Ninety percent of new businesses fail within the first five years.
When entrepreneurs first hear this statistic they think, “Not me! Surely that won’t happen to me!”
New businesses are hard to get going because there’s capital to raise and a brand to build, not to mention the sheer force it takes to break into established industries.
Five years ago, my friend Ginny and I started a nonprofit called Purposeful Play. We had an idea to create a toy company featuring products that represented the real issues kids were experiencing the world. In September of 2014, we launched with a doll and book for kids with cancer. The doll had hair that came on and off and a port in its chest. It arrived beautifully packaged and accompanied by a book celebrating friendship. We dreamed of a world where healthy kids and sick kids could join together with the message, “I’m with you.”
Last week, we decided to shut it down. Hard stop. We ended it.
When we started Purposeful Play, the original intent was to grow the company to address healthy kids, strong families, and safe housing. We wanted to build a line of products that would spark meaningful conversations and get people talking about compassion, kindness, and friendship. But every time we tried to develop something new, we’d run into some kind of roadblock. Either there was already another company out there who was doing it—and doing it well—or we just couldn’t make our vision come to life.
But still we designed new prototypes.
Hired new illustrators.
Purchased new fabric.
Planned new fundraising campaigns.
And our hearts just weren’t in it.
So essentially we said, “We quit.”
And while I thought I would feel sad because I knew the statistics…90% of new businesses fail within the first five years, I wasn’t sad at all. I felt FREE.
This wasn’t the work I was meant to do.
Why would we spend so many years of our one, precious life doing work we don’t love?
Ginny and I will continue to invest in our adventure club, a troupe of fourth and fifth grade girls who epitomize our mission to “equip young leaders and celebrate friendship.” They were the inspiration for our original product because everywhere we went, they were asking, “How can we help? What can we do?”
We don’t need a product to love people well. Through a partnership with See Beautiful, the girls are seeing beauty in themselves others and creating more beauty in the world. (Thank you, See Beautiful!)
What did we learn?
The time we spent doing the work was time well spent. I don’t feel like we failed at all.
I learned that I am capable of much more than I ever thought possible.
I learned that people don’t want to steal your ideas; they want to help you with your ideas.
I learned that when the going gets tough, you will find the right people to guide you through the hard times. The most wonderful, brilliant, insightful people have been the people I’ve met over the last five years as I’ve worked on this project.
I learned what I like to do, and what I do not like to do. And I learned that I have to like what I do. I learned about the work I’m meant to do and the work I’m not. Just because there’s a problem to solve, doesn’t mean I’m the one to do it.
Also, I learned a lot about board development, accounting, sales, marketing, and fundraising. That’s quite an education!
What did we do right?
We weren’t afraid to try new things. There’s 100 ways to sell a product, and we experimented with a bunch of them. Some worked well, some didn’t work at all, and some worked for a time and then we needed to adapt. Yesterday, I looked through five years of photos of kids who had received our dolls. The pictures are precious to me because many of these children live in heaven now. While they were here, we offered a companion, we spoke to their classes and their friends, and we said, “We’re with you.”
What did we do wrong?
We probably should have diversified our product line much sooner, added another person to our team who complemented our skills, and took more risks in marketing and sales.
It takes courage to start something, and it takes courage to end something. I feel like I’m standing on the edge of something new and unknown. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m ready for a new adventure.
Fun fact: 90% of people who start a second business succeed. :)