You won’t gain much listening to massive success stories like Elon Musk. What you need to do to mature is learning from mistakes of others. Victoria Wieck sits with Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm, entrepreneur, optimist, and the author of How Hard Can It Be. Arnaud shares how he opens his book with a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. It says, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Don’t be afraid to fail your way to success. You need to trust what you can do and have that resilience and drive to change the world. If you want more tips on developing perseverance, listen to this episode.
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How Hard Can It Be – Why Learning From Mistakes Is Important To Success With Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm
Every week I try to bring you some relevant content to your life as an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur. No matter what stage of entrepreneurship you’re at, this show is going to be inspiring but in a way that’s very realistic. A lot of times, people who are into inspiring and encouraging are eternal optimists. They don’t see the realistic side of things. When you get hit with reality, you’re wondering what happened to me.
It’s a known fact that the failure rate of small businesses is somewhere north of 75% to 90% in the first five years. Even if you make it beyond the five years, there is still a 50% failure rate between 5 to 10 years. Why is it? There are two known facts that we know. The first one is the lack of customers. The second one is the lack of funding. The third one is lack of visibility and the fourth one is the one that we’re going to talk about now.
It has a lot to do with your entrepreneurship mindset. It’s also a known fact that most entrepreneurs suffer from a lack of resilience and persistence because they give up the first time if something major happens to their business. They give up on their life dream and all of the dreams you had about helping other people, amplifying your mission, improving other people’s lives come to a halt. I have somebody who can talk about this from not a theoretical view but he’s experienced this in his own life. I’m going to tell you that you’re going to be fascinated with this. His name is Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm. I know it’s a mouthful. We’re going to call him Arnaud. Welcome to the show.
Thank you, Victoria. Thanks a lot for welcoming me to your show.
Tell my readers a little bit about your entrepreneurship journey and some of the times when you didn’t succeed. A little bit about that and we’ll dive into why you wrote the book called How Hard Can It Be.
I’ve always been in an entrepreneurial setting. I’ve done things and tried to achieve things on my own. I’ve always had, from a young age, this ambition of creating something for myself. I created some small businesses, even I was younger but what I had over everything else is this grit and mindset of consistently, systematically going into the household. I’m fighting my way through and making it happen.
I’ve set up a few businesses even before doing a real job. Eventually, I graduated with an MBA from the UK and started working as a Management Consultant in a large consultancy firm doing change management. We are doing behavioral change. We’re helping large organizations to cascade strategic initiatives within the organization.
We’re changing, helping leaders to develop the capacity and skills to execute on important corporate strategies for large operations, Coca-Cola, AT&T, big monsters that are complex to maneuver. After several years or so of doing that, a colleague and I decided to go on our own and try our luck into challenging Facebook.
You always had the entrepreneurial spirit in you and you wanted to find your own path to success. Most of them didn’t succeed at that point. You decided to go to a corporate world where you did the corporate management and learned how the large corporations lay out their strategies, execution, scale and optimize their total resources. What were the lessons that you learned comparing the small businesses that you failed at versus the large-scale corporations that were doing something right?
In those big systems, it’s hard to feel that you make a difference yourself. It’s the sum of all the people that make it happen. It’s all about the team and everything that comes through to support the team to execute. It’s easier than doing it on your own and trusting yourself in having all that resilience and drive to change the world. That’s what small entrepreneurs, everyday entrepreneurs, have to have to make something of substance and try to bend the universe.
Trust yourself and have that resilience and drive to change the world.
I’ve seen it right off when I tried my different ventures prior to working in large corp and afterward when we decided to challenge Facebook. I was working there in 2010. Facebook is starting to pick up speed and traction. It’s six years of business to have 800,000 users. Everyone is talking about what’s going on with Facebook. What is the relation with social networks and depression?
You start having a lot of research around the effect of playing with the Like button on teens. A lot of that is happening. At the same time, we, as management consultants, cannot understand why would so many people be excited by pressing a Like button, doing it from their sofas and not engaging in the real world.
From a behavioral perspective, it was a bit odd to us. We thought that we could create a social network that would bring back people into the real world, taking them out of their couch and pushing them into doing things for real. The mechanism was a challenge. Our network was based on a very simple thing, which is that forever people have been driven by self-actualization. It’s all about what you have to do to reach the higher level of the Maslow pyramid.
Since the beginning of ages, we’ve been trying to get out of the cave and slowly but surely, move away from the fire camp and become greater versions of ourselves. We’re discovering new lands, we’ve come up with technologies and that’s what we do as a human. We thought that this idea of bringing back people into the world by doing things that they wanted to do as per this idea of self-actualizing made a lot of sense, hence the challenge idea.
It’s like a real story of David and Goliath. You’ve got to take on something as big as that and you don’t have funds. You don’t really have the system’s built-in. At that point, Facebook was rapidly getting investors and was pretty much putting on almost impossible barriers to entry for most people. Most of our entrepreneurs here are not at that point. Let’s get back on point, which is how hard could it be?
Your title of the book is very appropriate. We are now living in the era of the Great Resignation. A significant percentage of the people who are quitting their jobs is 3 to 4 million every single month. They are younger. There are the Millennials too. They’re at the height of what they should be doing in terms of building their careers and financial resources for the future. 3 to 4 million people per month are alarming.
All the research and we’re talking real extensive research by UPS, VistaPrint, Forbes, Census Bureau, these are very big research. They have shown that 63% of Americans want to do their own thing. Of the people that quit their jobs, about 30% of them have already started a side hustle. The other 70% of those people want to start something but they don’t know how to get started. Tell us in point by point, maybe three points about How Hard Can It Be. Why is it so hard?
It’s rough and that’s the starting point. We went through the statistics. The reason for the title of the book is that, “How hard can it be?” is the question we ask as an entrepreneur when we go into something. “How hard can it be to displace Facebook,” which is what we went after. In truth, it is harder than you think it will be.
In what way? Is it funding or getting customers? Is it in promising time?
Everything is hard on that journey unless you have the brilliant idea that you are going to go after. First, it’s about coming up with an idea. The cytosol is something else because you can try to do something on the side but I believe in going all-in because otherwise if you are half-committed, what you get is half of the results.
I’m into committing yourself to something that you are passionate about or at least you believe that you are passionate about. That’s a big one because people tend to think, “I’ll find my passion first and then I’ll go after it.” I think that’s backward. Everyone is passionate about something whether it’s a hobby or something that you can feel inside you that this is for you. For you, it was jewelry. For other people is other things, sports, diet or whatnot.
That passion somehow will change as you move along and go forward. It’s okay for me to start with something that you believe in and put all into that venture, all your sweat, commitment, ideas, vision, dedication and see how far you can go. If you don’t, you will turn around and most likely, you will regret not having pushed and you won’t push the second time once you’ve given up. The first thing is to go into the one thing that you believe.
That’s the journey of entrepreneurship. It’s up and down. It’s the valleys and the deeps. It’s hard because getting customers and lending finance are very hard. You don’t lend a couple of millions overnight. Getting traction is super hard. Throughout that journey, you will experience hardship. It will be complicated but nevertheless, you have to keep going, which is why passion helps initially.
It’s interesting because in my own journey I did what you said, which was to go all-in. At the time I started my jewelry company, I had a colleague and a very good friend. I didn’t have any money and anybody who was a jeweler in my family. I didn’t have anybody who was a business person in my family.
My father was a Professor. When he came to America, he couldn’t teach because he didn’t speak English. I had a colleague who had a well-paying job and didn’t want to go all-in because he thought he could do his as a side hustle. He was already in the related business, had family connections and had some money.
There were quite a few people that started their companies right around the same time. I was the only one that quit the job. I didn’t have family backing and money. Yet, I was the only one that succeeded after a few years. After several years, there was a huge divide. I believe the reason why those people didn’t succeed is that when they were going to work during the day, they were making $100,000, $150,000, $200,000. They’re giving their best hours from about 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM to that company. You’re coming home exhausted. You’re dealing with your family, got a kid and you want to be a great parent and spouse.
Your business always takes a second priority. Unless you have a strong business idea, there is very little chance that will succeed. The other thing you can do is you can start it as a side hustle only as a testing ground and then you’re going to have to eventually transition into a business that could sustain, grow and scale.
Those of you who are reading now, you can sign up for a lot of my freebie classes. I talked about, without passion, you don’t have a business. When things get rough and you hit a month or you got no revenue, You hit a month where you find out that the stuff that shipped out had a defect and you have to be called. There are all kinds of crazy things that could happen. When a small business would be called, it could be 50 pieces but it’s everything you have.
When that happens, if you are passionate and this is what you breathe and live for, it’s easier to stomach those hours and lumps and say, “I’m passionate about it. I don’t know what happened but I’m going to fix this.” Rather than if you were in there for the money, you’re like, “This isn’t making me any money now. I’m going to quit.” Doing what you’re passionate about in those times helps you stay consistent and be a little bit more resilient.
For me, even those times when I thought my business was going to be done with it, over with, as your business grows, the stakes are higher. One mistake can get you down. I was able to sit back and say, “Even though I may lose everything tomorrow, the sun will rise. I enjoyed all that time that I’ve had with this business. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it again.” In those times when stakes were high, I could go under and compromise. I doubled down and then I grew. What you’re preaching is something that I’ve experienced myself.
All those facets are hard. What are the tips that you could offer? In your book, How Hard Can It Be, you talk about all the things that could go wrong and how hard it is. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to let people know that entrepreneurship. When you look at all the people who made millions of dollars like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk, all those people are entrepreneurship unicorns.
Start with what you believe in today, put your sweat and commitment into that venture, and see how far you can go.
They’re rare and most people don’t know if they’re real. When you look at their stories, they are latent with failure. Look at Bezos, it was at several years. We all listened to his earnings call on CNBC, talking about why he didn’t make his numbers. Why his losses were bigger than the last month but he continued on. Everybody thought he was crazy.
It’s the same thing with Elon Musk. If you read his book, it was 5 to 10 years. People thought he was a joke in Silicon Valley. They thought, “This guy is for real.” Are there any tips that you have in your book that you can share that help them? This is reality but what are the things you could do to succeed in that environment? It’s a jungle out there when it comes to entrepreneurship now.
You raised quite important points. First of all, most we’d fail, as you say 90%. When you look around for tips, advice and content that could support you, the stories that are relayed aren’t relatable. If there are stories about failure and stories that you can learn from because you won’t learn anything from the massive successes of Elon Musk, are stories of failure because you learn from the mistakes of others.
I opened my book with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which is, “You should leverage, use the learnings from the failure of others because you can’t possibly long enough to make them all yourself and you can’t. The purpose of the book is to show some tips that you can learn from and help you achieve the success you’re after.
What are the tips that you can offer to small entrepreneurs to succeed in the environment where you’re going to be faced with failure after failure? To expand upon your point that you learn more from your failures than you do from success stories, for example, my kids played competitive tennis. They were both nationally ranked. They played college tennis.
As a tennis mom, I watch my kids play. Sometimes they get lucky with the draw and they’ll get somebody who is ranked 185 or something in the nation but sometimes they’ll get the number one draw opening round. They’ll be like, “He’s got to be the next Roger Federer. I’m sitting here hitting poles over here. What’s my luck?”
When they excelled and their tennis game was not when they won one of those easy draws but when they lost those close games, where it came down to the last six points and they keep thinking about, “I should have come in earlier. I should’ve hit a volley. I shouldn’t have hit a back end.” They think about their strategy and that’s when you grow.
What I like to say is that with every challenge and obstacle in your entrepreneurship journey, there is a gift that’s wrapped in there. I always teach people how to not only embrace failure but plan your failure. When you’re launching a business, I always ask people to launch you’re a good, better, best. When you launch three-tiered of the same product something is not going to work because people are not going to buy the good, better and best. They’re going to buy 1 of those 3 things. The other two, by nature, will fail. Understanding failure is a key ingredient to success
We’ll fail our way to success.
Get up and fall forward.
Go beyond and embrace failure. The strategy is to get uncomfortable on purpose like by design. That touches a bit upon the point you made earlier. When you are working full-time, you come home and you decide that you don’t have the time and energy because you’ve been tied up with all the things, you are too comfortable in a way because the moment you are completely committed to the thing you are going after.
When you do the journey yourself, you are going through those deeps, difficulties and the struggle of landing a customer, not having enough inventory or whatever business you may be in, on design, putting yourself into difficult situations will help you be comfortable with potential failure along the way and you will.
You can put that into the context of a sport like you did. I personally do that every time I go running or go to the gym. You don’t grow muscles by lifting the same weight over and over. You grow muscle because you break the muscle fiber and then you build on top. You have to lift heavier and heavier to get growth. It’s the same mechanism. It’s the same for running. I don’t know if you run but I run quite a lot. It’s always the same pain. Regardless of how many times you go running at 10, 15, 20 kilometers, you will find the exact same struggle. It won’t get easier. Everything is the same.
You raised a good point here, which is when you’re starting your business and trying to make the first $50,000. I’ve been there. Trust me, it’s very painful and it’s a lot of work. You wonder every single day, “Am I ever going to get a break? or this was a stupid idea. Why did I think I was going to succeed in this? There are a lot of people that are smarter and have more money than me. They didn’t succeed. What the heck was I thinking?”
I lived in LA at the time. I had an LA Times-like employment board next to me the whole time. It’s circled in red thinking like, “I should start to get a backup job.” I still pushed on. The first $50,000 is pretty painful. You get a little bit of money, things are nice. I did the first $300,000 and I’m like, “This is great. It’s wonderful. I’m going to go buy some furniture because I finally have some money to buy.” I was living in a two-bedroom apartment. I thought to myself, “I could get myself a desk.”
At that point, I realized every order I shipped because your margin isn’t that huge, if anything goes wrong with any of those things, that could wipe my total profit. The stresses are different and then you have to invest money. You have to have somebody to help you. I hired help and all that. At that point, I now have an office and a couple of employees. I have to do $300,000 a month to sustain myself. How am I going to do that? It’s the same pain now but it’s much bigger.
The good news is you went through that pain. You understood you have some skills to get a response rate. You know what’s working. You know why direct mail doesn’t work. Phone calls worked better for me. When I went from $300,000 to the first $1 million and that was within the first eighteen months, by the time I was doing $1 million, my conversion rate was about 40%. You learned how to tweak up to that point.
I’m going to tell you ladies and gentlemen who are reading because a lot of my readers are female entrepreneurs. I’m very honest and upfront. I always tell people when I coach and do free webinars, in fact, I did one and it was like a mastermind class, “Don’t sign up for any of my classes if you think all you have to do is sign up for this class and listen to me for a weekly Zoom because it’s not rosy and not easy. You are going to have to do a lot of work. It’s the only way you’re going to get there.”
I find it a lot of fun. I wake up every morning after many years in business, $500 million to $750 million in sales. I’ve got plenty of money. I’m not saying I’m Oprah or anything like that. Remember, I started my company wanting to make $2,000 a month. As an entrepreneur, you never know when a rainy day, year or decade will come. I never learned to be extravagant in any way. I never learned to be braggadocious. I stayed humble. I always try to pay back and pay forward.
I drive a Yukon. I don’t drive any fancy cars. I got plenty of money for the lifestyle that I live. I was on a live radio show at 6:00 in the morning because it was 9:00 East Coast time. I was so excited to share my vision because one of my favorite lines from Whitney Houston’s song, Destiny, that said, “My finest day is yet unknown.” I’m an eternal optimist and I look for my finest day, which could be tomorrow. It’s in the future. It’s not in the past.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
For all of you who are reading, if you’re 1 of the 3 to 4 million Americans who quit their jobs in the last several months, it’s probably about 20 million or so by now. I’m hearing that trend is only going to continue more. I still encourage you to start short businesses to find your passion and purpose in life. Live your life with gratitude and intention.
When you do, you can directly impact your family, your community, your world to make it better, healthier, happier and you can heal the planet this way rather than working for some horrible boss who’s going to tell you what you’re worth. That’s in the best-case scenario. In the worst-case scenario, they tell you, you’re not worth anything or that you’re only worth something if you do it my way. A lot of these corporations are just into profits. They’re not into helping people.
The other thing I would say too and this is from my heart is if you get down to this, everything you need to succeed in life and be happy, you had it the day you were born. Don’t let any expert or anybody to tell you that you can’t do this or you can’t do that. Tune it all out. If you believe in something, it’s a matter of, “How am I going to get there? How am I going to get my message out?” I know it’s hard. Getting visibility and traction is hard. You can come to my website. I do a whole webinar on that one thing.
Getting visibility and traction in the first two years. That’s not going to be easy either. I give you a lot of things you can do to get there but you got to do them. I have a home gym here. We bought a whole new SoulCycle Bike. I don’t know how much it was. We already had an elliptical, treadmill, a noted track. I have all the weights here plus we’ve got a boxing thing. He says to me, “We already have an entire gym here. The problem with that is you don’t lose weight. You don’t get in shape by looking at those. Those machines have to be used. You just use the ones you already have.”
We have the bike and all this stuff. We already had like a gym model, bike, Life Cycle and all that. We got the SoulCycle and I said, “You got to get on it and start using it.” Any one of them will be fine. I’m going to start with one of them. He’s not super heavy or anything but he’s getting a little annoyed because his birthday is coming up. This is the same thing. When you go to these mastermind classes or you attend free webinars and they give you tips, you got to use those tips. They’re simple tips.
I love the book you wrote, How Hard Can It Be because nobody is talking about how hard, realistically speaking, from an entrepreneurship point of view. What I want to say to everyone is it is normal to be hard. You don’t learn how to ski, cook or do anything great by doing things that are super easy. I can ski but I’m not a professional skier or anything like that. When I see my kids ski or even professionals, they fall all the time. Watch the Olympics. How many people break their leg and fall but they get right back on and they are better. Apparently, with pins and stuff in their knees, they’re still better because they fell.
We have that when we are born. We start to walk, stumble, fall and we don’t stop. Otherwise, we would all be crawling and we don’t. We all walk. It’s around the teenage ages where everything becomes about conformism. You have to conform to that very box in which you’re going to exist for the rest of your life. You’re going to have grades and be graded on those. If you do below the average, you will fail and then we start to stigmatize failure. The less we fail and try, the more we supposedly fail in the eyes of society.
Slowly but surely, we become very rigid in our ways of looking at the world where in fact, we are meant to try stuff, to experience things and the only way to move forward is to try so much stuff out there, fail at them and recognize which one worked for you. We all feel it. You made that very interesting point. We have it from day one, from our birth. The very fact that you are on this Earth, the probabilities are crazy. It’s 1 to 400 trillion.
If you are on this Earth, it’s probably for a good reason. We are being falsely directed to do things that we don’t fully engage in because it doesn’t resonate with us and it makes us miserable. At the same time, we look at others who are supposedly successful. We put them on a pedestal and look at them as those great people that are different than us. They have something that we don’t have but it turns out we all have it. We are all the next great thing. It’s a matter of tuning to it.
Think about this, Arnaud, when you look at the companies that are now controlling our lives or those people who let them control. You’re looking at Google, Apple, Amazon, all these companies, except for Bezos, everybody else started their companies as a college dropout with less than $5,000 in total revenue. If you watch the Steve Jobs movie or you know anything about Amazon, they failed for the first ten years. Steve Jobs was even voted out of his own board. He was fired, came back and created the iPod.
The resilience factor is a very big thing, believing in yourself. I’m not here to tell everybody, “As long as you’ve got a passion, you’re going to succeed.” You have to work hard and work hard consistently. I come from Korea. It’s true here, much more so here in America. When you go to school, your teachers, the society, your community leaders, everybody tells you they have their own definition of success. If you’re a lawyer, doctor, this or that, you’re successful.
I went to MBA school, I got a great grade in my MBA school and this is a true story. I didn’t want to go to MBA school. I wanted to be an artist. I want it to be van Gogh and I’m a pretty good painter. That’s all I wanted to do. My parents said, “I’m talking to so and so.” They’re immigrants here, “you got to be a doctor, lawyer, this and that.” I didn’t want to be that. In my family, I have four doctors and a lawyer but they made me go to MBA school and I did it.
I went to MBA school and I thought, “Maybe my parents were right because I can do this marketing thing.” That’s a creative thing. In advertising, I can create ads and slogans. I can deal with that. My professor at USC pulled me aside. He liked me, cared about me, gave me extra work and everything. He told me, “You’re never going to be good at marketing. You need to switch your major because you don’t understand the nuances of language and marketing. You have to understand psychology. The American people think differently,” all this stuff.
I might not have got my degree in Finance, which I had no interest in it. Creative people don’t think about money. I went out and got that, $500 million later, primarily marketing, which I was pretty good at. Had I listened to him in that, given up my hope then and became a banker? I would have been fired from the first job because I can’t deal with numbers at all. The numbers bore me to death.
I have a degree but when you are in the most impressionable years in your life, about the seventh grade on, you’re being told what you’re good at. You’re going to be told pretty much what you’re going to succeed in. These are teachers that never gone out and lived the real-life out there, that entrepreneur life.
We were all given what we needed from the minute we were born. The word success, if you look at the personal lives of some of these people like Steve Jobs. He was an adopted kid, abandoned his own child, on and on. When we talk about success, I talk about the quality of your life more than the digits you have in your bank. If you’re going to go after that, I would highly recommend that you pick up this book, How Hard Can It Be.
Many of you know I’m an avid reader. I read about 30 to 40 books every year. I’m a very curious person. I lived on a small island in Korea, that’s how I saw the world and that’s how I learned. I still have this love for books. I don’t normally recommend a lot of books for my people to read because books take a lot of time. You’re asking people to invest time in you. I think this book is one that every entrepreneur should read because you are going to face times when you’re going to give up and say, “It’s not worth it.” At that time, you’re going to be given some tools to cope with that. Thank you so much for coming in and sharing your time with me and my audience.
If you want to pick up the book or know more about the book or about Arnaud and his journey, which is fascinating. You could go to HowHardCanItBeTheBook.com. Thank you so much for coming and if you have not subscribed, please go ahead, share, subscribe and more than anything, go ahead and give me a review. I’m not asking anybody to give me a great with you. I’m asking you to give me some honest feedback on every episode because that’s how I grow. It’s okay not to give me a five-star review. I’m okay with that. Being in a creative world, I get a lot of real honest feedback and that’s what we thrive on. Until next time, please stay healthy and happy. We’ll see you soon.
Thank you, Victoria. Thanks for having me.
About Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm
Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm is an entrepreneur, author and optimist. Today, he leads sales and business development at GLOBHE, a platform for drone data on demand. He also mentors startups at the Nordic Startup School. Arnaud is the founder of multiple startups, including internalDesk, a SaaS platform for enterprise collaboration, where he served as COO. internalDesk was recognized as one of the ‘Top10 Tech Rising Stars’ in the Nordics in 2014 and was acquired in 2019. He has worked many years in Change management. He holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK. Arnaud’s interest areas include entrepreneurship and everything related to mindset and wellbeing. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife and three children.