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Justin Walsh, left, and Garrett Moon, cofounders of CoSchedule, at the company's office in Bismarck. IMAGE: Kyle Martin

For entrepreneurs, failure can lead to success

Editor's note: For this story, Prairie Business asked the CEOs of four successful area startups for their take on failure. Their  answer: They not only accept failure; they embrace it.

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BISMARCK, N.D. – Asked to share what he considered one of his biggest failures, Garrett Moon, CEO of CoSchedule, responded he could share 10 of them.

“My partner and I launched 10 pieces of software that all failed before we created CoSchedule,” he said.

CoSchedule, a sophisticated calendar web app that coordinates marketing campaigns, hit it big. That was 2013. Today, the company (with offices in Bismarck and Fargo, N.D., and 65 employees) serves 10,000 clients in over 100 countries.

Customers include Microsoft, The Home Depot, Uber and eBay.

Failure is not just accepted at CoSchedule; it’s encouraged. “Most companies build their entire structure around risk mitigation versus experimentation,” said Moon. “For a team member to take risks and experiment, they have to know the company is willing to embrace failure. We empower our team to break things.”

Moon feels his employees learn more from failures than successes because the failures hurt more. “Successes are often easy to breeze over, and you don’t really reflect on them too much. But failures can hurt financially and emotionally.”

BNG Team

Brady Nash, CEO of BNG Team, preaches the benefits of taking risks. “I feel we’ve already shot five or six times before our competition has even fired a bullet,” said Nash.

“I’ve made myself comfortable being uncomfortable. In fact, I’m uncomfortable being comfortable.”

Nash’s company -- a leader in the payment processing industry, with clients in all 50 states, the UK, Australia and Canada – has been listed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for the past three years.

Headquartered in Fargo with nearly 65 employees, the 11-year-old company is scheduled to move into a new building in December.

“I’ve always looked for reasons to do something, not for reasons not to do something,” said Nash, who cut his business teeth in network marketing during his college days at North Dakota State University.

A lot of people have ideas, but they try to have everything figured out before they take the plunge and move forward, Nash commented. “In my experience, you never have it figured out. Trying to figure it out prevents action.”

Mountain Plains, LLC

The steady growth of Tony Wood’s company, Mountain Plains, LLC, exemplifies the adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Beginning in 2009, as necessity called, the Idaho native methodically added one division after another: electrical consulting, land surveying, utility locating, engineering.

With 35 employees and offices in Bismarck, Watford City, N.D., and Missoula, Mont., Mountain Plains’ clients include electrical co-ops, pipeline companies, oil companies and transportation departments.

Wood pointed to his company’s experience of “hard bidding” on projects as an exercise in failure – at first. “We lost $20,000 on that first job, but we gained more than that in knowledge,” he reported.

“Our success as a company is defined by how we’ve responded to the mistakes we’ve made. If you get down on yourself too much for failure, then you don’t belong in business.”

Laughing Sun Brewing

Mike Frohlich, co-founder and head brewer of Laughing Sun Brewing, had a $40,000 brew system parked in his garage for three years before he found the found the right partner and location for Bismarck’s first brew pub, which opened in 2012.

Meanwhile, his first two partners dropped out. Another setback came two years ago when Frohlich and co-founder Todd Sattler believed they had secured the ideal building in Mandan, N.D., for expansion, only to have the deal fall through at the last minute.

Perseverance, patience and a passion for his vision kept Frohlich steady at the wheel. “I never dwelled on those things as failure,” said Frohlich about the misfires.

“If we all quit, nothing would get better. You just put your head down and get back to work.”

Laughing Sun recently announced it will open a much larger brewery and pub in the fall, complete with tap room, eating area and heated outdoor patio.

The centerpiece of the new Front Street location in Bismarck is a 20-barrel brew system – a significant increase over the brew pub’s current 3.5-barrel system.

Coincident with the move, Laughing Sun will begin statewide distribution of its beer through wholesalers. The business’s employee force will grow from 8 to 23.

“You’d better have a work ethic and some drive,” said Frohlich about being an entrepreneur. “You have to believe in what you’re doing and love it.”

Tom Regan

Freelance writer