2 inspiring stories to beat your worst enemy: Discouragement


Sooner or later – and usually both! – small business owners suffer an attack by the most sly and underhanded enemy of them all: Discouragement.

If I were writing a job description for a small business owner, one of the qualities I’d list would be something like this:

Must be proficient at handling extreme discouragement.

This is an especially large problem for small business owners for two reasons. First, discouragement inflicts a personal pain on small business owners, and second, small business owners must prevent their employees from being discouraged.

These facts are reflected in sayings like, “It’s lonely at the top.”

One of the best ways to beat discouragement is to enjoy an inspiration injection from an outsider. And, in the business world, one of the best ways to get this inspiration is to see how other business owners have worked their way through times of terrific discouragement to achieve great success.

Today I have two short stories of encouragement for you.


I think the ultimate measure of a company’s success is when they name of the company or its product becomes a common noun or verb. I’m thinking about products like Coke, Kleenex, Google, and Xerox. The same is true with FedEx. Everyone knows what you mean when you say, “I’ll FedEx it to you.”

However, things didn’t always seem so rosy. As a student at Yale, FedEx founder Fred Smith first put his ideas down in an economics paper and got a “C” on it. The idea stuck with him however and he eventually founded his company.

A few years after its launch, FedEx faced a crisis. Fuel costs were going through the roof and the company was down to its last $5,000. Smith pitched General Dynamics for more funding. It was a no-go. FedEx didn’t have enough money to keep planes in the air.

Smith took the money to Las Vegas and turned it into $32,000 (Insanity, right?). This was enough to maintain operations for a few days. That breathing room gave Smith enough time to find funding and the rest, as they say, is history.


Are you old enough to remember the phrase, “cheap plastic toy”?

Back in the day, plastic toys were infamous for quickly breaking in the hands of children. All the good toys were metal, so you can imagine the hurdles Danish woodworker and designer Godtfred Kirk Christiansen had selling toy stores on his vision of toys made entirely of plastic.

As a youngster, Godtfred started working in his father Ole’s shop, where they made stepladders, ironing boards, stools and wooden toys. It was the 1930s and businesses everywhere were being ravaged by The Great Depression. The shop had to layoff workers until it was just Godtfred and his father.

One day a toy wholesaler came through and became excited by the wooden toys and agreed to carry them. However, before the arrangement got off the ground, the wholesaler went bankrupt. Ole took it on himself to sell their wooden toys. They survived, but just barely.

And if The Great Depression wasn’t a high enough hurdle to get over, add to it the German occupation of Denmark during World War II and a fire that destroyed their shop. Many small business owners would call it quits facing obstacles like these. But not Godtfred. He kept at it and eventually imported the first plastic injection-moulding machine into Denmark.

First came toys and games. In 1949 the LEGO Automatic Binding Brick with four and eight studs was introduced.

We talk about company culture a lot today and I believe that it was the LEGO culture that Godtfred’s father, Ole, instilled in his son that enabled plastic LEGOs to survive and excel in an era when other products were seen as “cheap plastic toys.”

Ole always insisted on the absolute highest quality and once even made his son unpack and put a third coat of lacquer on a shipment of wooden toys after Godtfred thought he was saving money by only applying two coats of lacquer.

Are you facing discouragement? If you aren’t today, I’m sure you have in the past and probably will again in the future. But if Fred Smith can work his way through the FedEx $5,000 cash crisis, and Godtfred Kirk Christiansen can survive The Great Depression, WWII, and a devastating fire, you can work your way through your problems and flourish.