Lessons from little failures can prove large

In 1989, Missy Park was told the only way to launch a mail-order company was to send out no fewer than 250,000 catalogs.

The founder of Title Nine sportswear and the keynote speaker at the Business Journal's June 28 Women in Business Awards Gala didn't have the resources to come anywhere near that number. So she gathered her friends to model the clothing and take the photos and she mailed out 30,000 catalogs.

Then she sat by her home phone waiting for the orders to pour in.

The results weren't exactly overwhelming. She received 56 orders -- but only 13 were from someone other than her friends.

But she did notice one thing: All of the orders included a sports bra. So she took that kernel of information and acted on it. Today Title Nine sells 250,000 sports bras a year and the company employs nearly 300 people across eight states and 21 locations.

[caption id="attachment_56567" align="alignleft" width="176" caption="Missy Park"][/caption]

The message for the audience of 280 people attending the awards gala was this: From small failures come the seeds of success.

Another example.

Title Nine's first retail outlet -- the Berkeley-based company has 19 stores today along with its thriving catalog and online business -- was a less than ideal location in "the most dangerous area in town," she was told. But the rent was reasonable and thus the risk of failure small. The company has carried that philosophy forward spending about $40,000 to establish a retail location compared to the industry standard in the hundreds of thousands.

Taking smart risks inexpensively -- and failing cheaply -- allows the company to experiment without threatening the entire enterprise. Title Nine's current bit or risk taking: Challenging Victoria Secret's dominance of the bra market with a new website and catalog called BOUNCE.

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