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Exclusivity Lessons

(Writer’s Note: The tone of this article is to NOT ‘beat a dead horse’, or carry some “sour grapes”, smear or complain, but to really let people know of such experiences. I think these are called ‘Case Studies’ in business school. In the end, there’s always a lesson to be learned.)

Back then, I was just young, naive but hungry for growth in the early business stage. Any opportunity that came out, or one that I could create, I’d take it. So, when an offer, or agreement was made with another company to work with on a particular product, I considered and accepted it. It was an exclusive, three year agreement with that company. Looking back, that state of exclusivity was probably the worst and best thing to have ever happened to my business.

“I don’t think they used a lawyer…”

I was basically a one-man show with no partners, back then. As for the company, they were still kind of fresh on the scene. I remember they seemed to be surprised to see my intellectual property lawyer’s letter representing my side of the agreement. I also remember my lawyer warning me “I don’t think they used a lawyer…” when I showed him their written terms. That should’ve been a yellow-flag. Still, I wanted to sign on.

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Their style of marketing and sales was traditional door-to-door and print advertising. As for me, I was gaining traction and customer growth with virtual, digital and current social-media platforms. I asked them to consider implementing a social-media presence to get with the times, back then, but it seemed that they didn’t care, or that innovation wasn’t important. It was OLD vs. NEW. I was a bit concerned. Today, that is a red-flag in my book.

Growing pains.

It takes time to grow and with that growth comes hardships. I think they call it ‘Growing Pains’. I remember during some brainstorming sessions, I felt that I wasn’t taken seriously, or given a chance to be heard. It was mostly a “listen to us because you’re young”, that kind of treatment. I also remember leaving those meetings with no knowledge of next steps to be taken. It was awful to sit on the train rides home wondering what was accomplished in those “wasted” meetings. These were the worst feelings.

Rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

On the Q3 (third-quarter), of the first year, of the 3-year business deal, the sales results and commissions were very low (low being an understatement). I remember telling myself that this exclusive venture wasn’t going to scale my business, rather it was more like going back in time and rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. In my mind, at that moment, I made the personal decision to quit but still try to “hang on” until the 3-year deal expired.

The cost of failure. 

Looking back, the venture was a failure. It was the worst part of my business, to be honest, but it didn’t kill it. It just killed that venture product. I was able to successfully rebound to find another business idea/product that really took off and went down that route. In modern business terms, I think they call that a pivot.

Look, failure is part of this game when you’re competitive, or putting yourself out there. It’s OK to fail, but it’s also NOT. I mean, who likes to fail? If you’re going to fail, don’t make the same failure twice. Also, make sure that the cost of failure is low.

A chance to reinvent yourself. 

What did I learn? Exclusivity kills business. More importantly, exclusivity kills innovation, especially at a very early stage. Just make sure that any exclusivity deal is VERY fair and rewarding. Your livelihood is at stake, here. Don’t be hesitant to question something that seems strange. Speak up.

Going back to failure, I also believe that the beauty of failure (if there’s any beauty in it, at all), or a set-back, is also a chance to reinvent yourself. Reinventing yourself may be scary and intimidating, but it could also be your only way out of a trouble.

How have you reinvented yourself? What are some of your set-backs and lessons?


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