Disappointment, feels heavy, specifically jagged and real, while success doesn’t feel like the opposite. To me, “success” often feels weightless and ambiguous. Maybe that’s why people invented heavy trophies.
These last two weeks held the quintessential versions of both failure and success for us at Tokki startup land. The background context: our first major corporate client didn’t get their shipment on time because of a nationwide systems failure at USPS the got our 2 day delivery to our customer there in 8 days (and 4 days after the gifts were needed).
Understandably, the client was upset. Her team had to scour the city for last minute substitutes. Meanwhile, back in Tokki-land, we were heart broken and mortified. We had killed ourselves to do EVERYTHING right in record time – sweating, hauling, gluing, coding to get the shipment out on time – but it still fell apart once it left our hands. We controlled everything we could, and yet. We kept texting each other as though our words could somehow find the packages that spent days lost in the digital nethersphere.
It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of “if onlys”. If only USPS hadn’t had a system wide outage, or if only it could have happened some other time, like the days immediately before or after our shipment needed to arrive. If only I hadn’t asked my team mate to avoid FedEx because another entrepreneur friend had told me about extreme delays she experienced over the holidays. If only my teammate had ignored me. If only FedEx hadn’t had those extreme delays so that we wouldn’t have been afraid of using them. If only everything was in our control. If only life was fair.
Even flying down to meet in person with the customer this week, I wasn’t sure about how much responsibility to accept. Part of me also wanted to say, “Can’t you see how hard we worked to make this custom order happen?” and, “A nationwide systems outage couldn’t possibly be foreseeable or our fault!”
But also, I could see what a tough situation our non-delivery had put them in with their customers, who they were trying to delight. They had worked hard to put together a unique video to upload onto their Tokki bands, which never arrived. Then they had to work harder to find a substitute 500 gifts at the last minute.
So I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I sat down face to face. My quick Insta-stories poll told me that about a quarter of people who responded would NOT give me a second chance – and those are people who liked me enough to follow me on Instagram… I gave myself under 50% odds for being able to salvage this relationship for the long term.
Thankfully, our client had a broader view of the world. She wanted some help to be made whole for the pain they had endured, but also graciously commiserated with me over the pain of uncontrollable events. (She noted wryly that she was in the hospitality business dealing with the impact of coronavirus, after all). Now that I’m decades into my career, what I know for sure is that ten years from now, what I will remember is the humanity of her reaction. That she made a strong business judgement call for her company, but followed it up with an equally strong human connection.
When I thought we lost the client relationship forever the pain felt jagged and real. How could we ever be successful if we’re knocked down even when we do everything in our power right? Was I a total and complete loser? But then our relationship wasn’t over and … it didn’t have the opposite effect. Because the truth is this one interaction can’t define us either way. Because what I’ve learned so far is that “winning” is really just earning another day to be able to gain the trust and respect of our client.
This whole episode felt like I was taking a step into the abyss, but then, wow! There is solid ground beneath you somehow. But before you can exhale in relief, you realize that the solid ground is attached to Mount Everest, so it’s just a tad too early to celebrate... Or maybe Everest is always ahead of us, so the celebration is really about the strength to be upright and climbing right now.
I know this to my core, but I still have to find my way back here to rediscover the magic of this learning over and over again. So thank you Linda for your grace in giving us this chance. We truly, deeply, profoundly appreciate it, and look forward to a long partnership of supporting and celebrating efforts to protect our planet together. And now that I’ve visited your offices and seen the ginormous Fedex facility just under office, we will only ever ship to you via Fedex going forward.