Know When — and What — to Give Up in Order to Move Forward

By A.J. MacQuarrie

It’s likely that you’ve seen this meme pop up in your Facebook feed from time to time: A mugshot of Winston Churchill, with his characteristic bow tie and cigar, rallying readers to “Never, never, never give up.”

Well, Churchill never said that. What he actually said was “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense . . . “

Another exception should include “entrepreneurship.” Because knowing when to give in, to cast off bad ideas, processes or people who hold you back is an unconventional skill that’s absolutely necessary for building a successful business. If certain ideas aren’t panning out, you need to know when and what to give up on or you’ll go broke, drive yourself crazy or probably both! Especially in this quickly changing world, you need to be fast and decisive and understand what to give up on.

I’ve given up on a lot of things to get me to where I am today, running a multimillion dollar business. When I dropped out of college after my junior year to pursue my healthy vending business, I raised a lot of eyebrows. But, I realized I had to do it, I had to go 100 percent on the business and I don’t regret it. I had such a rare opportunity with healthy vending — the market was wide open — and I had enough “convictions of good sense” of it becoming a success. I reasoned that college will always be there, but this business opportunity would not.

After being on the Canadian version of Shark Tank (a show called Dragons’ Den), I gave up on my original business model. Kevin O’Leary’s point that I had nothing proprietary was well taken. I went back to the drawing board and created a model that not only helped me scale very quickly but created proprietary attributes to my company. I changed my model completely, and if I hadn’t given up on my original plan, I wouldn’t have been able to scale the way I did, where we’re in over 60 cities across the U.S.

You can’t just give up on everything because something isn’t working, though. Don’t give up on the overall mission, the big idea. In order to give up, you have to gain something. It’s necessary to give up in order to pivot, to maneuver and ultimately push forward. Give up on things that aren’t moving you forward.

You should always be making changes and actively looking for them. I regularly sit down with my director of operations and go through our systems and processes to come up with better ones and toss out old ones. We evaluate what needs to change to get us streamlined to the next level and we’re not afraid to give up on whatever’s not working.

Imagine your success.

Shift your mindset to understand that giving up isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can often be a good thing because it frees you up to consider new paths, overlooked solutions and creative ways around obstacles to success. This is essential.

Know that you can always improve.

Figure out what you’re doing now that you might just be doing out of habit and comfort. What are you holding on to because it feels safe? Sure, we’ve heard the phrase “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” — but it can always be better. It’s important to question your processes: What’s new, what’s better, what’s next. Ask what you’re not doing that you could be doing to make your business more profitable, better for your customers and more satisfying for your life.

Take a measured risk.

Start with something small. Giving up doesn’t have to be giving up on something big. But, you should challenge yourself — a higher risk can result in a higher reward.

Keep moving forward.

Don’t just give up for the sake of giving up; give up to pivot, to move ahead perhaps in a slightly different direction, but always trying to move forward.

Change demands thought, not impulse.

Give up strategically in this fast-changing world. Consider the models, systems, and processes that move you to your goal. What’s your new strategy? Where’s the data behind it? It’s vital for you to understand why you’re giving something up because it can go south pretty easily if things are constantly changing. “Why am I doing this?” is usually a good place to start, but remember to follow that up with “what am I trying to achieve?”

As an entrepreneur, you want to protect your “baby,” but you won’t take your business to the next level if you’re stubborn and stuck on your original plan if it’s even just a little broken. We’re taught that giving up is bad from a very young age so it might not feel comfortable at first, but believe me, it’s very liberating when that baggage is released. Technology is helping us move on to new and better concepts, systems, ideas so you often give up without realizing it when you upgrade your phone or computer. Continue to practice the art of giving up and it will pay dividends!

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Build Your Startup with a Franchise Mindset to Scale for Success

By A.J. MacQuarrie

Recent films like “The Founder” and books such as “Ray and Joan” have spotlighted Ray Kroc, one of the great business leaders of his time. Among the many lessons that Kroc’s experience holds for this era’s entrepreneurs is the business model he created for McDonald’s. This model drastically changed the landscape of how companies can expand at a rate that would otherwise be too costly for most.

Franchising turned McDonald’s San Bernardino hamburger and shake stand into a global giant worth billions of dollars with 36,899 restaurants worldwide. But even if you never take on the legal requirements to become a franchise-based business like McDonald’s, that mindset and approach can help your young company prepare for long-term success and growth.

The concept is very simple: you create a business that can be replicated over and over again by people who profit handsomely from a turnkey solution. This allows you to be in multiple locations at once without ever having to run them yourself.

Building that infrastructure upfront means you’re thinking about the future of your business. You’re preparing for the possibility of success, and not incidentally, helping make success and growth more likely long before it happens.

When I was building my own company of healthy vending machines, I shifted my mindset to create a way that I could get my product into the hands of independent operators nationwide. While we are not an actual franchise, I’ve used many of the same principles as one. I wouldn’t have been able to scale KarmaBox the way I did if I hadn’t had these people helping me. As a result, we went from one city to more than 50 in less than three years.

So what is it about the franchise mindset that makes sense for any forward-thinking entrepreneur?

For one thing, it’s about the intellectual rigor you bring to structuring and managing your business from the start, putting in place an operational foundation that works as your business expands. There’s something very powerful about mentally preparing to replicate your company for the masses. When you think to yourself “How can I have 20,000 of these stores across the country?” you will begin to create systems of consistency and efficiency. This works even if your business is a service and not the traditional brick and mortar.

But too often, non-franchised startups don’t do that hard work early on. They don’t think through the business processes, or create an infrastructure that allows for growth and it may kill their chances of broader success.

Whether you actually move forward to franchise or not, just being in that mindset is going to lead you to build systems, workflows, and ultimately think of yourself as a bigger organization from the start. That alone is going to help you build and scale your company.

Many examples exist of companies that never actually franchised yet still scaled to massive success. I used to work at Starbucks, and saw firsthand how the company used consistent systems that ensured a Frappuccino in San Diego or Seattle is made the same way as one in Boston or Miami.

While this coffee giant is not a franchise, they used the same principles to drive their massive global growth, and helped create a distinctive culture that brings customers back over and over. They create workflows for everything, from how a mocha is made to how the stores get cleaned at the end of the night, to ensure that their more than 20,000+ of their coffee shops are run the same way.

Credit for this goes to CEO Howard Schultz, who was thinking about how to create the world’s biggest coffee company even when he was running a single store in Seattle 45 years ago. Whether it’s one coffee shop or 500, Schultz knew it was vital to figure out (and document) the most efficient systems of production and operation so they could be more easily spread throughout the organization.

He had the vision to become the largest coffee company in the world, and the only way he would achieve that is by making sure everything was smooth operational from the start.

But what really separates the successful ones from those who do less well?

I’ve noticed our most successful local operators were those who were really engaged in what it takes to make a business go. They’re eager to collaborate and take advantage of the resources provided to them. They think, “This busy gym or that office building might be a good opportunity.”

I’ve structured my business to leverage collaborative partners, so I succeed when they do. The most important thing is to make sure you’re creating the lean, efficient processes and collaborative mindset that will allow you to grow. The type of business matters less than the way you go about operating it. If you aren’t ready for success, you’ll never be able to take advantage of it when it comes.

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Stop Thinking like an Employee and Unlock Your Inner Entrepreneur

By A.J. MacQuarrie

If you’re an employee, here’s how your day goes: Get up; Go to work at someone else’s business; Work for someone else’s business; Go to lunch and try not to think about someone else’s business; Go back to work for someone else’s business; Make money for someone else’s business; Go home and try to think about something other than someone else’s business. Rinse. Repeat.

If you’re an entrepreneur, however, your day is completely different. All day long, you’re almost certainly thinking about somebody’s business. But here’s the difference: the business you’re thinking about is your business. And that changes everything. You’ll be thinking about how to make your business better, smarter, more efficient, more profitable, more successful.

It’s a different mindset in every way imaginable. If you’re an employee, you get a (more or less) steady paycheck with benefits (probably) and a place to go each day (again, probably). You trade your time for their dollars. It’s a straightforward exchange, one millions of people make every day.

But life for the entrepreneur involves a completely different transaction. It’s not about time, it’s about pure value. Time is irrelevant. Your business may be based on an idea that took you 2 minutes to think up and will go on to generate millions of dollars. It’s your idea, your smarts, and your work that create the value. You realize that long-term return from your ideas and your efforts.

As a young entrepreneur who’s focused for years on building his business idea into a million-dollar company, that difference in mindset is everything.

Trust me, I know how easy it can be to slip into the employee mindset. My business concept had some early success, but then I faced a daunting series of hurdles and challenges. I needed to make some money to pay bills, so I had to park my company and take a Starbucks barista job.

I did well at Starbucks, and moved up quickly, managing a store of my own at 24. And don’t get me wrong, Starbucks is an amazing company, one I admire as much as any in the world. I learned so much there that I now use in running my own business.

And Starbucks tried to keep me working there, too. Successful Starbucks managers can do well, with bonuses when a store hits the right metrics. The company also gives you great benefits, great people and products, even great customers. It was tempting to just get on that train and ride it as far as it would take me.

That doesn’t mean Starbucks was all easy coffee pouring, of course. I was getting up at 3:30 in the morning to open my store by 4:30. I had a balky car that required an unlikely combination of maneuvers to start on frigid New England mornings. I also began a serious relationship that gave me reason to question why I was doing all those miserable early mornings.

Just as importantly, though, even when I worked for Starbucks, I thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I wasn’t a barista. I was CEO of my company, even as I worked for Howard Schultz’s.

So when I woke up on those cold early mornings, I was thinking about my company. When I went home after a long day, I was thinking about my company. All weekend, I was thinking about my company.

Yes, the time in-between belonged to Starbucks. And yes, I worked hard enough, and in a focused and effective enough manner, that they rewarded me. But eventually, there came a time when I had to choose whether to go run my company, or give it up and stick with Howard Schultz’s.

Every entrepreneur faces this pivotal, and scary, moment. They have to jump out of the nest to see if they can take wing with their idea. There are no guarantees, except one: you’ll finally be focused on building your company instead of someone else’s.

Somewhat ironically, the person who helped me understand that issue was one of those great Starbucks customers. We talked every day at the store, often about my business idea. He encouraged me to pursue it, and invested $20,000 to help me get restarted. Eventually, with support from him and my boyfriend and others, I made the jump.

I became a full-time entrepreneur, with all that entailed. I hired employees, began pushing for new business locations and more.

And becoming a full-time entrepreneur didn’t yet mean I was completely free from working for others. I still needed cash to get by, and the flexibility to run my business during the day. So I took a job as a server at a Fleming’s Steakhouse. That gave me the cash and flexibility I needed, so I could pursue the thing I cared most about.

Let me also say that being a server in that situation is a bit like being an entrepreneur. You’re in charge of your section, and have to pay out your busboy and food runner and other support staff with a share of your tip money. If you’re in a situation like I was and you need some getting-by money as you launch your business, you should consider restaurant service.

Regardless, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to stop thinking like an employee. You could be a stay-at-home mom with an idea for a business, or have any of a thousand other jobs working for others. To get your idea going, you still have to make that crucial mental leap.

Think like an entrepreneur. Invest in your idea with all the energy, brains and attention you can muster. Once you’ve made the mental move, you’ll be able to do all the rest.

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Losing My Life Partner Could Have Sunk My Business — But Instead It Became My Motivation

By A.J. MacQuarrie 

How one founder turned personal tragedy into entrepreneurial triumph.

Building your own business is never easy, but at no time is it more challenging than when personal tragedy strikes. All of a sudden, focusing on your business seems impossible. Things you may long have taken for granted are gone. You’re shattered, cut adrift, trying to figure out what’s next.

Even worse, your business still needs your time, attention and energy when it’s the last thing on your mind. The business can suffer collateral damage if you, the driving force of your company, just can’t function for weeks or months.

Such challenges have been in the news recently, thanks to Option B, the latest book from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg writes about her devastation after her husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, died while they were on vacation in Mexico two years ago. He was 46.

I can’t speak for Sandberg, but I can offer some lessons learned from my own painful journey through loss, and from friends who persevered through their own difficult times and still kept their businesses on track. These are the hardest steps in any entrepreneurial journey. They can determine a lot about where you and your business end up.

I suddenly lost my life partner just as KarmaBox Vending was becoming a thriving business. I’d hired people, signed partnerships and ordered equipment, and every crazy week was busier than the last. My customers were depending on me. So, I needed to find a way through.

Looking back to spring 2014, my life seemed full of promise. I quit my full-time job and committed to building a boutique brand of vending machines to sell healthy food, drinks and personal care products. The business grew fast. We even prepared to move to Florida from Boston.

Scott unexpectedly died the following January at the age of 27.

Deep in grief, I couldn’t focus on anything. Thankfully, my sister kept the business moving forward. I was adrift until one day a friend sat down to talk to me and said these beautiful words: “You should have seen how proud Scott was of you and your business.”

It was a pivotal moment. I realized I couldn’t give up, that I must go on and build the business. I owed it to my customers, I owed it to Scott, I owed it to myself. Yes, I was grieving and hurting, but having this huge loss and this huge void instead became a source of energy. I was honoring Scott and his pride in what I was trying to create by making the business a thriving reality.

My next big step was to deliver my promise to visit all my KarmaBox operators in their home cities. One of the first visits I made was to San Diego. I saw everything the city offers — California remains the land of new starts — and quickly decided to relocate myself and the company. Within months of moving, KarmaBox made its first $1 million in sales.

I could have been the entrepreneur who let his dreams die. People would have understood and been sympathetic. Or I could have sought comfort in the wrong things, like drugs or alcohol, but I didn’t.

The business itself was my savior, giving me the purpose and focus that seemed obliterated in the tragedy. Scott’s death eventually became the biggest and strongest “why” in building my business. My loss grew into unstoppable, driving motivation.

Using a painful setback as fuel for the engine of success

Here are the five steps of grief for your business:

Find support: While you grieve, friends and family can provide perspective and focus. They’ll help you reconnect to the life you knew and build a new one amid your changed circumstances.

Rely on your people: Turn to the great team you’ve already built to keep things on track. And turn to the network around you for strength, inspiration and purpose.

“Don’t think you should do anything alone,” said Sally Aderton, a writer and marketing consultant. She faced three huge challenges in 1998: A brain tumor required 14 hours of surgery and left her deaf in one ear and without muscle function on the right side of her face; her fiancé broke up via email; and a publisher canceled her first book contract.

“I’m still recovering every day,” she said..

“An entrepreneur is only as good as the team they build around them as partners, mentors, collaborators and marketing-referral sources …. You make that happen,” she said.

Change your environment: Sometimes a change of scenery, for even a short time, can help you adjust. The San Diego work trip changed my life and propelled the business to a next level, but it didn’t start as that.

Turn your tragedy into inspiration: People are counting on you. Don’t let tragedy throw you. Ann Landstrom had “no money, no home and no career” when she took her 6-year-old son and split from an abusive relationship. She loved photography and turned her tragedy into a drive to build her studio business. Today, it thrives.

“Start with valuing yourself, form alliances with like-minded people in your industry for support and attend networking events to get your business name out in the community,” Landstrom said.

Get moving: Remember, we have few guarantees in life. So, do the thing you care about now. Don’t wait for later, expecting everything will continue to be the same. It won’t. Move forward, even a little. A few steps can turn into miles down the road to a successful business.

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Why Parking Where I Know I Shouldn’t Helps Me Be a Better Entrepreneur

By A.J. MacQuarrie 

You often hear stories of super successful entrepreneurs who wake up at 4 a.m. and, by the time you’ve hit the snooze button for the gazillionth time, they’ve already conquered the world.

It’s easy to become discouraged by those kinds of people and develop an “I’m not good enough” complex. But, it’s important to know that not everyone who’s successful is like that and the good news is entrepreneurship is both a mindset and a skill set — like muscles you can develop.

Any of us has the ability to be an entrepreneur, even if you didn’t revolutionize the lemonade stand at age 7. Entrepreneurship has never been easier to break into than it is today, thanks to technology and innovative business models that require little startup capital to make it big.

Yes, you need skills, capital, a good team, hard work, luck and timing. But, where your mind goes helps determine where your business goes. Accordingly, I’ve developed seven mental approaches you should implement as you build your business:

1. Embrace the roller coaster ride.

Starting a business is an up-and-down experience. It’s intense, all-consuming, exhilarating and depressing, often in the same week. You have to know that upfront and mentally prepare for the roller coaster ride.

2. Stop thinking like an employee.

We’re taught in school to do all the “right” things: Finish your homework. Don’t disrupt the class. Give the teachers the answers they want. That all trains us to be a productive cog in a big company. But in truth, it’s the exact wrong way to think when you’re an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs, generally speaking, are all aboutdisrupting “the way things are done.” The most disruptive kid in class probably went on to become the best entrepreneur.  The “think different” mindset can create a business that makes a difference. But, you have to get out of the employee mindset.

3. Know your driving force.

What drives you? What makes you want to create a new business out of nothing? You’ll need that driving force when you hop on the entrepreneur roller coaster. It’s the belt buckle on your ride, keeping you rolling when the bumps hit.

4. Give up.

This sounds a bit weird for a pep talk about entrepreneurship. But, you need to know what to give up on, and when. Sometimes you have to give up on an idea or approach or feature. Sometimes the market just doesn’t love the thing you do. You have to be willing to give up so you can get to the next thing that will work. We think giving up is really bad, but it’s really important to success

5. Pivot regularly.

Don’t just give up for the sake of giving up. You give up so you can pivot to the thing that will work. Ultimately, this is about building a resilient mindset, open to change and new approaches. Pivoting is about maneuvering in a forward direction with decisions and changes. The list of tech startups that pivoted from an unworkable idea to a new and profitable niche is long and encouraging. Be flexible and embrace change.

6. Make risk-taking a habit.

You can build habits of mind that open you up to regular risk-taking. My vice these days is parking where I shouldn’t, risking a ticket, but getting a little thrill when I get away with it. You might prefer a less expensive way to stretch yourself, but you need to condition your mind to risk-taking, so you’re used to that rush of possibility.  And it doesn’t have to be illegal parking violations. Maybe you make small bets with your spouse; loser buys or makes dinner. 

7. Be irrationally optimistic.

Steve Jobs gave a remarkable commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 where he told the graduates they needed to build a near irrational confidence that things will work out. I strongly recommend watching his speech, but the broader point is building the confidence that positive outcomes will arrive. You need to know that you’re going to figure it out and find a way to make it work. Bad things will happen, they just do. But, it’s how you respond when they hit that matters. If you believe it will all work out, you can do what needs to be done to get through it. You can become immune to the blows that life (and business) invariably dish out. That irrational optimism will get you through because yes, you got this. 

As this checklist suggests, being a successful entrepreneur requires thinking differently in lots of ways. Maybe you never had a chance to build that mental approach in school, or in that job working for someone else. But, culturing a mindset built on these mental strategies can help you and your business thrive. You just have to put your mind to it!

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I Went Bankrupt For $1.5 Million and This is What I Learned About Failure

By A.J. MacQuarrie 

Bankruptcy is considered the ultimate failure in business. When it’s referenced in our culture — in movies, television shows, or the news — there’s a stigma that gets attached. Those going through this perceived nightmare are shown in the worst possible light: villainized as corrupt, irresponsible, or fraudulent. In 2019 alone, 752,160 Americans filed for bankruptcy, according to U.S. Court statistics. I was one of those people.

I was an extremely proud entrepreneur who turned a $20,000 angel investment that I got from a customer at a Starbucks that I used to manage into a multi-million dollar business, from scratch — only to then be sitting in bankruptcy court with $1.5 million in debt. I failed big-time. The amount of shame, embarrassment, and guilt that came from that experience created such a large wound in confidence that I’m still healing from it, over two years later. 

It was one of the most difficult moments in my life. And yet I still remain an entrepreneur who believes that the exhilaration of starting a business far outweighs the potential risks, heartaches, and headaches. I learned so much from my last business failure that I almost feel that experience earned me an MBA. When you go through the roller coaster ride of a startup, you are equipped with knowledge and wisdom like no one else in the business world. 

So, for that reason, we should fail more. Let’s say the average entrepreneur has three failures before their final success. Well, each failure led them closer to their success. And maybe it took those first two failures to provide the know-how to make the third a triumph. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

What are the benefits of failing?

  1. It builds a callus. It makes you stronger and stronger after each setback and failure. The more you go through, the more immune you will become. Setbacks, failures, and disappointments basically set the threshold for how much you can handle and how well you can handle it. You’ll start to develop a “bring it on” attitude and will be able to deal with whatever comes your way. You’ll be able to rise to the occasion better than ever. You will be able to handle each failure better and better and won’t get thrown off. Therefore, you will be one step closer to your success. You’ll be able to maneuver through setbacks with every one that comes your way.
  2. It provides valuable lessons. You’ll be sure to know what not to do next time. A wise man (Samuel Smiles) once said, “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.” We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably they who never made a mistake never made a discovery”. We know touching a hot stove will result in a burnt hand, hence why we’ll never touch that stove. Somewhere back in time, someone tried to light a fire until the first person, forever lost to history, finally succeeded. And today we have gas stoves right in our kitchens.
  3. It gives you a chance to reset and recharge. When you fail, especially when you fail big time, you will take a step back and recalibrate. This will give you a chance to not be in the thick of things. The breathing room that failure provides will give you the chance to hit the reset button. A failure will have you travel a new path you might have never explored.
  4. It forces you to look at the bigger picture. That recalibration and rest will force you to revisit the bigger picture of what you originally set out to do. When you encounter a setback, you are often brought  back to a whole new, fresh drawing board. When I went bankrupt, well, I had a clean slate to work with again through a new lens of openness to possibilities. You’ll see opportunities where you may have overlooked them before and will be forced to evaluate the vision and plan accordingly.
  5. You gain experiences that you didn’t expect. It keeps you on your toes and brings a whole new level of awareness that you didn’t have before. This gives you an amazing advantage by keeping you flexible and open to change and. The experience of failure will change you in a positive way that at first you won’t even be able to articulate in words, just feelings. Failure in business leaves room for spontaneity, vision, and surprises- when you’re open to them.
  6. It adds to your personal story. The reality is that failure makes you a more interesting and humble person. Failure can add a dynamic layer to you that builds character. When I was the CEO of KarmaBox, I was starting to become an arrogant asshole and I think I needed to be brought down a few notches. A $1.5 million bankruptcy will do just that.
  7. It can bring you closer to the ones you love. After I went bankrupt, I was concerned that people who I once was close to would try to distance themselves for me. It wasn’t the case at all. Everyone in my life who I loved and cared about were nothing but supportive and loving. It may have even brought us closer together in a weird way. People actually love to support the underdog because they can relate more to them rather than the winners.

It’s clear to see that failures themselves are not going to take you down, it’s how you respond to them that will ultimately determine your success. Failures come in all different sizes, but even the biggest ones can be leveraged properly to be turned into advantages. 


The next time you encounter a failure or setback, try as hard as you can (I know it can be difficult) to have an attitude of gratitude rather than a sense of disappointment. For each hardship you endure, may very well put you on a new path that you would never have chosen otherwise. Everyone fails, it just takes one success to make it.


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