I Failed, So You Don't Have To

By Rebecca Layton Gunter

It’s been six years since
I made cocktails for a living.

Despite a fancy degree and an upwardly mobile job using said degree in a non-profit, I was at my best hustling food and bev in restaurants. It didn’t matter if I was peddling half-price cheeseburgers or $150 bottles of wine, I was in the zone professionally when I was juggling ten tables, busy customer orders, and a frenetic work pace. I thrived when the bar was three deep and I had to instantaneously recall the difference between a Gibson and a Gimlet, a Rob Roy and a Manhattan, a stone crab and snow crab.

At the height of said career, I was married to a chef (fine dining at that), worked in one of Washington’s most revered restaurants, and rubbing elbows with cultural icons like John Waters and Dave Barry. My husband desperately wanted his own restaurant, and I was a rock star in the front of the house. Our path was clear.

When my boss and I got in a power struggle over drink tickets and I ended my shift in tears, I saw my exit. The local, artisanal, food trend was just starting to take off. Everybody and everyone was opening restaurants. All of my friends were restaurant pros. Wasn’t it obvious? I would leave restaurant work and become a consultant. Who knew this business better than me, a twenty year veteran with an endless store of awesome ideas for marketing and development?

I got a name. I got a logo.

I got a website. And I started to pitch my project.

My enthusiasm for my own brand was palatable. I took classes (Kaufmann Fast Trac New Venture and Smart Growth, represent!) I made myself a regular fixture at SCORE and The DC Women’s Business Center. I gave away my time, volunteered at events, and honed my thought leadership. I did everything in my power to learn as much about business as I could possibly absorb. I networked like a mother*cker. I sacrificed sleep, time with my family, and a steady income in the name of entrepreneurship.

My story could only lead to success! I know my industry, I serve the community, I connect my people. I saw market traction, team growth, and brand maturity. I put in the hours, sweat, and tears. I tried harder at this than anything I had ever undertaken before.

The universe had to reward me;
it must. But it didn’t.

Despite paying my dues, providing value, and making impact: no one was buying. No one. Clients would work with my brand, but only if it was free, or nearly. Projects that I know we rocked did not lead to repeat business. Ideas were used, but not paid for. I collected kudos, but not accounts receivables. I was so passionate about the journey of an entrepreneur, but my brand did not stick.

I had failed. Five years and over $100,000 later, it was time to give up the ghost.

Could I have marketed it better?
Sure. Could I have tried harder? Not really.

Last week I cleaned out the office space I had built for that business. I threw away the banners that I had collected over the years that promoted us at events: chef demos at The DC Jazz Festival, pop-up concession stands at the National Harbor, sponsorship at The National Capital BBQ Battle, Eat Local First, and Launchpad.

Recently I wrote about the toxic effects of keeping clutter, so these banners went in the trash. Hundreds of sell sheets, brochures, and postcards -- trash. Business cards and lapel pins, memorabilia and t-shirts, trash. All of my dreams of building a thriving team of restaurant and creative pros working along starts-up food businesses and independently owned restaurants and doing remarkable things: trash.

It was painful. Despite thriving in my newly evolved self -- one living her purpose as a community-builder, a writer, a wagon puller, a beacon to passionate people building businesses and rocking brands – I was sad, resentful, and seriously needed a hug.

What was left to reuse, repurpose, and recycle? Ideas, knowledge, and that been-there/done that feeling.

It was kind of a miracle, a gift from the universe, when Melanie Spring looked at me at an Unplugged workshop and told me that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing. Whuuaat? I’m reading all the books, providing all the service, doing all the things.

But she was right; I wasn’t living my purpose. As a result I was fighting with my husband (“Get a job!”), cranky at home, and gaining weight. I was walking around in tattered clothes and tired haircuts. I looked like I didn’t care about myself. The business had chewed me up and spit me out.

She commissioned some web copy. She got me writing. She showed me my value. She made it her mission to teach me about branding, marketing, and messaging. She made me put it into practice.

And now I can show you.
I’ve got a street MBA
and I’m not afraid to use it.

Because I’ve studied the theories, collected the data, and lived the story, I can show you. Because I’ve worked my ass off and still failed, I can help you. Because I’ve lost sleep, made tough choices, and sacrificed everything for my company, I can guide you.

I failed so you don’t have to. If you need an ear, I got you. If you need a voice, I got that, too. I’m living my purpose so you can live yours.

CONNECT WITH ME: Join me in Brands That Rock, an epic supergroup of seasoned “magic-makers” building businesses and organizations. Pick up what I'm layin' down on Twitter or read what I'm writin' on Medium. See me at Unplugged and other Sisarina events. 



Rebecca Layton Gunter
Chief Coffee Officer
Read Rebecca's bio

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