Show me someone who has achieved anything worthwhile and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity

Columnists | Food & Drink
John Stapleton

John Stapleton is an entrepreneur, angel investor, business leader and speaker with over 30 years’ experience in pioneering new FMCG categories and establishing and growing successful consumer-led businesses in both the UK and the USA. 

In 1987 John co-founded The New Covent Garden Soup Co Ltd., which pioneered and grew the fresh soup category in the UK. On reaching over £20m revenue, Daniels PLC bought New Covent Garden Soup Co in 1998. In that same year, John co-founded Glencoe Foods Inc., to bring the fresh soup concept to the US. 

In 2005, John co-founded Little Dish, which supplies healthy, natural and convenient meals and snacks to children over one year old. He is Business Leader’s latest columnist. 

I get asked a lot, what is my one single piece of advice to Entrepreneurs.

There are, of course, many but the one that probably trumps all is: “when adversity strikes (and it will), don’t take it personally”.

Overcoming adversity 

Lou Holz once said: “Show me someone who has achieved anything worthwhile and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” Essentially, if you don’t get out of your comfort zone you will never do anything worthwhile. In doing anything worthwhile, you will attract adversity – often repeatedly.

This stands to reason. As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we are disruptors. We try to find a different way to solve a problem or provide a benefit. This usually throws up obstacles, difficulties and challenges. (Sometimes these obstacles are simply inside our own heads, and they can often be the most debilitating – but that’s for another day).

The more adversity we encounter can, in fact, indicate that we are on to a good thing. So, not only should we not take it personally, I believe we should embrace adversity. We should make it our allay by turning it into a competitive advantage (versus the guy who doesn’t).

A difficult pill to swallow 

If you call NCGSC or Little Dish a success, then you must characterise Glencoe Foods as a failure. After almost five years of running the business in California, I decided to shut it down. This was a real shame and a very difficult pill to swallow.

While we got a lot right in the US, fundamentally, the business did not work.
It’s been said many times before that there is great benefit in allowing yourself to fail. I believe the real benefit comes from learning from this experience.

Failure hurts 

The main thing I learned from failure is that it hurts! The Glencoe Foods project in the US was undoubtedly the one that hurt the most. The main benefit in learning this lesson is it makes you want to never experience failure again. While success can be a lousy teacher, you also clearly can’t make a career out of failure.

I’m convinced you need to experience the pain of failure in order to benefit from it. In fact that is the main benefit. And when failure does occur, don’t allow yourself to take it personally or become the victim, but move quickly, despite the pain, to dealing with the consequences.

The Glencoe US experience spurred me on to prove to everyone – mostly myself – that my first business success wasn’t a fluke or didn’t happen somehow, despite me. (Your head plays tricks with you when you find yourself in that painful place.) Ultimately, that is where the motivation came from to create my third business, Little Dish, which happily turned out to be a success.

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