Key principles I learned from owning a Startup That Failed

Everything I learned from a $1,000,000 startup that failed.
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  • Lectures 34
  • Length 1 hour
  • Skill Level Intermediate Level
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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About This Course

Published 4/2016 English

Course Description

Our company went from zero to $1,000,000 in 4 years and $1,000,000 to (-) $100,000 in 14 months. Most importantly, it just happened, and I wrote it all down.  IN THIS SERIES, I WALK THROUGH: an account of the RISE to the FALL,the critical lessons I learned and why I think our business failed, how to transition from failure. 

The critical lessons include: what I learned about managing people, the business model we were trying to execute, the funnel, and the finances. 

If you are starting, or on your way to $1,000,000, please, take this course. 

What are the requirements?

  • Nothing is required to take this course.

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Lead with confidence regardless of previous business failure.
  • Have an overview of the lifecycle of a startup that grew fast and failed fast.
  • Take action in current business after hearing my red flags that I should have acted on.
  • Take very specific "should have done" actions and apply to their business.

Who is the target audience?

  • Business owners who are actively growing a businesses and their next milestone is $1,000,000 in sales will benefit from this course.
  • Business owners who are adding team members and expanding will greatly benefit from this course.
  • Those who are at the idea phase should not take this course.
  • Those who are at stage two ($2.5Mil + in revenue) should not take this course.

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.



My commitment to you! Yes, I would love for this to be the best course on udmey, but most importantly, I want you to receive amazing value from this series! This is not just a course, a principle, this was my life as an entrepreneur. When starting, failure is not an option, but statistically, most startups fail- but no one talks about it... I want to not only talk about it, but share everything I learned. 

Please, tell me about your experience. What you like, don't like and want to know more of. I will stay as active as I can and reply to questions, add videos and more. This is my first udemy course and the only way to make it perfect is to serve you to make it better. 

I am so grateful for you! 


Every Problem is a Leadership Problem

This is the first in a series of posts where I’ll lay out the narrative of my lessons learned from being a minority owner in a startup that failed. These posts are companions to an Udemy Course that will chronicle these same lessons.

I’ve come to understand through experience that every problem is a leadership problem… no matter what. In this scenario, and maybe in your own narrative, the people around you might screw up or drop the ball, but so did I as I’m sure you have. Until I officially removed myself from this previous endeavor, I still had responsibility based on my percentage of ownership. This made me accountable to what was happening, even if I wasn’t always present or making decisions about the future of this investment.

We can’t learn anything through blame. We can only learn if by owning our own part and mistakes, carefully reviewing for lessons learned to further us in the entrepreneurial journey. 

I received amazing advice during this trying time… making mistakes is commonplace, but failure is when you decide to stop learning from those mistakes.

I hope you’ll find this series helpful. It is in sharing our own difficulties that we can all be lifted. In the next post I’ll tell you a little bit more about who I am and how that lead to a fantastically wild entrepreneurial endeavor that taught me so much. Follow along here or check out the course!


Below are two books I stronger recommend you buy now! These books have helped me tremendously with owning failure, how to empathetically see those around me, and start forming new thoughts that direct me in the right direction. 


A little about myself. 

Before we get into my leadership lessons learned from watching a company that I was a minority owner in fail, I think you should know a little about who I am and how I got there...

I am the middle child of an ultra creative dad and brilliant manager mom. I really started to appreciate their influence on me when I realized at 27 that I sit right in the middle of creative and operations. I love the art of business.

At first, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. Looking back, my first entrepreneurial endeavor was a recording studio me and some buddies built in high school. We ended up using our own money to build a five room studio with glass walls and thousands of dollars in gear.

Eventually, this lead me to doing live audio engineering and helping with event production. After a few years, I started getting opportunities to craft experiences in meetings and smaller group settings. This consisted of a lot of facilitation and brainstorming, and I wasn’t sure how to bill for these skills, so I mostly did it for free. What I really loved was contributing to creative process in a way I hadn’t before.

After jumping around for a few years, I met someone who was doing similar work, and over sushi in the suburbs of Atlanta, I was pitched an idea to turn this craft into a business. The proposition was to serve the nonprofit community by offering for profit quality marketing and advertising.

I liked the idea of starting something from nothing and the chance to serve organizations that were impacting lives around the world was really exciting for me. We continued meeting, eventually conducting some strategy sessions, and in February 2011 I quit my job to join a new team on a new adventure.

In the next couple of posts (or course videos if you are following along on Udemy), we will discuss my version of our company’s radical growth after a crazy startup… and our perceived success.


The Startup Honeymoon Phase

If you’ve been following along, you know I caught the entrepreneurial bug early and eventually partnered to pursue my own venture — Root Radius. We started your typical startup…our office was the musty attic space in a small office building about 40 minutes north of Atlanta.

We set out with a mission to help nonprofits market and advertise effectively. Nonprofits represent about five to six percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) — meaning as a sector, they possess five percent of the country's resources to solve the world's challenges. Nonprofits are also expected to keep their operating costs below 33 percent of their annual budget, which typically leaves little to no margin for marketing and advertising.

Over time, our pitch evolved to, “At Root Radius we equip causes to tell their story.” We believed the anchor of any brand should be a clear and compelling story that produces a call to action. Once we helped our clients develop that story, then we helped them determine the strategy to tell that story across multiple mediums.

During our first five years, we served more than 250 unique organizations that were changing people’s lives. Our greatest satisfaction was gained in helping real people bring clarity to their stories in a way that was compelling, something many people struggle to do and remain relevant cross-audience.

We helped organizations rebrand, raise money, develop confidence and interact with their advocates in ways they have never done before. We got to help organizations like the American Cancer Society execute projects to be recognized on a the global agenda. We built Facebook apps for BCBC. We helped visionaries who gave up their careers to pursue their causes. We supported a merger between two nonprofits.

We definitely had our struggles and missteps along the way, but we were driven by this supporting role in the much more satisfying business of changing lives around the world.

This drive allowed us to grow from $120,000 in our first year, to $240,000, then to $420,000, then to $580,000, and then to just under $900,000. We were growing and we were profitable. This growth became addictive and ultimately sent us down a path trapped by the desire to grow.  


Success Can Be a Trap

The success trap refers to business organizations that focus on the exploitation of their (historically successful) current business activities and as such neglect the need to explore new territory and enhance their long-term viability.

Reporting our entrepreneurial success to business associates, family and friends was like a drug. Every holiday gathering felt like a shareholder update. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would ask how the business was doing and if we had hired more people. Every time the answer was yes, it elicited responses of impress and respect.

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy, and people aren’t always courageous in pursuing their own business ventures. People by default expect startups to fail, because they can’t imagine what it would take to make it work themselves. As our business continued growing, people started reaching out to meet up and pick our brains wanting to learn what made this different.

It gives you a sense of power to sit across from people you respect and be asked your advice. To be placed in league with other successful business people is addictive and that desire to succeed and be something can take over.

Growth, success and accomplishing amazing goals are always something we should strive for and are not by nature bad things. It’s what they do to people and how they change focus and decision-making that can be dangerous. You can forget what was a priority and what drove you before you realized this success and that can trap you. It can dictate how you spend your time, where and with who. It can cause you to prioritize business over your health and wellbeing. 

These are some of the things I personally experienced in falling into this success trap and I’ll share more about the personal sacrifices I made to retain the success I felt I’d achieved next time.


When working hard in a startup, everyone tells you you have to sacrifice just about everything. I am not so sure this is true. We often read the, I entered this much risk and it paid off. But how often do we even capture the majority. The scenarios in which it did not pay off. The goal is not to NOT take sacrifice, I am still taking major sacrifices to this day. The idea is to truly understand WHAT sacrifices you are taking; the opportunity cost, the risk, the outcomes good and bad of the sacrifice.


How do you know you are burnt out? This video includes the weights that I placed on myself that greatly contributed to my burnout. If you are starting to feel tired, stressed, or even numb, watch this video.


Not accounting for roadblocks left an already fragile business crippling. Knowing what is ahead is almost impossible, creating a business with just enough margin to adjust when roadblocks hit, that is what we did not have. In this video, I share some of the roadblocks we faced that damaged our cash flow. 


One of the hardest decisions I made was to take a break. This was a critical break that determined my place in the future of business I was a minority owner in. I was burnt out and gave myself 3 options moving forward. In this video, I share what those options were, and my decision. 


This is the last year of the business. I move through this quicker than I would have liked. So I will also bullet some details here:

  • In 2014, we had a full-time sales / client manager who was doing a.  great job. He was organized and had a history of managing large projects. ($50mil construction projects). 
  • We thought for sure he would be able to help us grow our $1,000,000 company to the next milestone . 
  • We meet bi-weekly to review sales goals, company goals, systems, and processes, etc. 
  • With 2014 being a difficult year, we had objectives to lean up the business in 2015. This was a critical focus of the new president. 
  • With sales goals not being met, each month became a little more painful than the last. 
  • The other founder and I removed our salaries from the company to keep the cash in the business. 
  • The president started showing signs of frustration and inability to close sales and oversee the operations of the company. 
  • By Q4, he had announced he was done. 

There are a million more things and I will share more based on any questions you have:). 


In this video, I share what it is like to report on failure- it sucks. I also detail some of the findings from the devastating  audit. 

Section 3: Critical Business Lessons: The Talent

One of the most rewarding pieces of the business was developing deep relationships with those around me. We spent 8 sometimes 10 hours a day right next to each other. Sharing each other's dreams, passions, goals, we celebrating major milestones and heartbreaks.


SO CRITICAL: This is my perspective looking in the past. Just because something didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it will or will not work for you. I hope to share my lessons so you can review and contextualize to how you are growing or desire to grow your business.  

I also share some critical lessons that I learned about myself. 


Working with the team was so incredibly rewarding. It was also very difficult to find the talent we were looking for. After a rigorous and painful experience in trying to hire a project manager, it brought me to a MAJOR realization I share in this video. 


The idea is to be a career coach, not an employer. 

If you genuinely care about someone, you want them to be in the best position possible to thrive and be successful, as a career coach, that may be in their current role, a new role in the company, or in another company, it is all about working hard to ensure you put your employees in the BEST position possible for them, and if that happens to be in your company, they will thrive, and you will greatly benefit each other.


Having more people does NOT mean healthy business growth, even if it feels like it does. Here are some lessons I learned in business culture as we grew our company. 

Section 4: Critical Business Lessons: The Model

It’s simple, we did not have a good business model and in my opinion, this is critical for a healthy business. 


Like many service-based agencies, we tried to do it all.

Brand strategy, digital strategy, content strategy, site UX, design, frontend dev, back-end dev, facebook applications, print design, film video, animation video, setup full marketing automation, we even helped clients write books. 

This is what I learned in trying to do it all. 


A major broken piece of our model was that we were offering solutions that were too complicated for our clients. THIS WAS A HUGE REALIZATION to understanding our broken model. 

When you start, you are piecing together components to build a business, that is expected. But look closely to broken areas and focus on solutions before it is too late. 


You can't do it all, you just can't. In this video, I share what happens to you business model when you try to do it all. 


Two types of owner:

Those who believe their business is God’s gift to the market, and no one can do it like them. They will keep their business alive until they die, and often become trapped in the belief that if they just work harder, stay up later, if the economy was better, they would be more successful.

And those who believe the market is God’s gift to them, and they live to learn about the market, study it, and empathetically see the needs of that market and sacrifice focus and dedication to serve that market in a beautiful way.

This approach will change your life! 

Section 5: Critical Business Lessons: The FUNNEL

Call it the funnel, the customers buyers journey, the value exchange, whatever. Essentially, you need customers. And in my opinion, to grow a healthy business you need the right customer.

This video shares how we neglected our funnel because we were busy, which was a critical mistake. 


We set up a scenario that was pretty much setup to fail. In this video, I share what our month-to-month looked like, our retention and the position we put our self in that set us up for failure.


Because we were spending so much energy trying to execute, we never developed a system to generate value outside our network. This was a critical mistake. 


We had no system for the funnel. And if you don’t have a system, you have nothing to measure against. And if you don’t have anything to measure against, you have no accountability. 

We did not have a true business model, we were not selling, we were accepting project work. We were paying market salary for a salesperson and a percentage of large salary for president to find work. This was a HIGH cost, and we thought, if we spent the money on the right people, it would work…. and it would be easy to blame them, but we had no process for the funnel, lose measurements, and therefore, retrospective accountability…

Section 6: Critical Business Lessons: The FINANCES

There are so many factors that impact the finances that have absolutely nothing to do with money. I shared two critical functions of the business: the model and the funnel, in the next group of videos, I am going to share with you the story of our finances.


The reason we had early success is because we had the energy to sprint: but as you know or may be experiencing now, sprinting is hard to maintain. As the complexity grew, the demand for attention started growing, and the need for systems in every area of the business grew, including finances- and we were desperate for mentors.  


Make your finances SIMPLE, the more complexity in your finances, the more difficult to manage.

  • Simplify how you invoice.
  • Simplify accounts receivable
  • Simplify  accounts payable

In this video, I share the story of our money. As I stated before, there are so many details within this story. If you have any questions, I will be glad to answer. I am not a CPA, CFO, or bookkeeper, but I do have experience in managing the finances through this experience and can share my expereince. 


We had some hard decisions to make. I knew my number one priority was to exit the partnership.

I worked hard on the audit to see if the business had enough equity to justify taking on the debt, and came to the conclusion that it did not.


I could have walked, but I decided to take a different approach. One that allows me to continue with integrity today. 


The big lessons through it all. Please comment, ask questions about any of these lessons.  This is an overview of the critical lessons from my five years in a startup and 2 years as a minority owner. 


With everything in life, there is a season of pruning and cleansing, just consider any recent mistakes or failures as an opportunity to cleanse.

In this video, I share my steps in cleansing. 


This series has been an overview. There are plenty of how to's and 10 steps to... but few people share the emotional and story of success and failure. With that, I know we all need the, "so what do I do now" content. And my hope is that you will ask questions throughout each lecture and I will add that content as requested. 

There are a million practical pieces I learned, and would get lost trying to determine what and what not to share. I will let you determine what is important and add content accordingly. 

I will also be updating videos monthly on my progress and what I am doing now, so stay tuned! 

Thank you for trusting me and going on this journey with me. I can't wait to hear more of yours! 

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Instructor Biography

Bryan Noel, Husband, Dad, Aspiring Serial Entrepreneur

    I am bryan j noel and I am an aspiring serial entrepreneur.

    Though I was unaware of the terminology, I have been an entrepreneur since high school. With our own resources (not our parents), a couple of poor kids built a recording studio that ended up being 5 rooms recording artist from all around the state. Since then I have moved around but have had the incredible opportunity to serve startups to international brands with operational and creative strategy.

    Along the way, I share stories of gratifying hope and crippling self-doubt. I live in constant war between the problems I see and the rate in which solutions can be developed to solve them.

    I have launched successful and unsuccessful businesses and love to share everything I can to help others NOT make the same mistakes I have.

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