Most entrepreneurs, if not all, have had at least one moment when they fell flat on their face with their small business. That was likely their moment of resilience. However hard the fall was, they managed to pick themselves up, get back to work, and keep going in spite of the odds.
Resilience often does more than help us get back on the horse after falling off. It’s a learning lesson. Entrepreneurs learn, and grow, through failure. Failing often sets us up for success in the future — even if it doesn’t look that way. I spoke to seven female entrepreneurs about their moment of resilience and how these epiphanies helped set them, and their businesses, up for major growth.
Leslie Polizzotto is the co-founder of The Doughnut Project, a doughnut shop that opened its doors in October 2015. The Doughnut Project prides itself on making small-batch, hand-crafted doughnuts with two locations in Manhattan, New York.
Polizzotto recalls that The Doughnut Project was invited to participate in a Brooklyn-based Doughnut Fest in January 2016. She, and co-founder Troy Neal, had only been open for two months. They were excited to participate and get their brand name out to the masses.
Little did they know that on the day of Doughnut Fest, New York was struck by the largest, most treacherous blizzard in years. Polizzotto, who had a shop team working since midnight making beet with ricotta-filled doughnuts, left her home at 6:30 AM. In spite of the bracing wind and snow, she was determined to get their van filled with doughnuts to Brooklyn by 7:30 AM and uphold her end of the bargain to show up.
The best laid plans often go astray… Or get you up to your knees in snow as soon as you step outside.
“I hiked my way to a main street,” Polizzotto remembers, “Luckily, there was a cab going by. I quickly jumped up and down and raised my arms like a crazy person!”
The cab driver drove Polizzotto to the U-Haul. Somehow, she was able to take a van at 7 AM in the middle of the blizzard. She didn’t get far at first. As soon as Polizzotto pulled out the garage, the wheels spun. She struggled to get the van to move forward, even getting stuck as a stoplight. All out of options, Polizzotto called Neal who instructed her to go in reverse, go forward, go back in reverse, and go forward to give the van momentum to get it moving in the right direction.
Slowly but surely, Polizzotto’s van made it in front of her shop — in Manhattan. How could they make it all the way to Brooklyn in the blizzard?
The shop team packed up their 400 doughnuts, Neal took the wheel, and the van fishtailed its way through the city (with the help of people on the street, pushing it along), and across the Brooklyn Bridge. The Doughnut Project team slid into their parking spot, amazed they had made it there alive!
Despite the intense blizzard, tons of participants showed up to Doughnut Fest with their doughnuts. Later, Polizzotto was notified that The Doughnut Project had won a crowd favorite award which came with a $3K prize and trophy.
Polizzotto, who had not driven a vehicle in three years prior to that moment, had her moment of resilience in not giving up. “Even when you think there are too many road blocks, you can persevere and complete the task at hand. Being an entrepreneur requires having the will to do whatever it takes to make it work. You must be determined, motivated, and willing to keep moving towards the goal even when you encounter obstacles.”
On August 29,2015, Shana Ginsburg had a mountain biking accident during her honeymoon. She suffered a concussion, blowout of her orbital socket, and sinus damage. Ginsburg had lost her ability to see and walk for over a year.
The impact devastated Ginsburg’s life. She had to resign from her dream job as an associate general counselor of a large public school system and was referred to vision specialists in December 2015 because she was unable to use her eyes at all.
After a neurologist told Ginsburg she may never walk again, she became determined to prove him wrong. “I started an intense vision therapy protocol, fighting against daily pain, nausea, vertigo, and fatigue,” Ginsburg recalls, “It’s not easy learning to walk and see and drive again. It’s not easy to work hard at anything for a long time, especially when progress is slow. If you expect it to be easy, you’ll just end up frustrated when it isn’t. But, I refused to give up.”
Ginsburg’s wife also saw the glass as half-full. She told Ginsburg that her disability was an opportunity to start anew and challenged her to do something hard.
Ginsburg created a test prep and consulting firm to help disabled students. She is now the founder of Ginsburg Advanced Tutoring, an educational company that may not exist had she not accepted the reality of her own disability.
“Every day that I’m presented with business development challenges, I remind myself that aiming for a big success will never be the hardest thing I do in this life.” Ginsburg says, “I’ve already done hard. Failure is nothing to fear, nor is success. They are simply the inevitable bookends of a life reinvented.”
It took Jodi O’Donnell-Ames six years to establish Hope Loves Company. This is the only nonprofit in the world with a mission of providing educational and emotional support to children and young adults who have had or have a loved one battling ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
There was a day, in mid-February, where O’Donnell-Ames was so overwhelmed she was strongly considering establishing a for-profit business instead. “We had very little money in the bank at the time and probably never received a donation for more than $500 at that point.” O’Donnell-Ames recalls.
That same night, she received a call from a woman who had a family member living with ALS. The woman thanked her for her hard work and dedication, reminding O’Donnell-Ames that children needed Hope Loves Company.
O’Donnell-Ames appreciated the kind words. She went to sleep, unsure of what tomorrow would bring.
The next morning took her breath away. When she turned on her computer, there were pages of emails and donations from Paypal for Hope Loves Company. O’Donnell-Ames was sure it had to be a mistake until she saw a Facebook post. The post was written by a man publicly asking friends and family to donate to Hope Loves Company in his memory. He was at the end stage ALS and grateful his daughters had Hope Loves Company to support them.
For O’Donnell-Ames, this moment of resilience began as a bittersweet moment that quickly humbled her to the core. “How poignant it was that as a man was losing his battle with ALS, he was also thinking of how he could help others after he passed.”
After that, O’Donnell-Ames knew she had to continue her efforts. She was determined to keep supporting more families and children through the non-profit. That day taught her that success is about patience and resilience.
“Never give up.” O’Donnell-Ames says, “Find the strength and reasons to continue your goals. We only have one precious life and I will continue to use mine to help others.”