Importance of Failure: Why It’s Essential to Future Success
Can “failure” be the one of the greatest things that ever happened to you? You bet. How Thrasio COO Stephanie Fox learned to embrace the positive power of mistakes.
February 7, 2022 Stephanie Fox
Our first major “fail” at Thrasio was about 5 months into doing business. It was our first holiday season, and we only owned a handful of brands. We accidentally allowed customers to stack coupons for one of our products. Meaning, customers could keep applying coupons to the same product in their cart until it cost $0 to purchase. And purchase they did. By the time we realized it, we’d given away $80,000 in acrylic paint products.
No matter how well your company is doing, that’s a sh*tload of money.
The brand manager reported the mistake. Several of us were ultimately responsible for it, but he was the one who spoke up. CEO Carlos Cashman reacted by Slacking this to everyone at the company:
“I’ve been waiting for this…our first big banana peel slip…it’s not unexpected. It can still hurt. But we will learn from it, get better, and develop systems to avoid future ones.”
Within 3 hours of reporting the coupon-stacking fail, Marketing SVP Brandon Hendrix had run an analysis. We got on a call, discussed what happened, and figured out how we were going to make sure it didn’t happen again. Then we made a toast to our first banana slip.
Seeing “failure” as a learning experience is a matter of mindset
At Thrasio, we talk a lot about “failing forward.” Our openhearted attitude towards mistakes is part of what’s enabled us to grow so quickly and become so successful.
Faced with a massive bungle, Carlos gave us the confidence to try stuff, to fail, to be imperfect. But he also showed us that he had our back. That’s allowed us to fly ever since. He knew we would make bigger mistakes—and we have. But in that moment he proved to all of us that we’d be able to get through whatever happens. Companies are not always “up and to the right.” Good leaders know that, and the strongest teams are built to take on hard times.
Like a lot of us, I’m competitive, and I want to win. It can be hard to see “failures” as learning experiences. But it truly is all about mindset. Whether or not you’re successful is all in how you view your failures as well as your triumphs.
Ask me how I know.
The story of my ecommerce company Bravelets
Before I came to Thrasio, I was the founder and CEO of an ecommerce jewelry startup called Bravelets. In a 6-month period, I had come up with a product idea, found the supplier, built a website, and launched the brand. Unfortunately, the whole first batch of products was horrible. I ended up with 2,000 units that were really poor quality. But I had orders to fulfill, so I had to ship inferior products out.
I then found a new supplier, improved my product, and sent everyone who purchased from my first batch a free replacement. It was a lot of work. And a very expensive fail forward. But I got my business off the ground, and I needed that momentum from the first batch or Bravelets wouldn’t have gone anywhere.
That wasn’t the end of the Bravelets story. For a while, the sun was shining on Bravelets. We were winning awards for having one of the fastest-growing companies in Austin. I was profiled in Austin Business Journal as an entrepreneur under 40, We were a huge success. But we were focusing on top-line growth, and eventually, we became unprofitable. Sales stagnated. We shut the doors 6 years later. I always call Bravelets my MBA because I learned so many lessons the hard way.
In any startup or business running lean, there’s value in having a minimum viable product, or MVP. You need to put your perfectionism aside and get your product to market. Start learning from your customers, improve on your product, and produce something even better.
I met Carlos in 2013 through Bravelets (his ad agency ran our Facebook ads!) – and we partnered on the business for many years. When he founded Thrasio, he brought me on board. It was time for my next adventure. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and even when one door closes, another often more exciting door opens. Something that may at the time feel like a failure, leads to an even bigger success.
Thrasio’s version of an MVP was our very first acquisition. Our hypothesis was that we could buy a low-ranked Amazon brand on page 3 for search terms, apply all our best ecommerce business practices, and drive up rank.
We quickly learned that’s really really hard to do. If you buy a brand with 200 reviews, and the top brands in that category have 2,000 reviews, SEO chops alone can’t bridge that gap. Since then, we’ve learned so much more about what it takes to grow a brand, and it’s informed our strategy when it comes to acquiring companies. It’s a classic example of putting “fail forward” to work.
How Thrasio builds a fail-forward mentality into its culture
At Thrasio, failure isn’t the exception to the rule. It is the rule.
Carlos calls us out when he thinks we haven’t been making enough mistakes. He calls us out for not being more agile. In ecommerce, things change at lightning speed. Even if you were the very best at running PPC yesterday, what you were doing then may not work today.
You can’t be risk-averse and a disruptor. If you’re not failing, you’re not doing your job. You constantly need to try new things, break old things, and test, test, test again.
Failing forward is so important to us at Thrasio that we purposefully bake it into our culture. We ask new hires to share fail-forward stories, and the best ones are shared at our monthly meetings with Thrashers worldwide. Through the lessons of our mistakes, Thrasio as a whole keeps learning.
Nobody likes the feeling of failure. When you’re at a low point – whether it’s in your career or personal life – focusing on the positive is certainly easier said than done.
I look at it this way: I only have a certain amount of energy on a given day. So I can put that energy toward worrying, or I can put it toward building something. Shift your perspective to focus on creating, not succeeding. Lean into creating the next opportunity even if you’re just doing something you enjoy. Make a commitment to do something that excites you for one hour every day, something will spark.
The coolest thing about being in the ecommerce industry is that it does change every single day. It can be scary because it might feel like you’ll never master it, but it’s exciting because anyone of any age can enter the space and catch up. You can’t rest on your laurels. You’ve got to keep breaking, failing, fixing, and failing again.
About the Author
Stephanie Fox is the chief operating officer at Thrasio. Stephanie started her career in marketing and has 15 years of experience in ecommerce and online marketing – including her time as founder and CEO of Bravelets. She lives in Houston with her family.