Doing business as the underdog


In history’s most compelling stories, the unexpected hero often wins the day. We can all relate to the underdog. But the middle of the story–whether ours or someone else’s, usually makes us dreadfully uncomfortable. Waiting for resolution, we can become anxious, fearful and eager to fast-forward to the conclusion of the story. We need our character to overcome. I have felt all of these things and more as I worked to establish Equator as a viable company.

Maintaining optimism in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation was a struggle. However, desperate circumstances often nurture creative options and normally unthinkable possibilities. Suddenly, crazy ideas can become unexpected opportunities. Underdogs can discover marvelous inner ingenuity, and find renewed hope in the blackest state of affairs.

In my upcoming book, I describe how being told “No,” changed everything and helped me to conquer the crushing despair I felt while trying to build my company,

“By the time this afternoon, the third and final of the show, had rolled around, I was completely worn out. I had spoken with every laundry machine manufacturer in the convention center, hopeful each time that that booth would be the home to my new manufacturer. As I approached each, I asked the same question.

“Can you manufacture a combo washer-dryer for the U.S. market?” 
Then came the long pause.

“No,” has got to be one of humanity’s most universal concepts. It’s in the first chapter in every foreign language textbook. It’s likely the first syllable you uttered as a baby and one of the most commonly used words in your typical day. “No,” is a simple enough concept, but we humans have a million different ways of saying it. I heard each and every one of them at that tradeshow.

“I’ll take down your number and get back to you,” said one German manufacturer.
“Not at this time,” said another, this one from the U.K. 
The next manufacturer from France told me, “We only work with partners who have experience in the appliance industry.”
“We don’t see the demand in the market.” 
“Why don’t you try Booth #5043?”

“You’re a small company that’s been in business for less than a year,” a Spanish manufacturer told me. “Unless you can sell millions of units, this just isn’t worth our time.” With each rejection, I felt my hope waning. Then, I heard the response that changed everything.

“It’s technologically impossible.”
Impossible. Unimaginable. It will never happen. You can’t do it. 

Impossible. The word immediately brought me back to my first days in America, when I heard over and over that I would never find a job because I didn’t know a thing about business here. It brought me back to all those department stores in Houston, where sales reps told me that the combo didn’t exist. That little phrase is what sent me halfway around the world searching for this phantom machine, and on this day, back in 1992, it’s what persuaded my tired feet to trek on to the last booth on my list."

“No?” “Impossible?” Well, “No,” was precisely my response to this pessimism. Being challenged only served to energize my resourcefulness. I may not have had the answers at that moment but I became determined to find them. An underdog might be temporarily overwhelmed but he or she will eventually prevail.

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