A few weeks ago I met with some highly impressive young entrepreneurs. Three brothers — Jake, Jim, and Jordan DeCicco — started the company Super Coffee. Like many college athletes, these guys experienced the fatigue after daily morning practices, hard work, and long days of rigorous academics. Their daily challenge wasn’t finding motivation for their sport or interest in their education; it was finding 20 hours of energy to get them through the day.
The problem was that Jordan, the idea innovator, didn’t like how every energy solution he found was filled with garbage. From energy drinks to Starbucks coffee, each option was stuffed with ingredients he couldn’t pronounce, filled with sugar, or worse yet, full of chemicals and toxins. And like many entrepreneurs before them, they created a product that they themself needed, Jordan and his two brothers set out to create an option that would deliver the energy without all the bullshit. Their angle? A 70-80 calorie drink, clean, containing coffee and zero sugar.
If you know me, you know that coffee is not my thing. I’ll order it sometimes, but I take one sip and normally throw it out. I just don’t like it. So I’m certainly not writing this to promote Super Coffee. But I’m damn sure bringing this to your attention because I want you to understand the value of hustle, resilience, and sticking it out.
Their idea was legit, right? Doesn't it seem like people would be clamoring to invest? In reality, trying to find investors was a nightmare for the DeCicco brothers, and finding the stores — or a distributor — that were interested in carrying the product was even harder. Most people probably would have quit having the door shut in their face time after time after time.
Not these guys. What did they do? They bought a bottle of Honest Tea, emptied it out, put their drink inside it, and pitched it to a local Whole Foods. The owner of the Whole Foods liked the pitch and liked them, and requested eight cases shortly thereafter. This propelled the DeCicco brothers to make monumental changes in their life. They dropped out of college and even landed a failed pitch on Shark Tank.
Listening to these guys reminded me of two huge lessons that come from grind and persistence.
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I’ve never been a fan of business plans. Found them useless. In business you’ll get shit you never expected. Problems you never dreamed of. And the biggest reason, you overthink. Just do. Change the plan as you go. That’s why I’m so big on fire. ready.aim. These 3 brothers that started @drinksupercoffee did just that. They hustled their way to a $200M company. No experience, no connections, no help besides themselves and got it done. If you want to start a business be ready to get hit in the face daily. You can’t leave the cage without a black eye. Just know there is a way around it or through it. Stay resilient. Keep at it. Remember why you’re doing it in the first place.
LESSON #1: There is always a solution. Keep looking for it.
There may be a thousand ways it won’t work, but I guarantee you there is at least one way that it will.
The DeCicco brothers were told NO enough times that they could have packed their bags and closed up shop. But they kept at it and constantly looked for ways to make it work. Even when all of the sharks on Shark Tank turned them down, they didn't see it as an embarrassment or a setback. Instead, they saw the increase in brand awareness as a win.
Spartans don’t quit. That doesn’t mean that we don’t experience setbacks. I have probably experienced more setbacks than I could count, but I see them as opportunities — moments in time when I just need to look harder for a solution and keep pushing forward.
LESSON #2: Sometimes losing is winning.
What may seem like a major setback today can be the reason you win tomorrow.
Don’t let failure define you. You have only failed when you stop trying. These brothers could have easily viewed the summation of their failures as data that their idea may not work. But they didn’t. They believed in the idea, they were determined to grow, and they took each rejection as more fuel in the tank.
In the Harvard Business Review book On Mental Toughness, there is a story about two University of Pennsylvania MBA grads, Damien and Walter, that were laid off from their Wall Street jobs. Damien, in a funk for two weeks, told himself that his layoff had nothing to do with him. It was simply because the economy was doing poorly. He updated his resume, sent it to a dozen New York firms, and eventually got a job in Ohio.
Walter, on the other hand, let his insecurities get the best of him. Instead of spinning the rejection into an opportunity, he convinced himself that he was fired because he couldn’t perform under pressure. He told himself that he wasn’t cut out for finance and didn’t even bother looking for another job in the industry. Down on his luck and feeling sorry for himself, he moved back in with his parents. It’s the classic case of how failure can play tricks on your mind and lead to immobilization.
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There are times we fail that end up being the greatest thing that ever happened to us. But that greatness doesn’t come by sitting in your sorrows. You have to continue to be proactive. Can’t give up. Can’t feel sorry for yourself. The @drinksupercoffee brothers could’ve easily given up after being rejected on Shark Tank. Instead they let it fuel them. It was a point of growth. So let your failures be moments of growth, not setbacks.
We All Fall Down
In fact, millions are going through it right now. But failure isn’t synonymous with quitting unless you make it so. That is a choice, and if you’re a true Spartan, you’ll make the tough ones to reframe your failure into fuel.
I get reminded of how badass people are every day. Emails that come through, DMs on Instagram — so many of you are killing it out there. And for those of you that feel like you aren’t, you will. But you have to grind, push, and persevere. The DeCicco brothers never listened when someone said, "No, thanks." They believed in their idea and they went for it. Choose what you listen to, always look for an answer, and let failure fuel you. You’ve got this.
Watch the Spartan Up! podcast with the DeCicco brothers in its entirety below.