What Everybody Needs to Know About Failure But Is Afraid To Hear

A failure is a tough but valuable teacher. This article shares my “epic failure” launching the Chopperz barbershop. I explains why big, fast failures are better than slow deaths of a business and how his failure eventually put him on a path to early retirement. minutes

  Mins Reading Time

Published On: March 22, 2019

Latest Update: April 10, 2024

About the author

Hi, I'm Marco Sison. I worked in finance for Fortune 50 companies before retiring early at 41 years old. I have been an expat for over 10 years, living in over 50 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries outside the USA. I am a trusted resource on personal finance and overseas retirement for US News & World Reports, HuffPost, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Association of MBAs, the iTunes documentary Seeking FIRE, and the Amazon Best-Seller- Abroad: Expats That Thrive.

Key Summary: A failure is one of life's hardest teachers, but having an Epic Failure is not the issue. 

Business failures tend to be catastrophic financial failures that can set your path to Financial Independence back decades. If you are not conscious about your recovery from financial failure, your goal of Early Retirement can be permanently derailed. Recovery is an achievable process. The issue is if you don't learn from your failure. 

I have done everything by the book. I connected all the dots. I was a Dean's List student at a competitive Top 10 Business School (Indiana University). I graduated with 4 Majors (Information Systems, Accounting, International Business, and Operations Management) and a Minor (Speech Communication).

I landed successful internships with a Kleiner Perkins company, Intel, and GE (Intern of the Year). I climbed the ladder of several large Publicly Traded Corporations, eventually landing a Vice President role. Six years after graduation, I had a net worth over $500,000. Several years later, I worked hard enough that I earned over $350,000 of annual total compensation.

A college friend told me about "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki. While I no longer think highly of Robert Kiyosaki (several suspect scam-ey things about him, Google it), I do have to credit my friend and the initial recommendation to read his books with my philosophy around Passive Income. I decided to embrace it wholehearted. I started my first business. I sold all my stocks, cashed in my options, borrowed money from my family, and took out a home equity loan to open up my first business.

Chopperz- the NON-Salon (Rebranded later to Chopperz- The Barbershop Reinvented). I diligently analyzed the market. Ran scenarios and financial analysis to minimize risk and ensure it worked. I spent $30,000 on professional market research to supplement the months of analysis I had already done myself. I spent over $15,000 on graphic design and marketing collateral. I designed systems and processes to ensure consistent service. I invested in technology. In the end, I lost over $300,000. Chopperz was an epic failure.

1) The Birth of My Epic Failure: Chopperz- The Barbershop Reinvented.

  • Chopperz opened in 2004 as one of the first male-oriented higher end barbershops in the nation. Back when men only had a choice of crappy chain chop shops and high-end women’s salons, we were a new concept sports bar and barbershop. Chopperz aspired not just to be a grooming lounge, but also a community gathering place for men to relax and unwind. 
  • The environment was leather chairs, cigars, and big screen TVs. We had 4 of our micro-brewed beer on tap and a selection of local whiskey and gin. 
  • Start-Up costs, including the build-out of the interior, all leather furniture, 12 televisions, arcade games, drink bar, fixtures, and custom cement and metal beam barber stations were over $200,000. 

Chopperz Highlights: The Failures that Hurt The Most Are Successes That Achieved the Most

  • Employed nine people.
  • Average revenue per customer = $29
  • Highest annual revenue was $350,000
  • Held several major charity events, including a Halo tournament, a Poker tournament, a Kickball team, and semi-annual seasonal beer tasting. Several national and local companies sponsored our events, including Hollywood Video, Rockstar Energy Drink, a professional lacrosse team (the now defunct Portland Lumberjax), and Bridgeport Brewing Company (RIP). Prizes reached over $1500 for an event and donations exceeded $15,000.
  • Featured in several national and location television shows, including ABC, CW, and the Learning Channel [see press here].
  • In Operation for nine years. When 50% of small businesses fail during the first five years, our longevity was a success in itself.
  • I was able to work a full-time job while letting the systems I built run the business. Eventually, I quit my high paying tech job and went to work full-time running Chopperz.

Marco On the CW Television Network

Marco Interview on ABC Television

Chopperz Challenges: Without execution, strategy is useless. You don’t win on strategy. You win on execution. 

  • Lack of Operational Focus- Strategy was fun and exciting. Bookkeeping and making sure people came to work on time was less so.
  • Never mix business and personal- My ex worked for me. B-I-G mistake.
  • People, People, People- This was a customer focused business. Our product was the customer experience. This experience required the right type of people. The right type of people were hard to find.
  • Competitive Pressure- We were the one of the first, but our competitors that came after us were bigger, better capitalized, and able to leverage economies of scale.
  • Opportunity Costs- My corporate job offers were over $100,000. I was paying myself less than $16,000 per year at Chopperz. As we struggled, it was getting harder and harder to turn down the money.

Ideas Are Shit, Execution is the Game.

Gary Vaynerchuk 

Chairman VaynerX

2) Fast epic spectacular failures are much better than death by a thousand cuts.

Why Chopperz failed could be the subject of a series of posts. In the end, we shut our doors after I wasted another $100,000 of my own money. I was stubborn. I believed all the books I read; all my business experience could turn things around. I had wiped out my net worth and was in heavy debt. Telling the story now, people point out the obvious. I threw good money after bad. But, here is a lesson that business schools don’t teach you, that entrepreneur books don’t explain, and that experts don’t share about failure. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur mantra is “Fail Fast.” Hope that your failure is quick. Many business ventures “Die Slow.” Quick Epic Failures are obvious. The reasons for the failure stare you in the eye and punch you in the face.

Epic Failure creeping slowly is truly soul crushing. When the tiny failures are slight, almost imperceptible, it doesn’t even seem like you are failing. Revenues maybe drop a bit. You get less traffic and customers for a couple of weeks in a row. Revenue rises and falls. Your team members only seem busy half the time and moral seems to lag. Slow weeks lead to slow months. You justify it with poor weather, a summer holiday, or a seasonal slowdown. You’re busy season makes things slightly better, as being busy helps you forget the fundamental problems.

You falsely think you're back on track, only to realize that things go exponentially backward once the peak period ends. You start to take big risks under the umbrella of “Go Big or Go Home.” You bring in more people to help manage, you change strategy and pivot your business model, or you start a flashy new brand redesign and marketing campaign. Nothing seems to work and all of a sudden you're speeding to the drain. Your cash flow is negative and the bills are piling up. But you just can't let go. You start using personal credit cards and taking out home loans. You quit paying yourself and go further into personal debt. The darkness is overwhelming. The pit of your stomach is constantly reminding you of your dwindling capital. You're now trying to turn the company around looking for any lifeline or glimmer of hope.

From my personal experience, having your business blow up in your face is 100 times better than a long drawn out painful slow death. If it blows up big, the writing is on the wall and you shut it down. It’s when you slowly struggle that you die a little inside every day.

3) What is does an Epic Failure mean?

I had an EPIC Failure: Bruised, battered, but not undone. Epic fail has become a meme. The words used so frequently, it no longer has the seriousness or tone of true failure. With the term epic fail means so many things to different people, one Reddit community asked what was society’s definition of a financial or business failure? Bankruptcy? Did it mean living on the streets? Moving back in with your parents after the age of 30?
To me, an epic fail requires having a goal so ingrained in your life that the process of achieving it becomes a part of your self-identity. It’s a goal you shed blood and sweat for. It could be getting into your first choice university. It could be the high-profile executive job you always wanted. It could be that Instagram perfect relationship. It could be wanting to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon. When you fail at that goal, the failure becomes an essential part of your personal story.

Chopperz was an epic failure for me. The brand of Chopperz was a part of my personal identity. I personified the brand. Regardless of the professional success I had in my other careers, my friends and colleagues usually introduced me as the owner of Chopperz. Chopperz was the cause of sleepless nights, countless fights with my ex, and more than a few bouts of uncontrollable sobbing. I bled for the company. I put my heart and soul into a goal that really meant something to me...and it just failed. That's epic.

Key Takeaway: Success is the result of persistence and learning from your failures.

Epic Failure isn’t final. Even the Most Catestrophic Setback is not Fatal. I have recovered. Fast forward five years and I am sitting on a sitting on a beach in Bali surrounded by good friends. I Retired Early and am living the Job Optional life. Epic Failure taught me loads. I’m living a life faaaar better than before my big fail. I failed, but I am not a failure.

There is nothing magical about my recovery. There is nothing exceptional about me. I didn't get money because I struck it rich with an IPO, sold my app for millions, or invested in Bitcoin.

I followed the principles I lay out here on Nomadic FIRE: 

  • I lived a Backwards Budget.
  • I prioritized paying myself first.
  • I automated my savings.
  • I invested to generate passive income.
  • I leveraged travel and living overseas to increase my savings (Cost Advantaged Geographic Expenses).

If I can recover from an Epic Failure to traveling to 40 countries around the world starting from the ground up, imagine what you can accomplish with someone guiding you. Your current situation is not your permanent situation. If you need change in your life, lets talk.

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

Michael Jordan

See our next article on the “The 10 Steps You Must Immediately Take to Recover from an Epic Failure”

We moved the comments to the New Expat Forums

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

About the author

Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. I started Nomad FIRE to show you an alternative to the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, student loans, and countless bills. After getting laid off in 2015, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old. I have traveled the last eight years to over 50 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US. I have been featured in: US News & World Reports, HuffPost, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, the iTunes documentary Seeking FIRE, and the Amazon Best-Seller, Abroad: Expats That Thrive. [view press...]