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Last Update: Monday June 14, 2021

Key Idea: Expect to Fail

Experience teaches that you will fail along the path to growing your business.

Key Question:


Expect failure because it is normal then learn from your mistakes.

Harry is trying to comfort us when he says, "There are going to be things you're going to do wrong." He is kind. We say, only children and people who have never tried to do anything difficult think that they can get through life without failure.

How does a person look at failure and call it success? Even harder, how does one experience failure and call it success?

Critics and cynics – quite often academics who have opted out of the free entreprise system when they get tenure – tend to look at entrepreneurs and think we are blinded by ambition, arrogant, or just plain stupid when we tell people that our failure is really a success.

We all know in advance that we will fail on the way to success. We expect it. Joe Dannis didn't expect it to take him seven years to create his product but that didn't mean he quit before he reached his goal. And, you need to know that the founders of Diversified Chemicals were more surpised at their success than they had been at their earlier failures.

We are optimists who see the glass half full and we are willing to work hard to achieve big goals. Most business owners and entrepreneurs are bored with easy goals and even get a thrill from some setbacks. We see them as challenges and we learn from them.

One Christmas while visiting with family, one of the younger set called her girlfriend a "waaaa-waaaa." When asked, "What's a waaaa-waaaa?" she quipped, "It's a wuss or a wimp." Stronger yet would be a milksop, milquetoast, mollycoddle, namby-pamby, sissy or sop. It's more than a crybaby. It's somebody who should know what to do and should do it but they don't because they are scared or lazy or they are waiting for someone to do it for them.

This brought back memories of Marc Katz, founder of Katz Deli in Austin, Texas. Marc told us, "Running a business is not for wimps." And the reason this is true is that there is much failure on the road to success.

Think about it

When was the last time you experienced a small failure? A big failure? What did you learn from it? Do you need to make some more mistakes so you can learn even more?

Clip from: Sundance Catalog

Meet Harry Rosenthal (above) and Brent Beck

Provo Canyon and Salt Lake City, Utah: In this episode of the show, we go into a pristine part of the Rocky Mountains, a place Robert Redford loved and wanted to preserve. To sustain that dream and help pay for it all, he turned to Brent Beck and Harry Rosenthal to implement an idea he had for a catalog business. Brent knew the products. Harry knew direct mail. But, unlike most of us, these three had a fast start for this business -- they were leveraging the Robert Redford brand.

Business is not easy for any of us. When Redford applied for his initial loan from a bank, he was rejected just like the rest of us.  He turned to investors, bought the land  to preserve it from housing developers, and began thinking of how to turn it into a business. That was in the late '60's.

Even celebrities were once "less than famous" and had to crawl, scrap,  risk... take a flying leap, just like the rest of us.

Go to all the key ideas and video of this episode...

Sundance Catalog

Jessica Basin, Sr. Marketing Manager, Robert Redford, founder

3865 West 2400 South
Salt Lake City (and Provo), UT 84120

Visit our web site:

Office: 801-975-5238

Business Classification:
Catalog, direct mail

Year Founded: 1989

Expect to Fail

HARRY: We had nothing going for us. But it's still hard. And if you're starting cold and you don't have an endorsement of a famous individual, you don't have all the advantages, you have limited capital, and maybe, if it runs out, nowhere to go for additional capital, it really pays to understand that you could be in for a few really rough years before you finally turn the corner and that that's OK because that's what most companies go through, and not to get discouraged. And if you...

HATTIE: So it's OK to feel like you're a failure?

HARRY: Yes. If you don't, you're probably blind to what's going on. You know, there are going to be things you're going to do wrong. When you're new at something, you make mistakes. And the first two to five years of a new company can be really, really tough.

And the thing you should recognize as an entrepreneur is that that is OK, that it's OK to be really struggling, to be spending all your time managing cash flows, to be thinking about, you know, `How did I ever get into this? When am I going to come out? When is it finally going to turn the corner?' because most new businesses go through that.

Some of the most successful businesses in the world went through a rocky start-up period and that it's OK to go through that period, and don't be discouraged, don't feel like a failure.

It's better to be really in tune with what's going on and understand you have problems to overcome than be living in a fool's paradise and wake up one day with a train wreck.

In The Studio

HATTIE: Since we taped this story, Harry Rosenthal left for another start up and Brent Breck retired. The good news is that these men built this company to last. Even without them, Sundance Catalog has nearly doubled in revenues and is now mailing 24 million catalogues a year. This drives shoppers to the web and Rick Turek, the IT director you just met, says the Internet ordering is growing up to 300% per year. Today Sundance might be considered the godfather of its category. Many competitors have emerged but those competitors have actually grown Sundances' business by increasing the awareness of their niche.

Redford's advice is: know what you don't know. Hire the right people then step back and let them do their magic. I'll see you next time.


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