Nobody can help someone who gives up against odds. But the difference between those have kept trying and not succeeded and those who did maybe this.
I know something about failing spectacularly, and I know something even more about succeeding after you’ve failed spectacularly. In my fight back over 5 years of rebuilding my life I found while I had the courage and the will to succeed – just having resilience in doing the same things over and over again would not turn my tide. Making an attempt and failing at it is valuable. Getting up after it more so. But making the same attempt again is stupidity.
We’ve been taught since childhood that failure is the stepping stone to success. But we also know that only some patterns of failure lead to success. When I first started rebuilding my company, and my life, it was incredibly frustrating. I could not build the same company simply because it ran on millions of dollars of annual budgets with hundreds of people. When I reached out to customers and – if they did indeed want to engage – there was little I could do to serve them.
My company TWB had a large Fortune 500 customer list it was a large company that grew on internal cash flow. So clearly it was a viable revenue model and operational practices etc. Yet failure in the business leadership team precipitated by my absence over a year had caused the company to be wiped out. The first mistake was that in this year we had tried to stick to the same revenue model that had made us successful – even when it failed quarter after quarter.
When I was literally the only person left in the company I was still selling the same story. It was incredibly frustrating because I was ignoring my past experiences and each failed attempt was like I was making it for the 1st time. What I was not doing was sift through past failures and either retaining and replacing components.
It took me another year to build that feedback loop. But something even more unnerving started happening – as I changed the story from this big corporate catering to Fortune 500 clients — I was failing even faster! What I did not realize is that progress accelerates with experience. It took me another 2 years to have made all the mistakes taken all the feedback and made 100s of failed attempts before we started seeing a consistent model of generating income and revenue.
Over this period I learnt how while I was making successive attempts and failing overall — I was succeeding. The overall 5 yr journey can be broken into 3 phases:
- Phase 1 – ‘If I keep trying I will succeed’: At this stage, I was investing little time in learning from the immediate past failed attempt. I was trying to stick to the blueprint of what had happened over 10yrs of creating the company. The lessons I had to learn were coming from this last failed attempt, not what happened 5 yrs ago or even 1 month ago, but I wasn’t listening.
- Phase 2 – ‘Acceptance of failure’: I began to accept that by making more attempts I was not actually making any progress. So success was not a question of how many attempts I should make. It was a hard realization to give up the idea of the self-made CEO of the multimillion-dollar company. That company didn’t exist and I did not have the portfolio of skills to service those customers.
- Phase 3 – ‘Intelligent failure attempts’: Giving up the idea of this large corporation left me with the one one tool that I did bring to this situation — myself. I brought a large portfolio of business skills and I brought tremendous fight into whatever I did. So TWB & VOSD started building smaller brands and pitches — artefacts — as I call them. And I’d make a large number of attempts to move each pitch. When something did not work I took the feedback from the last failed attempt, made the adjustment and attempted again.
When I was making TWB the 1st time I was failing slowly because I was cautious of doing things with the resources I had and not letting them go to waste. On the other hand, when I had no resources and they were more precious I was failing faster and more frequently, though but each attempt was smaller as well. Earlier proposal win rate was > 70% because of the quality of the service and the niche that we serviced. I estimate that over the last 1 year we’ve had more intelligent failure attempts than in 10yrs before that! Essentially I am making a library of reusable failed attempts that I could reference on what worked and didn’t. I call these failed attempts ‘intelligent failures’.
I also learnt that ‘intelligent failure’ required that I work smarter not harder. When I was first making TWB I remember the first 2 years to be 16hr workdays 7 days a week. But the feedback loop of ‘intelligent failure’ requires that I process that information and with that time away from a computer or a customer increased. Today I think it would be close to a 4hr workday — and that is on the way to create a company 10x larger than before! The rest of my time looks empty but that is when I’m actually processing the previous failure and planning a new failed attempt.
In life, success is not guaranteed but I have learned the merit of working smarter not harder. I know that keeping a tight feedback loop allows me to fail faster and refine my library of components that do work. It can be seen simply in the fact that I spend a 4hr workday or less and with 10 people we have the income level of what TWB had at 100 employees. I do not even live in the city – I live on a farm with my 850+ rescued dogs with a patchy data connection – it might take me up to 2hrs to just upload this page. But uploading this page is also a lesson in intelligent failure. I am beginning to see what parts of the day I will have a connection. Trying does not make you successful. Trying, failing, learning and doing it fast enough – does.
Stronger with RAKESH SHUKLA™ is a framework for developing unparalleled Mental & Physical toughness developed over Rakesh’s life. It has driven 2 comebacks.
Rakesh Shukla has slept on railway platforms on his way to creating a world-leading technology company — TWB which is the choice of over 40 Fortune 500 tech customers worldwide including Microsoft, Boeing, Airbus, Intel and others. At 43, over one year he lost everything. Alone & friendless he spent the next 5 years repaying over INR 20 crores of debt & taxes, building back his company and reputation. While creating & funding VOSD the world’s largest dog sanctuary & rescue.
Rakesh Shukla has suffered heart disease since he was 7 yrs old, had had 2 heart attacks by the time he was 30, suffers from brain diseases, has broken his back and his kidneys are failing. Towards the end of this 5 year period, Rakesh was 88kg in weight and very unfit. Today at 48 yrs he can lift well over 100kg above his head, run a 10-minute mile, do 2000 push-ups or 250 pulls ups. He has never been to a gym, been on a diet, had a trainer or taken any supplements.