What determines if something is a success or a failure?  What is the difference between people who are successful and those who are not?  How does someone measure success?

Often in the business world things are measured by the bottom line.  If the bank account is overflowing month to month after all the bills are paid, that can be counted as successful.  If you have to file bankruptcy, perhaps that goes into the failure column.  However, life is never quite that simple.

How many of you are familiar with Hershey Chocolate Bars?  Hopefully everyone recognizes that name; it is America’s #1 Chocolate Company and they are sold in over 60 countries.  They spawned Hershey Entertainment and Resorts and several other companies.  The town was even renamed, in honor of it’s most wealthy and successful citizen Milton Hershey.  I am sure everyone would agree that is one hell of a success story but, Hershey failed twice in the business world before getting it right.  Two bankruptcies never slowed Milton down.

I have now owned four businesses.  None of which ever went bankrupt.  I count each of those businesses as a success.  Though each had it’s own and very different degrees of success.  I have also served over 30 years in two branches of the military, led sailors and soldiers in both war time and peace time.  I have also been married to the same wonderful lady for nearly 28 years.  None of those things have been easy, but all have been very successful.

My first business, was started at 8 years of age, and from 1972 until 1984 it netted anywhere from a few hundred dollars it’s first years to several thousands in the last years.  I travelled around the tri-state area performing magic shows.  It paid for a still on the lot new Audi 100 LS in 1981.  To this day it is the only brand new car I have ever purchased.  It was certainly a step up from my three old beaters I had owned to that point.  That first business also afforded me very nice clothes, not many preteens and teenagers have a selection of tuxedos and suits.Scan

The Magic Show ended a few years later when I joined the Army in 1985.  I stored all my props at my parents house.  Sometime between 1985-1989 my mother sold all the props.  I never saw a penny and for years I refused to have anything to do with magic at all.  At the time I think I looked at it as a failure.  Fortunately I ran into an old friend and magician I knew from my teenage years in 2002.  Bill Coomer slipped a CD containing 52 magic books into my sea bag as I was heading back to the middle east from leave with the Navy.  This made me understand, I never lost a love for Magic and even performed a show back in 2004 for many underprivileged children at the Great Lakes Police Department.  One of my co-workers wouldn’t take no for an answer; she just set up the show.  It was a success, though no money ever changed hands.

My second business, Vanguard Refrigeration, was founded in 1991. Vanguard launched me into a completely different direction.  It afforded me the opportunity to hone my skills as a service technician and I was able to learn many valuable lessons while running Vanguard.  I never went out entirely on my own with the business, but I developed a solid customer base, and discovered that I  enjoy working on a variety of things.  I also learned a great deal about marketing, advertising, and how to price yourself within your market.  I was able to explore the differences between charging by the hour and flat rate billing.  Vanguard Refrigeration was a success, and I worked the business for 4-5 years until I went to work as a counter salesman on the wholesale side of the industry.

My third business, A & J Service, started out of necessity.  In 1998, I was asked to take a reduction in pay to $10.00/hr and loose all my benefits until the company I worked for could get back on its feet.  Within 2 weeks A & J Service was born.  I took a job in waiting tables, had business cards printed up and was running service calls.  Borrowing $10,000.00 from my best friend, putting it into a savings account.  That was in September of 1988 and by November, I was able to quit my part time job as a waiter and was running A & J Service full time.  A & J made a few hundred dollars profit each month and by the time it was forced to close down in September of 2001 it had already grossed over $267,000.00 for the year.  If I had not been recalled to active duty after 9-11-2001 who knows where it would have been today.  I count that as a success, especially since I never used a penny of the borrowed $10,000.00 which was paid back with interest early!

Last year Julie and I started Kolb Web Inc. a publishing and entertainment company.  We lost a few thousand dollars, so time will tell how financially successful we will be.  I can tell you this, Julie has already published her first book, “Snowball “.  My blog has lots of followers and we’ve both published many articles on many different subjects.  I have a renewed interest in preforming and perhaps even building some magic props.  We have a solid business plan and by the time I retire from the active service,  Kolb Web Inc. should be an easy transition.  I am already counting this one as a success.

Some folks would say, I have had four businesses and because they didn’t last they were not successes.  I argue they were all successful businesses.  Each did what it was intended, showed a profit, and all were fun to run.  I learned so much with each and every one it isn’t even funny.  For instance, with Vanguard I started out charging $25.00/hour when everyone else was around $35-$45.00/hour.  I got all the customers the other companies didn’t want.  I was leaving $10.00-20.00 on the table for every hour I worked.  Was I a worse technician than my competitors?  No.  Was my time worth less than theirs?  No.  Were my suppliers charging me less for parts and equipment than they were my competitors?  No.  So why should I make it harder on myself to turn a profit?  That was a huge Ah-Ha moment!  That was a mistake I didn’t make when I opened A & J Service.

So this brings me to my next point.  Listen carefully.  Successful people count their successes.  Those who fail count their failures.  Just look at Milton Hershey, and I am sure he is only one example.  Successful people don’t give up, they may change course, life does throw everyone for a few loops.  Successful people aren’t afraid of starting over.  They aren’t afraid of failure, they just accept it as part of life, then if it happens, they move on to something else.  Successful people count their successes from very different perspectives.  Success isn’t always about the bottom line, longevity or status.  Sometimes success is just about doing something you love doing.

Enjoy all your successes for what they are!


Anthony R. Kolb