As much as we don’t like to admit it, setbacks are unavoidable in business. But what really makes the difference is not whether we encounter failures—because we all do—it’s how we respond to them.

The experience of a setback in business reminds me of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing.” Even when the odds are stacked against you, you have to persevere for your sake and the sake of your company. It’s a situation I’ve certainly experienced before.

“Don’t stop believing,
Hold on to that feeling”

Journey

Twenty years ago I was with a telecom company that offered high-end internet services. It doesn’t sound like much now, but back then we were developing 10-megabit and higher connections between cities. This was around the time when services of 1.5-megabit was the norm.

One of our clients during this time was one of the major investment banking companies in the same league as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan. They were using our 1.5-megabits service since we hadn’t yet fully developed our 10-megabit service. Unfortunately, our company wasn’t performing up to standard.

The client called us into their conference room to discuss our mistakes, and they recorded us like we were giving a congressional testimony. They sat on a stage and went through every single error we’ve made over the past six months. In the end, they decided to end business with our company. We were devastated!

As I walked out the door with four other team members, our sales executive inquired about the idea of giving them 10-megabits of internet between all cities in the United States. It was almost ridiculous to even suggest at the time. The highest speed the client ever had nationwide for this type of service was 1.5-megabits—the client executive hesitated just for a second and then replied, “No, I don’t think so. We’re done here.”

That night the client executive called and said, “Maybe we should talk about that 10-megabit service.” The president of our company flew out on the red-eye from San Diego, and we met with the client.

After hammering out logistics, we agreed to move forward with the groundbreaking, cross-country high-speed internet service. Before leaving the client executive said, “Well, don’t screw up, because once we put our employees on this high-speed service, there’s no turning back. You guys have GOT to make this happen.”

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We stayed persistent, we made it happen, and we exceeded their expectations. The client was so impressed and said we really stepped up.

The challenge actually helped us. Not only did we save the client, but we were also able to prove our vision wasn’t just vaporware!

While pitching to larger prospects, we would mention this high-profile client with 10-megabits cross-country. Soon, more companies wanted our services. Our company continued to grow in value, and was eventually sold in the late 90s.

“Don’t stop believing,
Hold on to that feeling”

Journey

The selected lyrics ring especially true when starting a business. The excitement of innovation is what keeps you pushing forward through difficult times. The reason we were creating the 10-megabit internet wasn’t just for the speed—it was to create something new that had never been done before!

If we didn’t have that innovation, we would have been just like everybody else. We could’ve easily admitted defeat when we encountered our setback. If we conceded defeat, we wouldn’t have been poised for a triumphant comeback. The success of the company is due to our resilience. We didn’t stop believing in our product and ourselves.