I Failed, and It Brought Me Here


Dan Miller shares one of his biggest business failures and how it changed his life.

I did an interview with John Lee Dumas from EntrepreneurOnFire. One of the questions John asked me was this:

Take us to a point in your journey when you failed or when you had a challenge or an obstacle that you just really had to overcome, and then take us through how you overcame that obstacle.

My response: Well, it’s not difficult to find one, or two or five. There’s certainly one that comes to mind. I say that in joking because I don’t trust somebody who’s never had a failure. It’s kind of like a high jumper in the Olympics. If the high jumper always clears the bar, you don’t really know how good they are. It’s only when they trip the bar that we have some measurement of how good that person really is. So I don’t fear tripping the bar. It just gives me some direct feedback about, okay, there’s a point where if I’m going to go beyond that, I’m going to have to learn some new things. Being an entrepreneur, I’ve done a lot of different things. I have had an auto business and auto accessories and motorhome rentals. And then I had an opportunity to buy a health and fitness center. Well, I didn’t know anything about the health and fitness industry, but the bottom line looked just amazing, the cash flow of just selling people these memberships coming through. And so I bought this health and fitness center.

Well, I realized pretty quickly I didn’t really have any passion for it, which should have been a red flag. But I kept in there. I made some changes too quickly that affected cash flow, and at the same time, the bank that I was dealing with changed ownership three times in two years. So all of my good old boy handshake relationships were out the window. The bank got nervous. The new ownership looked at some of the open lines of credit I had, called some notes, put me in a really untenable position. I ended up selling that business at public auction. Again, I wasn’t real panicked along the way, but at the end of the day, I didn’t have a business and I owed about $430,000. A lot of that to the IRS, which certainly isn’t going to go away.

I was encouraged to file bankruptcy, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. My attorney said, “Hey, it’s a corporation. You just file bankruptcy.” I was raised Mennonite. When I said my dad was a pastor of a church, we were Mennonite. My grandparents were Amish. And if there’s one thing Mennonites are known for, it’s keeping their word. I thought, “Golly, if I gave my word to somebody and then don’t keep it—just dig a hole and push me in now. I’m no good.” So I did not file bankruptcy and I thought, “I’ve got to figure this out. I’ve got to get out of this.” So we did lose our house, our cars. I borrowed an old rental trip car from a friend. I got a commission-only sales job to start getting back on the road again. So it was a tremendous failure. I mean I lost everything that I had accumulated and then had that severe debt on top of that.

But here’s really the principle. In that period of time, I mean knowing that I’m a business guy, I always thought the way to grow a business was to get bigger buildings and more employees. In that period of time and doing some real serious research and brainstorming with other people, I discovered there are some ways to grow businesses where you don’t need bigger buildings and more employees. I thought, “You got to be kidding me! This is amazing!” So today I’m a speaker, coach and author. I leverage intellectual property. It blows my mind what we’re able to do. I’m able to do something once and get paid 10,000 times. How many people have the privilege of doing that? So here’s my point. Yes, I failed, but could I have ended up where I am today without going through that experience? So I frame failure in a different way than most people. Rather than that stopping me, I look at that and think, “Wow! What is this a stepping stone to? What lesson am I learning here?” So it was a failure as other things along the way, and I won’t bore you with all those details that have been, but at each step, I look at it differently because I know that you can’t get to success without those stepping stones that other people call failure.

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