Some lessons I've learned a few times over. Sometimes, when I think I have learned a lesson and am practicing it to its fullest, I can, to my surprise, be caught re-learning it the hard way -- by making a new mistake.
One of the most powerful lessons is applicable to business as well as life. It is pretty simple.
Ready? Here it goes.
You are responsible for everything you do.
Okay, let me explain this with examples.
If you build something and it doesn't work, it's your fault.
If your life is not going the way you wanted it, it's your fault.
If you start a company and it fails, it's your fault.
You see where I'm going...
That's not to say that if you get hit by a bus while happily standing in your front yard, that that's your fault. No, I'm not saying this. Even when I say "if your company fails it's your fault", I'm not saying you're in full control of everything. Sometimes shit happens.
What I'm saying though, is that you're responsible for making sure that the best outcome you envisioned for yourself actually happens. And if it doesn't, there is no point in blaming others for it, because others probably don't care or won't fix it for you.
So, even if you do get hit by a bus, you can choose to be miserable about it or accept it and make the best of it. You're responsible for your own happiness, not others.
Why am I saying this? Why now?
I wanted to write this ever since I produced the first can of my energy drink, Entropy.
Let me go back to that day, in September 2010. It was an exciting day. I had done all the art work for the can with a top-notch graphical designer specialized in cans. I reviewed the art work several times. The design had been sent to an engraver for post-processing -- these things are carved onto metal so they can be spray-painted by a machine that produces the cans.
Once everything was ready, I went directly to the floor of the factory at Ball Corp, in New York, to supervise the production of the first real can. My product was going to take off.
(On the floor of Ball, with the very first empty can of Entropy)
Then, boom, I saw it. It was there staring at me: a spelling error. On the first real can.
Everything was done by professionals. At least four different people had seen the design before it went to production. How could it have happened?
Turns out, everyone, including myself, had missed it. But it was there, printed on the can, in the supplement panel: "daiily value". Double "i".
I actually had caught this error on the very first version of the design, still in time for fixing it. I had told the designer about it. But I failed to verify. Guess whose fault it was? Yep, not the designer's nor the folks at the engraving shop. Nope. Mine.
That day, my heart sunk. It was a terrible feeling. How could I possibly have overlooked this?
Turns out, months later, I would discover that this was not the only mistake I had made in conducting my business. It certainly wasn't the most important error nor one that contributed to Entropy's failure.
In fact, to this day, no one noticed the spelling error. Not a single person has ever mentioned it to me.
But it exemplifies the lesson very well: I'm responsible for everything. After all, everyone else got paid. They didn't have to live with this. I had. Daiily, if you will. So it's my fault.
And that is the end of the lesson. You're responsible for everything you do.
Why Entropy failed
Okay, but people still ask me why I stopped producing Entropy. And if this small typo is not the reason for Entropy's failure, what is it then?
There are many reasons. Reasons that are specific to the beverage industry. But they're all incarnations of this very lesson, one way or another. So, it makes sense to discuss them here.
And here are some of the main reasons. There are probably many others, including also timing and luck, of course.
- Flavor and smell. Comments varied from "putrid stench" to "cold, rotten turkey flavor" and "acid pee substance". One of these was said by a Googler who tried it and answered an internal survey. I still get hate email from people who say they hated the taste or smell. Sure, there are the lovers too, and I'm very thankful for them. Many are my personal friends, many are strangers. But, sadly, Entropy didn't please the masses nor any specific niche that would support continuing production.
- Can size. Only Red Bull still sells 8.4oz. Monster, Rockstar and everyone else have all given up on this size. The market wants it big (16, 24 or even 32oz) or tiny (2oz shot). I insisted on an 8.4oz can, because that's the perfect size for me.
- Energy. No distributor wants to touch energy drinks anymore. Fuze was an energy drink. They removed the word energy and nothing else and now they sell like hot cakes. While Entropy can be an anti-aging or weight loss beverage, the can doesn't say this. And so people don't buy it for that, they buy it for the energy. Niche beverages still work, but the energy market is saturated. These days, it's better to focus on specific segments, like "all natural", "relaxing", "body building energy (protein)", etc. Energy alone is done.
- Niche / Theme. Beverages are getting more targeted. A beverage for "latinos" or "women" or "skaters" or "computer geeks" is more likely to succeed than one targeted to everyone.
- Price. A small company can't compete on price. And lowering only hurts the brand. Entropy was about the same price as others, but when it came to unknown brands, there were brands selling 32oz can for 99c, while an 8.4oz of Entropy would cost no less than $1.99 in retail.
- Middle of the road on caffeine. I didn't want to shove a lot of caffeine into Entropy and I thought people would appreciate the right balance (and natural caffeine also, from guarana, not the synthetic caffeine that is more common). But the typical energy drink customer doesn't appreciate the moderation that much. Most people want either zero caffeine or tons of it.
- Technically, not 100% natural. I wanted a healthy beverage and healthy means two things to me: no synthetic ingredients (colors, preservatives) and no sugar. So, I went out of my way to get no preservatives, which meant I needed a specific pasteurization technique, and the expiration date would be only a year, as opposed to 2 or 3 or more that artificial beverages can last. But when it came time to avoid sugar, well, I should have gone with stevia or a low-glycemic sugar substitute like agave. Instead, I used ace-K and sucralose (Splenda-like). That's artificial. So, it meant Entropy wasn't 100% natural. That meant WholeFoods wouldn't take it and so many other places didn't want it. I missed another important niche.
- Lack of marketing skills. Enough said.
- Lack of market research. This goes back to the flavor and smell above. What pleases me won't necessarily please a lot of people. My customers can't all be people like me, because, I found out, there aren't very many of them out there. But there were other things I could have gathered from more market research: what do people want in their drinks? Or don't want? In what sizes, flavors and shapes? Basic stuff that, in hindsight, I should have done.
I learned a lot with Entropy. A lot of the stuff I learned reinforced the same lesson I had learned a few times before: you're in charge of your life/company/career/happiness/etc. Go make it work. Find a way. Don't blame others. All my mistakes were solely mine, no one else's. (I wrote a convoluted version of this lesson before, as an analogy where people are all floating in this ocean we call "life" and we have to find a way to our islands.)
When I see Rupert Murdoch saying he didn't know about the phone hacking scandal going on at his company, I say, WTF? He's the CEO isn't he? Guess who should have known about it?
Thanks for reading.