How three female entrepreneurs bounced back from failure

Rachel Lowe MBE, Sarah Walter and Katerina Skoberne all lost their businesses.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 04 Jul 2016

The entrepreneur community often urges us to celebrate failure as a necessary part of innovation and growth, but the reality is never quite so straightforward. Rachel Lowe created a successful board game, Destination London. Despite being rejected by Dragons' Den it became the best-selling item in Hamley's the Christmas after it was launched and Lowe went on to launch another 20 versions of the game before disaster struck.

In 2008 the business was denied a bank loan after a key client had to put back a project. Problems spiralled and it was soon put into administration, leaving Lowe personally bankrupt and eventually making her seriously ill. In an awkward twist, she was handed an MBE for services to business just three weeks after the company went under.

‘I lost everything, including my home, but I picked myself up and here I am,’ Lowe told MT’s Inspiring Women conference yesterday. The failure hit her hard, but she has since found success after co-founding the women's gift brand She Who Dares with fellow entrepreneur Simon Dolan.

Lowe said it’s important to realise ‘you don't have to make a million pounds to be successful again. Getting up and telling yourself that you are going to have another go, that is in itself success.’

Sarah Walter had a career in fashion journalism and communications before launching her own website style-passport.com in 2010. The business gained strong early traction, but when an investor pulled out in the late stages of a crucial third funding round it ground to a halt.

'I felt like I was a failure, everything I had made was rubbish,’ she told the conference. Walter emphasised the importance of personal relationships in recovering from failure and redeveloping confidence, saying, ‘You can’t underestimate the incredible nourishing value of strong friendships and family.’

She has since returned to the industry as chief creative officer of fashion technology firm Metail, which has developed 3D model software allowing you to try on clothes and accessories virtually. Now back on her feet, she is determined to learn from the lessons of the past.

‘I think it’s given me a sense of perspective,’ she said. 'I lost touch with the most important things in my life and I'm not going to do that again'

Katarina Skoberne founded two successful businesses before launching the ill-fated OpenAd, an online marketplace for creative ideas, in 2003. Looking back Skoberne seemed to feel she’d learned a lot from the failure, although she admitted that, like childhood diseases, it’s better to suffer a knockback at an early stage.

‘Business failure has its advantages,’ she said. ‘You’re so busy suffering that you stop caring what other people think. Looking back, with failure comes a certain liberation. It was almost a privilege being able to start again from scratch.’

'One of the reasons failure is stigmatised is we build an illusion of certainty but the truth is that, even if you a risk, there is no certainty,' she said. Skoberne now works as an independent management consultant and has been named one of the Telegraph's top 1,000 influential businesswomen.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember after failure is to keep things in perspective rather than feeling like it's the end of the world. As Skoberne added, 'Put failure into perspective – businesses fail but nobody died, it’s not a war. It can get better.'

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