Stories of Small Business Failure

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You know how you’re told to make lemonade when life hands you lemons?

Well, what do you do with overripe bananas? You make Filos! This episode is about the times when we should have given up because the failure seemed so great. But they are also personal business stories that show you what happens when you persist. You’ll enjoy these stories about 5000bc and Psychotactics. And it’s all about failure, and how things turned out on the other side.

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When I was growing up, we always had a lot of green bananas around the House.

Now there’s a problem, we’ve bananas and that is that they’re all green at one point in time and then like some magic trick, they all start to get darker and then they all become black. And unless you’re a banana eating family that times it exactly right, the bananas are either too hard, too difficult to eat or just too soft and sweet and gooey.

And at that point, no one wanted to touch them. And there is this phrase, when you have lemons, you make lemonade. And in Goa, India they make a little sweet called filos. And that was our version of lemonade being made from lemons.

We made filos from bananas and today we’re going to talk about filos moments we’re going to talk about how at Psychotactics we have run into a reasonable amount of failure and it’s very difficult to say, okay, this is one type of failure. So we’re going to put it in three boxes as we always do.

We’ll look at failure through different lenses. Let’s look at the three types of failure that we’re going to talk about, and this is storytime, so you’re going to enjoy yourself.

  1. The first kind of failure would be projects that should have been abandoned.
  2. The second just comprises of moments of despair.
  3. And finally, the third type of failure is one where we got pushed into the corner.

Business Story 1: Let’s start out with the first one, which is projects that should have been abandoned.

We started 5000bc in the year 2003 so I had written the book, The Brain Audit, and people started asking whether we could have a place to discuss The Brain Audit. And blogs had just started at that point in time. So we kind of took this blog behind the screen; behind a pay wall; but it was not much of a pay wall. 5000bc cost just $7 a year. Yes. That’s the whole year.

And you had a forum and you had articles and you had a blog and all of that stuff for $7 a year. Almost instantly about a hundred people signed up for 5000bc—for the membership—and then the year passed and there wasn’t an automatic renewal. We would reach the end of December and then we’d just change the password for the next year. So if you joined in November or December, then you just got one month of membership.

If you joined at the start of the year, you would get the whole year’s membership. It wasn’t perfect, but that was the system. Anyway, the first year passes and we decide we’re going to increase prices and we increase the prices from $7 to $11. Now that kind of seems like a 50% increase, but you know how it is – $7 to $11 aren’t that much of a jump. At this point, more than 50% of the audience disappears.

They don’t renew. What are you supposed to do? It’s like sitting in a room and you’re speaking to an audience and then 50% of them stand up and leave the room. You just think that there’s something wrong with you. There’s something wrong with your project.

You think that—you can’t think, actually—can you? You just wonder if you made a right decision. You wonder if everything was wrong in the first place. Logically, this project should have been abandoned way back in 2004 but here we are in 2019 and 5000 BC is still vibrant.

It’s still a place where people are kind and helpful and that’s one of the things that we have learned. When we have these difficult moments, we have to look at it and give it some breathing space because not every idea starts out being amazing or brilliant straight off the blocks. Which is what we’ve come to assume when we look at everything on the Internet is that everything should work the first time around.

Every sale should work. Everything should just go like clockwork. That’s not been our experience. In fact, 5000bc has gone through a lot of upheaval over the years. There was a point when it was going crazy, as in 150 to 200 posts a day, and that’s a problem in itself. Because when people join 5000bc, they expect me to respond to their questions, which is what we promise and 200 posts would show up per day.

That’s a lot of questions to deal with. And then there were times when there would be nothing and Renuka I would be going for a walk and I would talk to her and say, “no one’s posted and 5000bc, the forum is extremely quiet”, and then the next day forum, extremely quiet. The third day, same thing. There’s this whole cricket sequence that goes on and I’m desperately writing articles, trying to push people, trying to pull people, trying to get this activity going.

We’ve not had much of a problem for quite a while now in 5000bc, but that was one of the projects that you could have said, okay, we should abandon this. The second story that I would like to tell you in this sequence of abandonment is the copywriting course. We now call it the sales page course or the sales letter course, whatever you want to call it, but at that point in time it was called the copywriting course and it’s the year 2010 which means that we’ve been online for close to 10 years.

We’ve sold lots of copies of The Brain Audit. We have sold other products. We’ve done multiple workshops in the U.S, in Australia, in New Zealand, and at this point it’s a no brainer to host a copywriting course online, especially because in 2006 in 2007 in 2008 we had the protégé courses and they were a year long and we had copywriting courses and they went fine. But then came 2010 after being 10 years in the business and having lots of clients and lots of experience and everything technically going our way. We announced the course and just four seats fill up.

Should we abandon the project? That’s the question that you have to ask yourself. Is it about the contents? Is it about the pricing? These are questions that are almost impossible to answer and the only way you can answer this question is to have another course. So we did! We had another course in a few years and to this day it’s the fastest selling course that we’ve ever had in Psychotactics.

We had 25 seats at over $2,000 and all of them are gone in 20 minutes. This first part is about bananas. Again, it’s about unripe bananas. It’s bananas that we try to open and eat too quickly and of course it didn’t work, but then we waited for a while and we could eat the bananas. So that’s the end of the first section, which is when we looked at projects that should have been abandoned, but it gets worse.


Business Story 1: There is a moment of pure despair and if it were just a moment it would be fine, but it lasted almost all year and it affected not one or two, but three of our websites.

In 2015 we were running our websites on a software called Joomla. And Joomla is a very robust content management system. It’s a bit like WordPress and we’d been running it for several years on three or four websites. So the main website is Psychotactics.com and then we have 5000bc.com and then we have another site, at training.brainaudit.com and that’s where we do all our courses. Joomla! was the content management system that we’d been using for all of these three websites,

But as a small business, it’s hard to keep track of all the updates and all the things that you have to do with your website and admittedly we got slack. We didn’t make all the updates that Joomla pushed our way. That’s when we had our first hacker. Psychotactics went down and I didn’t know where to look, so I went to Facebook and I asked people if they had someone to recommend and there was this guy, Nathan.

Nathan came in and he fixed the website and the problem was gone. The website was up again. Few weeks later they’re back again. Website is down, Nathan comes in, fixes it, and every time you’re paying Nathan, which is fair enough and really worth the money. But you don’t know when you’re going to be hacked. And suddenly you have courses going, or you’re out in a workshop, or doing all this stuff that you have to do in a business, and now your website’s not functioning.

People can’t buy off your website. People can’t do stuff and you probably losing subscribers. All of this has happening simultaneously. And while we are dealing with Psychotactics.com someone goes and hacks, 5000bc.com and suddenly there are all of these images in the image folder. We don’t know where it came from. Obviously there is this loophole, this little backend thing that was left open.

Then the hackers go to the training site and now we have three of these disasters unfolding at the same time. At first we’re just removing folders we are locking folders, blocking hold countries from accessing the website and then eventually you have to go through the trauma—and I call it trauma—because you have to shift the entire thing across to wordpress for every moment that we’ve had these extreme problems. We’ve also had enormous help. Clients have come to our rescue.

They’ve recommended stuff; they’ve helped out. Bob Janes for instance, is a 5000bc member and from the very start he pitched in, he helped us set up forums, he cleaned up stuff. He did things for us that clients don’t usually do for you. Other clients made solid recommendations and as a result we were able to get our websites up.

And running and then eventually we had a Stresslessweb.com come in, clean up everything and they’ve been handing our websites ever since and we’ve never had a problem, but this has been a moment of complete despair. And yet when we fixed the websites and we got them onto wordpress, we realized something. We had a problem in place. Our subscribers had been kind of trickling in, but it was slow and we just thought, okay, the Internet’s become more busy. We haven’t been doing a lot of promotion.

And then we just switched over our websites and it took off. It just took off. At that point we realized, oh wait, our websites had been throttling, the subscribers. Somehow it had been so bad that Google hadn’t been referring clients to us because of our crappy code, because of all the things that we hadn’t done. It was a real blessing in disguise. This hacking thing that went on for a year because if it had gone for just a few months, we would have fixed it.

And then moved along, but it went on, and on and on, and we had no choice in something similar happened to 5000bc right at the very start we were at Fox Glacier, you probably heard this story because I have told it before, but we were at Fox glacier and this is in the South Island of New Zealand now. We don’t check email while we were away, but back then there was no support.

So we would check email. I remember these were the days before all of this Wifi and devices and connections and you had to go specifically into your room, get to a computer, login, pay for it. And that’s the kind of thing that we did. So there was this one little place where we could check our email—very slow connection— but that was the only place and we checked it and someone said that 5,000bc was non-existent.

It was coming up blank. And when we checked with the people who were hosting our website, at that point in time, 5000bc was being hosted on another website, on another membership kind of system. When we got in touch with them, they said some error had been made and our entire website had been deleted. I knew very little about the technology that went on a hosted kind of system, and I asked about backups and they said, well, we have backups, but somebody made a backup of the deleted system. Which didn’t make any sense, but that was our situation.

We had no membership site anymore. Bear in mind that clients had already paid for their membership for the whole year and now they have no site to go to. What happens next? One of our clients starts up a waiting room. He created a forum and people went to that waiting room and they had their discussions and they told me, you have your vacation, you come back and we’ll see how it goes. But it was a nightmare.

For a month after that I was up at 2:00 AM every day not because I had anything to do with 2:00 AM but because I couldn’t sleep. All of the things that needed to be done to set up a new website repopulate the content and luckily we had a backup. We had been working towards creating a new 5000bc. And so we had a backup and therefore things were okay. And these were moments of complete despair.

These are moments where you think everything is going wrong. Maybe we should just quit. We are just human beings and the gods are against us. This is what I’d call the filos moment where the banana is just to overripe. It’s black, it’s gooey, it’s sweet. And then something wonderful happens and you make filos out of it. And you can tell that the filos going to turn out great. But that’s what you have to do.


Business Story 1: And this takes us to the third part where we have these, what do I do now moments.

You’ve probably heard of Santa else, haven’t you? Well, we have elves too, and they’re in 5000bc and they work every time we go on vacation. And this story, also, a repeat by the way, is about the first time that we went away on vacation.

And, and not only was I checking email at that point in time, but I’d also go into 5000bc.com and I’d start to answer questions at which point in time, I remember one of the clients telling me specifically, this is what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to achieve our own vacation time and we want you to be the role model. We don’t want you to check email and to get into the membership site when you’re away, because then, what’s the point?

And he was right, we couldn’t check email, we couldn’t get into 5000 BC. And so we’re stuck in this in-between zone. Now it’s one thing to stay away from the membership site, but what we had to do is we also had to put in a little system And my wife, Renuka, came up with the system and she said the members have always been very helpful and let’s see if they will help out when we’re away.

And so that’s what we did. We asked them whether they would help out whether they would be elves and help out. And they did. And they do. To this day. So even as we go on holiday on vacation, that’s exactly what happens. We ask for volunteers and we not only get clients who have been around for ages and some of them have been around for 10-15 years, but we also get clients who have just joined because the whole mantra of the cave is be kind, be helpful.

And most people in 5000bc have done several courses, read several of our books. And so you’re not just getting random people giving you random advice, but specific advice based on a system that’s in place. That has helped us in a way that we would not have expected. People often ask us, how do you go away and just leave the membership site alone. This is how you do it! You create a level of helpfulness and then that level of helpfulness perpetuates.

So you are helping your clients when you’re around and then when you’re not around, they’re helping out. Of course they’re helping out when you’re around as well. But this whole factor of being kind and helpful, that needs to be the core. And that was our first or one of the early, What do we do now Moments, which you could say is failure or at least a bit jittery. Let’s talk about a second one— the second story, which is more recent.

The three month vacation podcast has been running since 2014 and it’s been quite a strain for several years and then it got easier. But week after week you have to put out another podcast which is 4,000 words or 5,000 words. And again, it’s like what do I do now? Because every time we’re going on vacation, should we have reruns? What should we do? How do we get ahead?

Because otherwise we were always touch and go. Everything was just on the deadline and that puts a lot of pressure on you. As I mentioned in a previous episode about deadlines, what are you supposed to do again, you’re pushed into that corner. It’s frustrating, but there doesn’t seem to be a solution and I was watching comedy. I watch a lot of comedy all day long while I’m working—well in between work. And I noticed that comedy central had these in betweens.

They were extremely short and they were unscripted and I thought why not do this? So that’s what I did. I called them in betweens and I started doing some of the episodes. And I did maybe two and I stopped. Part of the reason why I stopped was because there was such good content and if I just spoke on the microphone, well that was just going to be a transcript and transcripts tend to be, you know, like transcripts, like conversation.

It seemed like I had the solution with that in between that short, unscripted podcasts. But for months I just went about doing what I’d already done and that is to write that long, detailed podcast week after week. And my sister in law, Audrey, she mentioned it to me, my wife Renuka brought it up several times. Why don’t you do the short podcast? Why you doing this long version week after week?

What was really frustrating to me as well was that I knew that they were right, but also that I was watching comedy central and I enjoyed those in betweens. I enjoyed those unscripted, short little snippets. And then in October of 2018 a perfect storm hit us in terms of creating podcasts because we were going away to Mexico and then we’d come back and then after that it was the Christmas break.

So there was all of this stuff that needed to be done, all of these podcasts that needed to be queued and there was no way I was going to have enough reruns for them. Or not put in so many reruns and I needed to create new content. That was I came up with a short podcast. I invented it. Well it sure felt like that. And so we started running short and long podcast, mixing them up quite a bit.

And now when you’re listening to the podcast, what happens is you get the same feeling that I get when I’m watching comedy central. I liked the long version. I also liked the short version and clients have responded really well to it because now they can keep up with it. Sometimes you feel, oh, I’m falling so much behind, but with the long and short you catch up and then you’re on top of things and that feels good and Renuka looks at the short podcast and she says, thank goodness you finally listened to me.

And that brings us to the end of this episode. Before we summarise here are 3 more disaster business stories. We looked at projects that should have been abandoned. We looked at moments of despair and we looked at what do I do moments and these are what you would call lemon into lemonade or ripe bananas and to filos. Some people would call them stories of failure, but I think that it has made us much better, much stronger and it’s been more interesting for us as we’ve gone along our journey.

There is no one thing that you can do here. There are lessons that you learned along the way and those lessons really help. And that’s what I would say is the one thing that you should take from this. Persist, learn the lessons and what do you know? Maybe you’ll get a greater results, you’ll get Filos.

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