Courage Required – Success requires moving forward, facing fear

Courage is required to overcome obstacles.

Otherwise, fear will keep you from achieving the success you deserve. Me? I almost quit.

I started an education publishing company in 1994, to create Internet-related materials for educators. I literally started on my dining room table. Trouble was, the Internet was so new it was mostly unheard-of.

However, a few months later, I made arrangements to borrow $1 million from an investor who owned a newsletter publishing company.
Here’s the story.

After I explained my concept and said the Internet was coming and was going to be the biggest thing ever, the investor said “I don’t really understand what you’re talking about with this Internet, but I have a feeling you do.”

He then asked “How much funding do you need?” I paused.  I meant to answer “$100,000”, because that’s what I had mentioned to my wife two hours earlier, before this meeting.  But for some reason, I blurted out “$1 million”. He was silent for what seemed like a full minute. I froze, thinking he was going to send me on my way.

However, he said slowly “Ok, I’ll put up the million dollars for you and we’ll do this as a new venture, together.” He even guaranteed me that the new venture would pay me a starting salary, Day One.

I felt excited, built a small team with Tim as the first and senior writer, and started working on products. The first product was a monthly newsletter.
But then the marketing department head said research and focus groups indicated that teachers didn’t need our publications. Teachers told us they didn’t have the budget. Librarians insisted that the Internet should only be installed in the library. It looked as though I was years ahead of, and out of synch with, the educational market. As if that wasn’t enough stress, lawyers for ABC sent a certified letter claiming they owned the name Classroom Connect and we were to stop using that name. (ABC later agreed that our trademark took precedence, so they dropped their claim. Whew.)

Many people said the venture wouldn’t succeed because I didn’t have an educational background and had no experience in writing or publishing. (Except one book I had written in 1992 about the Internet.)

And in 1994, the Internet was only available in a few schools.

Yes, those facts were correct. But my faith in my ideas was strong. At least at first.

But sales in the first three months were weak. I started to believe the naysayers. I started to be fearful. After all, we had started on April 1, April Fool’s Day, which some teased me about. Was that a bad omen which we couldn’t overcome?

By this time, I had already used up $260,000, with little to show. And the staff could sense things weren’t too rosy.

After getting feedback from marketing and going over financials, the investor asked me to go with him for a walk in the woods. He was calm as he asked my opinions. Then he stopped, and looked me in the eye.

He said he’d keep funding me and he’d keep believing in me as long as I believed in myself. And that from then on, I would be co-President and help make all the main decisions without him.

That night I reminded myself of why I started the business. Standing on the porch of our country farmhouse under a full moon, I just felt I was right. My ideas were great, and I just knew the Internet was going to be the biggest thing ever. No matter what the current situation seemed to indicate.

I knew in my bones that all schools would be connected and all teachers and students would be online, that the world would soon be interconnected, much sooner than everyone else believed.

That Monday morning I went to the office with renewed energy. I got rid of the marketing person and cancelled the scheduled focus groups. I told my team we’d create even more products than initially planned. We hired an additional salesperson.

Fear was cast aside, as I decided to be bold and courageous. No matter what negative feedback I got, it was ignored.

Sales soon took off and staff more than doubled in size. Then tripled. Truckloads of materials were shipped all over the USA and to Canada.

And the net result of my attitude of ‘no fear’ mentality? (And a team consisting of Tim and great writers and staff.)

Well, we sold the company for $14 million only 30 months and 6 days after we started. ClassroomConnect and classroom.com went on to become the largest Internet-for-education publisher in the USA.

But due to fear, it almost didn’t happen. And huge credit goes to the investor for believing in me, and to Tim who worked tirelessly and relentlessly since the very beginning.

April Fools, indeed.

Gregory Giagnocavo    www.Linkedin.com/in/giagnocavo

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