Developing your idea and going about launching it is one of the most exciting and fulfilling things you can do. And yes you’re going to come up against setbacks along the way. That’s normal. But t doesn’t mean you should give up and go back to your day job. Every creator, innovator and entrepreneur comes up against plenty of obstacles along the way. Don’t see this as a reason to stop; instead, look at it as a test of your determination and grit. Those who pass this test often come out stronger as a result, and put their determination into making sure their project succeeds.

Here are three examples of businesses that were faced with potentially disastrous circumstances early on, but persevered and not only survived but actually benefited from the setbacks they surmounted:

Mary Kay Cosmetics

Mary KayMary Kay Ash worked for 25 years in sales at Stanley Home Products. However, she became increasingly frustrated with the company as she was continually overlooked for promotion in favour of her more junior male colleagues – many of whom she had trained herself.

In 1963, Mary resigned and began writing an advice book to help women succeed in business. During the writing process, Mary realised that she was in fact writing a business plan for her ideal company. Taking her own advice, Mary launched a cosmetics company using a small $5,000 investment. It was the start of Mary Kay Cosmetics – a company whose marketing plan was to encourage female employees to succeed.

At the time of Mary’s death in 2001, the business had over 800,000 representatives in 37 countries, bringing in annual sales of over $200 million. Mary’s determination to fight against an unfair system saw her find inspiration and an effective business model that she capitalised on to achieve great things.

The Body Shop

Anita Roddick outside The Body ShopAnita Roddick opened the first Body Shop in 1976, selling quality skin care products in refillable containers. Anita’s idea was to market great products with truth instead of hype.

Unfortunately, her venture immediately came under attack when two neighbouring funeral parlours objected to the name of her shop. Rather than giving into the pressure and changing the name, though, Anita went all out offensive. She approached local newspapers with the story of a woman entrepreneur being harassed by other businesses. Not only did her publicity stunt see her keep her prized name, it also generated plenty of free press for her venture, bringing in plenty of customers. Within six months she opened a second Body Shop.

In 1991, Anita was awarded with the World Vision Award for Development Initiative and in 2006 sold her company for £652 million.


In the 1970s, two high-schoolers – William and Paul – started this ambitious business to automatically read paper tapes from traffic counters for local governments. William had done some work for a company working in the area and had seem them manually processing traffic data. This gave Paul an idea for a business: “I wondered instead about using a minicomputer… We tracked down an electrical-engineering student, and soon he had a workable sketch for Traf-O-Data”

The two scraped together $360 to make their first unit. They managed to make a few sales but eventually realized it was too hard to get money out of the local government bodies who would be their customers and they wound up the business.

But they didn’t stop there. The project had bolstered their belief in the power of micro-processors. Paul and William went on to write a programming language called Altair BASIC, the first high-level language for microprocessors. When a company agreed to distribute their new language, they established a company on April 4, 1975 and called it Microsoft. The next few years would see Paul Allen and William (or Bill) Gates become multibillionaires

Paul Allen (who now has a net worth of $18 billion) told Newsweek in 2011:

“Since then, I have made my share of business mistakes, but Traf-O-Data remains my favorite mistake because it confirmed to me that every failure contains the seeds of your next success.”


My new book Screw Work Break Free explains how to find your killer idea, how to get it off the ground in your spare time faster than you ever imagined and what to do when you hit the inevitable setbacks. Download a free chapter now: