How To Persevere When You Feel Like You’re Failing At Business | High Speed Low Drag Podcast Content

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Tom: Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of the High Speed Low Drag podcast. I’m Tom Morkes here with Antonio Centeno and today, we’re going to talk about how to persevere when you feel like you’re failing at business.

Antonio, how do you cope?

Antonio: Well, I usually close myself into a closet and drink heavily. No, I don’t do that at all.

I have to say first off, Tom, I think this is going to be a great subject that we’re addressing some of the questions we’ve been getting from the guys in our High Speed Elite Program. To be honest, we don’t treat these guys really with kid gloves. We are straight up with them if they are not producing content or getting through and knocking things out to the level that’s expected.

One thing I do love about my military brethren is that if you produce something that stinks, we let you know straight up immediately because we don’t have time to be PC about this and dance around the issue. No. We talk about the most important thing first straight up and let’s nail it, let’s fix it, and let’s get the win.

It’s tough when you’re out there because you don’t get this leg up — when you’re in the military, you’re used to having a lot of training to being able to very quickly rise to the top, to have a great team around you, to have all these resources, and to do things that people thank you for them.

You get out here in the civilian world and you’re starting up a company, you have very limited resources, very limited time, limited knowledge. You’re in many ways competing against people that are in some cases a decade or a couple of decades younger than you, incredibly smart. They seem like they have a leg up. They just got $20 million from an investor. They went to Harvard. How can you compete?

Some of these guys, I can see where they feel this frustration. It’s tough like, “Do I have what it takes? I don’t even have a college degree. I was a tech sergeant, but what does that mean out here in the civilian world?”

Tom: Yeah. Well, another thing — and you didn’t mention this about the military, but I think it’s an important difference, too — is in the military, the tracks are set. You decide what you want to do, but there’s always some process or form to fill out, something to go through. It’s almost always set in stone to a degree like how you navigate, depending on what position or rank you want to get to and stuff like that, right? The tracks are set.

When you get out to the civilian world though, you’re going to spend a lot of time working on things and a lot of them might pan out and you don’t know necessarily if what you’re working on is the most important thing, if you should stick it out. I think that’s really the tough question. Sticking it out, do you know you’re doing the right thing?

How do you deal with that, Antonio? If somebody came to you with that issue, saying, “I feel like I’m failing because I don’t know if I’m spending my time on the right thing, if it’ll come eventually. It’s completely uncertain.”

Antonio: Well, there’s something that you said, Tom, that I’ll really quickly have to address. You guys actually had a choice in the Army of what you did. In the Marine Corps, there’s a big eagle, globe, and anchor that sits at the top of the Marine Corps. Based off of where the eagle points its head, that’s how actually marines are chosen, which 95% of us of course are thrown into the Infantry, but that’s amazing. You guys have a choice.

Tom: Yeah, we do. We got to work at those choice muscles.

Antonio: No, I’m just joking. There are many Marines that of course get their slots and they get to it to go down a path, but somehow we all end up in the infantry.

Tom: And marine recon snipers, right?

manula laborAntonio: Exactly. I would say, to answer your question specifically, any entrepreneur that is self-made, is worth his salt, has stories.

They have all gone through the lows. To taste something that’s sweet — do you know how when you work out all day or you’re doing work all day, you’re out there building a house, you’re digging ditches, you’re doing something and you come in and you haven’t had time so much for a break and you sit down and you have that glass of water, you have that cold beer, you have that glass of iced tea or lemonade, how it just tastes amazing. You have never tasted a better drink than what you have right there in your hand.

Part of that is that you’ve gone through the low. You are out there. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are miserable, but that helped you appreciate and better taste what it felt like to get that. That’s why real entrepreneurs, we love when we earn our first dollar. It doesn’t matter if we just sold a business for $10 million. Making that first dollar in the next business is actually more exciting.

We look at that destination. We all want to be financially free. We don’t want to have to worry about all of that. We want to have these resources that make problems disappear or enable us to do things faster and give us the freedom, but it’s the journey that really makes it.

I think that veterans have a unique advantage because many of us have been exposed to what really matters in life. If you’re stationed out in K?ne’ohe Bay in Hawaii and you’ve been deployed on multiple MUs and been part of various units, you know that one of the most important things is simply getting back home, spending it with your family, or going home for Christmas and being around your grandparents, your grandfather sharing with you the things that he never would have because he served and now you’ve served. He now understands that you have graduated up.

That’s what’s really important, those types of relationships. When you’ve got that and you’re armed with what really matters, you’ve got your center built up, then you’re going to be able to persevere through the tough times, and there are going to be tough times. It doesn’t matter if you get that $20 million in funding. There are many problems that come with that as well.

So don’t have this illusion that somehow having that fancy degree or having a bunch of investor money insulates you from problems. Actually, I think sometimes they multiply because I’ve known people who have those advanced degrees and they feel a lot of pressure not only just from the student loans, but they also feel pressure that “I have this degree. I’ve got to make it” or “We’ve got that investor money. The pressure is on. We’ve got to get a 20 times multiple in terms of revenue growth versus just being able to double our money.”

injuryTom: Yeah. Also, talking about just this feeling of failure, would you say this is common in that every entrepreneur goes through that?

Antonio: Not every entrepreneur, but I would say the vast majority of us do. Personally I’ve gone through failure. I have failures all the time.

The thing with failure is that you almost feel like you’re experiencing them alone, which is a big reason that I push masterminds. I push groups like what we’ve got at High Speed Elite because I think it’s a lot easier to share your failures and to realize — and then when you’re in a group of other entrepreneurs, you’re like, “Oh yeah, except mine happened…” It’s like comparing scars. It’s like “No, no, mine is deeper” or “This thing is like half an inch from my heart.” You’re like, “Wow! I thought mine was bad. I feel a lot better about my situation.”

Reach out to a group, whether or not it’s High Speed Elite or you find or you build your own mastermind. Surround yourself with other entrepreneurs because we look at these failures not as permanent stuffs, but these are just things that we hit and we have to recalibrate and get going.

Personally, I’ve almost lost my house when I first started my company. I literally had to make a decision. Do I make a mortgage payment or do I pay advertising on Facebook so that I can get some more customers? I wouldn’t say I was lucky. It was planned. There were hours and hours of work that went into it that night, but I was able to create an ad which actually brought me two sales and I was able to then pay my mortgage.

Many people had been having to not being able to pay their mortgage situation, but very few people have been in it where they were literally making a bet on their hard work and their company that they’re going to be able to pay their mortgage. I think what allowed me to persevere through that — even though I had two kids at the time, I had a wife and we’ve got a nice house.

It really came down to my wife. She was like, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Worst case, we can go live with your mom,” and she’s right. The worst case — and we know what’s the worst case — the worst case is death, so all this other stuff is not actually that bad because — yes, I’m living in one room with my entire family, but we’ve been to Iraq. We’ve been to Afghanistan. We realized that for most of the world, that’s reality. What are we complaining about?

We are in a country that — gosh! If you can’t find a way to make it in this country, really it just comes down to, I think, the perseverance. I see people that can’t use their legs and they’re out there being successful, so what’s my excuse?

Tom: Yeah, exactly. That brings up a good point. I think perspective is a big thing, to have that perspective of where you came from and what you’ve been through in relation to where you’re at now. Just because you’re struggling with getting something up and running doesn’t mean it’s the end the world, does it?

I guess in that context, the military men and women that have served have that experience to always come back to and ground themselves in. Tell me about focus though. When you feel this, when you’re starting to have that intense pressure of feeling like a failure, what should you focus on?

Antonio: If you’re already putting 12 to 14 hours in your business, you’re not going to solve this by putting in 16 to 18 hours. What you probably need to do is focus more on yourself. If you have a family, focus on your family.

One thing that I do, I try to take my kids to the pool at 6:00 in the morning. That’s my two oldest ones now. We swim laps in the morning or I go to the gym myself. This morning, it was just me and I went to the gym. I find that that actually is very refreshing. I have this temptation that I want to come in and get a couple of extra hours in at the office, but I realized that that’s not going to be — I need to eat better. I need to take care of my time.

So look at and make sure that you are going for balance. Honestly, if you’re working a solid eight hours a day, that’s about it. The 40-hour workweek didn’t just evolve. It used to be a lot longer. The French, we kind of make fun of them maybe for their 35-hour workweek, but I think in many ways, if you have a laser-focused 35 hours in which you are working undisturbed and you are getting done the most important things, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get things done in 35 to 30 hours.

I think what happens to a lot of us is we confuse just hard work without effective hard work. They’re not the same thing. Take a step back and say, “Gosh. Where am I wasting time?”

Pareto-PrinciplePerry Marshall has talked about this, a lot about the whole 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle, the whole idea that it’s 20% of our efforts which are yielding us 80% of the results. Even within that, there’s another 20% that yields 80% of that, so literally 4% of what you do brings you a huge proportion of your overall benefits.

One of the first things I started to do is just cut off things which are not yielding me any return or in many cases are pulling me down. You need to be able to measure. You need to be tracking your time. There are certain apps out there that can do this. I find that it’s something as simple as making sure that I’ve got it going into my own scheduler and scheduling events.

I used to have two days a week in which I just met with people, gave away my time for free, did interviews and all this other fun stuff. I’ve really come down to a point now where I can only do that once a week.

I’ve also cut back on some areas in one of my businesses. I was giving away consultations. It was kind of a free bonus, but I realized over a period of a year, I was giving out about 80 hours of time in that. I decided to reclaim that time and see if it would affect my product or my business and honestly, sales didn’t go down at all. So it was like, wow, I just got back 80 hours, so going in there, reevaluating things, and cutting off the things that are negative, surrounding yourself with the right people. I’ve talked about that earlier in the masterminds.

This is tough for some of us. Some of us if we discuss things, let’s say, with our wives and she doesn’t necessarily share our ambitions in entrepreneurship, that may not be the best person — it may be better to talk with her about the things that matter, on what you built initially, what you guys have in common and what you’ve built your relationship on. Don’t try to force necessarily business stuff.

At this point with my wife, I don’t force business. She likes to talk about it, but to a point. She’s also very interested in talking about how our newborn baby — we’ve got a month old baby — how she’s changing everyday. I realized that I need to talk about that more because I’m never going to have this time again with my daughter, Katya. It’s kind of a long answer there.

Tom: Yeah, but good stuff. There are obviously a few lessons I take from that. One of the things that I think is really difficult though is — because you mentioned you removed the distractions, avoided things that are not useful. You mentioned applying the 80/20 principle, what are the 20% of things that you’re doing right now that gets the 80% of the results, going for impact, leveraging whatever tools that are in front of you to create the base impact.

When you’re just starting out though, when you don’t have necessarily the traction, psychologically, how do you handle that? I think when people are established, it’s maybe a little bit of a different question because you can better look at the ROI, but if you’re not making a return yet, when you’re just starting out, how do you deal with that?

MixergyAntonio: Well, you can look at maps that other people have laid out. We’ve talked about websites like Mixergy. I think “The Rise to the Top” you’ve still got some great interviews. “The $100 MBA”, Omar over there has got some great stuff. There are many resources that we probably just need to put up over at High Speed Low Drag so that people can go check them out.

Look at best practices. In the corporate world, I guess that’s what they call best practices. Take them with a grain of salt and find out what works for you. Many of these best practices, they’re also going to warn you what landmines did they step on.

I can tell you one thing I see a lot of people doing nowadays is spending a lot of time on social media. I like social media. Social media is like gasoline. However, if you don’t have a fire burning, which is your home base, your website, your content, you actually getting sales, then it’s like having a really small flame, a tiny, tiny spark, and then just throwing tons of gas on it. You’re actually going to put out the flame. That’s not what you want to do. You want to make sure you’ve got a good roaring flame then throw on that gas and boom, that’s when you’re going to get that explosion.

But so many people, they only have a spark and they keep throwing gas on this little bit of smoldering flame, which never really gets — in my understanding of gas, you need a spark or you need a flame. If you don’t have that, then you can throw tons of gas on it, but you’re just going to get a pool of gas and it’s going to smell really bad. It’d probably be a hazard or something.

Tom: Yeah. It comes back to focusing then on actually the core of whatever you’re working on. In the context of that, I suppose the core of business then is sales and are you able to produce something that people want to buy. Is that about right? Is that what you would focus in if you’re somebody who’s just starting out and feeling like a failure because you can’t get traction? Dive into that a little bit, if you wouldn’t mind.

Antonio: Okay. Can you clarify the question just a bit, Tom?

Tom: Yeah. I’m curious because you mentioned about the flame, the analogy to the flame and social media being a gasoline to the spark that should be your core business. How do you create that spark in core business? Do you think that’s outside the bounds of perseverance when you feel like a failure?

Antonio: Yeah. That’s getting back to — at High Speed Elite, we’ve got that whole program. We’ve got seven modules in which we talk about business fundamentals. The great part about this information is that the fundamentals of business have been the same for a long time. Maybe in the Medieval Ages, you had to worry about armed bandits always jumping in and trying to steal your wares.

Now, you still kind of have a little bit of that stuff, but really the fundamentals of offering value, charging for it, delivering that value, and then taking that money and either reinvesting it or keeping it for yourself, that hasn’t changed much for a long time, so there’s a lot of great information out there.

I would say focusing in on those core fundamentals of business, which is a little bit beyond the scope probably of this interview, but I would say it is one of the big things I see again and again, is people do not know how to sell, or maybe it’s society in general.

Companies like Google are great. They really push everything or they make it look like they give away all this stuff for free, but they’re an advertising company. They use their free platforms to build up an audience so that they can sell you advertisements, so that they can sell you products. Look at it from that way.

If you’re selling soap or if you’ve got teapots or you want to get into computers and you want to redo what Michael Dell did, one of the things that you need to realize is you can’t follow his map exactly. You could go to the University of Texas; it’s a great school. But if you try to do exactly what Michael Dell did by selling computers out of his dorm room, Jester dorm room — actually, I used to walk right by it all the time when I was at UT — it’s just not going to work.

You can’t follow the exact map, but you can be inspired by it and you can realize that he went through some tough times. Now, he’s a multibillionaire, but look at really what was the problem that he solved. At the time, the problem in 1980s, early 1990s, was that you couldn’t get great computers at a fair price.

Nowadays, you can argue that that problem is a lot less of a problem, although there’s a company out in Seattle I was just looking at the other day, they’ve realized that there’s almost too much choice. “We’re just a company that we focus and we build our computers from scratch and you can just be rest assured that you’re just going to get an awesome machine and that we back up with our own guarantee and we use our own parts for.”

There is always a problem to be solved. Make sure that you’re focused in on that problem, severe problem that people are willing to spend money on and the rest of it will fall into place.

Tom: Great stuff. So to summarize some of the key points I took from this, one, first start by understanding that failure doesn’t define you. Number two, focus on what is actually important, the core fundamentals of your business. Three, go for balance. That was something you had said earlier, but I thought it was pretty cool and true and I think a lot of people can resonate with that in that they feel unbalanced or out of balance, and that’s what’s so stressful. Finally, I think reaching out to a group and surrounding yourself with like-minded entrepreneurs, which I think is really powerful.

Anything else that we didn’t cover or that you think should be highlighted, Antonio?

Antonio: The company I was talking about with the computer, I just pulled them up, Puget Systems. I love it because they sell what most people would consider to be a commodity.

Get this. This is their thing. Each Puget — I’m not a Washington guy. Somebody come in and correct me, but, “Each Puget Systems PC is hand-built and thoroughly tested. We cannot rush that quality process. When we reach our production capacity for December, this special is over.”

You know what’s funny? Most people would not pay for this, but they realized that there are people like me, business owners, that simply — I depend on my PC. I want something that is going to work, not fall apart on me, and just kick butt, and I’m willing to pay for it. I’m not a Mac guy. I’m actually checking them out right now. Who knows? Maybe I’m going to buy it while I’m talking here.

Tom: So true, great stuff. Well, I think that wraps up today’s conversation on perseverance, how to persevere when you feel like you’re failing at business. I think those are some great lessons learned from you, Antonio, and great pieces of advice that anybody can apply, hopefully applied immediately to their own situation.

Other than that, for everybody listening, I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Head over to, check us out, and leave a review on iTunes if you enjoyed today’s episode. We’re really trying to promote and push this and get it in front of more listeners. So if you enjoyed it, I’m sure somebody else would, so please share with them. Other than that, thanks so much for joining us today and we’ll catch you next week.

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