. In the book, I tell one particular story about how I used his rock bottom moments with Apple as my inspiration, as I’ve struggled to reinvent my company ViSalus.
I became the CEO of ViSalus in 2005, and since that time we went through almost every possible scenario — we sold the company to publicly traded Blyth Inc. in 2008, weathered the recession and almost went bankrupt, but then generated $624 million in product sales and $97million in profit by 2012 and bought the company back from Blyth in 2014 for $143million. Almost two years from our buyback date, we are right back where we started. I know it takes an element of personal magic and sometimes no less than a miracle to turn a company around — 16-plus hour days, emergency tactics — but sometimes nothing you plan, goes according to plan.
Like me, every entrepreneur spends a significant portion of his or her career struggling with the dilemma of making the most important business decisions in the face of not knowing what lies ahead. Should I sell my company? Is now a good time to exit? Are we ready to launch? In other words, is that a cliff that I’m running at full speed or is it more flat land?
Unless you’ve structured your company to avoid taking risks (like owning a Subway franchise, for instance), you are always in one of those scenarios, wondering which it’s going to be. I call this “running at the cliff.” Either way, you’re sailing off of the edge or hitting the bottom, but you’ve got to be prepared for both. Get used to it.
So if you haven’t hit bottom yet—I’d argue you’re doing something wrong.
Ryan Blair is co-founder and CEO of Visalus Sciences, a marketing firm. Blair is also author of Rock Bottom to Rock Star.