How a startup founder recovered from bankruptcy
For many entrepreneurs (and probably any ambitious individual), failure is their biggest fear. When they’ve invested so much of their energy bringing their ideas to life, it can be crushing to see them come crumbling down.
But failure is an inevitable part of life, and we can all benefit from taking a more positive approach to it. As a longtime entrepreneur and founder of several companies across the technology, healthcare, and payments industries, I’ve had my fair share of challenges and obstacles. The biggest test of my ability to overcome failure came in 2010, when the highly successful organization I had founded, Money Centers of America Inc., had a major crisis. A senior executive at the company had committed embezzlement.
This resulted in two major customers terminating their agreement with the company, which prompted a series of lawsuits. Although the company was delivering solid results for its customers, we couldn’t undo the damage. Money Centers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection four years later. Because I personally guaranteed all the company’s senior debt, I had to file Chapter 7 a year later.
As you might expect, this experience taught me a thing or two about overcoming failure. Here are the three lessons I learned about turning things around (and coming out stronger on the other side.)
1. IT’S VERY CRUCIAL TO SET GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND BE CONSISTENT ABOUT FOLLOWING THEM
By developing a set of pragmatic principles and following them, I learned that I could figure out a solution to the most difficult challenges. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest that you look to experienced, successful, hardworking people in your own life that can share what they’ve learned.
I acquired many of my guiding principles from my uncle Eustace—a highly successful entrepreneur and philanthropist—who largely inspired my passion for entrepreneurship. He instilled in me the following policy: “The answer is always no unless you ask.” This motto gave me the confidence to keep trying and not let fear of failure stop me from seizing an opportunity.
I also abide by the principle “put your ego aside.” I dealt with a lot of negativity and “name-calling” in the press during and following the Money Centers scandal. At first, this crushed my spirit and dampened my motivation to keep going with my entrepreneurial journey. But I realized that I could choose not to give the negativity any power. I focused on taking control of my actions. I learned that if you let your ego take over and focus your energy on what others are saying about you, you’ll find it challenging to be an effective and productive business leader.
2. BE OPEN TO LEARNING FROM OTHERS
You should also be willing to listen to others’ insight and lessons, even if they differ from your usual approach. Often, other people’s perspectives can provide clarity to a situation that you’d be unable to find on your own.
I get it. It can be challenging to accept help from others when you’re accustomed to being in a leadership position. You’re used to doing things your way. However, I have found that often, you can’t resolve a difficult situation on your own. You need support and guidance from those around you, including your colleagues and family. I wanted to isolate myself when my business collapsed. The last thing I wanted was to listen to other people’s opinions on the matter. I desperately wanted to prove that I was independent and could fix the situation entirely on my own. It turns out this is a perfect example of what not to do.
Eventually, I realized that I had to admit that I needed help and support. I searched for and found a personal mentor who has decades of experience with successes and failures. Early in the development of my new business venture, I met with him weekly. I don’t think I would’ve bounced back as well as I did without the guidance of my mentor and my uncle. To this day, I utilize the intelligence, wisdom, and insight of those I trust in all of my business ventures.
3. FOCUS ON DOING ONE THING AT A TIME
The best way to move forward is to focus on the next right thing that you need to do. Yes, it’s great to plan for the future, but thinking too far ahead can (sometimes) stop you from seeing things clearly in the present. It can also deter you from taking immediate action, because you end up spending too much time deliberating and planning, rather than doing.
Taking things one step at a time allowed me to get through the challenges I faced following the downfall of Money Centers. If I looked at all of the obstacles ahead of me, I’d become overwhelmed. However, when I focused on the very next right thing, my mental and emotional health improved, and so did my productivity. Once I’d solved my legal and financial issues, I began to look forward and focus on what I do best as an entrepreneur. I spent most of my energy on identifying issues for consumers and businesses and finding a solution for them, and this led me to my current company.
Any business leader can succeed after a failed venture. Failure does not define you. It is not the end but only the beginning of a bright future—as long as you’re willing to get back up again. When you trust that there is a way to bounce back, even a significant catastrophe becomes just another a small bump on the road.
Chris Wolfington is the founder and CEO of FinPay, LLC, a Pennsylvania-based enterprise focused on patient financial management. An experienced entrepreneur and business leader, Chris has over 29 years of experience in consumer and financial services.