Failure was never an option

courtesy Stewart Sallo

In the spring of 1993, a recent California transplant set about the task of launching a new weekly paper in Boulder, Colorado, called Boulder Weekly. After 12 years of success in the newspaper publishing and advertising agency business in Santa Cruz, California — where he had been a proud Banana Slug at the University of California — this dude was as cocky as the day was long, and about to experience a rude awakening.

One of the keys to the success of any business is the development of a revenue stream, and our fearless entrepreneur had hired a team of three salespeople to knock on the doors of local businesses that Boulder’s new weekly hoped to gain as advertisers. But there were certain businesses that the publisher had decided to contact personally, as their participation was considered to be especially critical to the success of the endeavor.

Things did not go well at first. The primary miscalculation he made was that his successful career path in Santa Cruz could simply be rerouted to Boulder and that he could pick up where he left off. The problem was that nobody in Boulder had witnessed or cared about what he had done in Santa Cruz. And perhaps more importantly, very few local businesses were of a mind to believe that a weekly paper in Boulder could succeed, having seen several come and go over the years.

There was one local business that served as the “poster boy” for the unwelcoming reception Boulder Weekly initially received. The spring sun was shining brightly as our intrepid publisher tossed his briefcase on the passenger seat of the four-wheel-drive vehicle he had been forced to purchase during the cold, snowy winter of 1992, as he set out to his appointment with the prominent community leader who was the owner of said local business. Knowing the critical importance of this meeting, he had done his homework and was prepared to make the greatest presentation of his life, which he did. His vision was conveyed, readership trends and statistics were cited, and, of course, his impressive resume was ubiquitously flaunted.

At the end of the meeting, the impatient community leader dropped a simple bombshell: “This has been tried before and has never worked. Call me in a year, if you’re still in business.”

Later that day, driving up Boulder Canyon to his new home in Colorado, our publisher was beyond discouraged. So much so that he questioned his whole Boulder Weekly dream and began to think of it as a nightmare. Unable to see through the tears of dejection that had begun to form in his once starry eyes, he pulled off the road, put the car in park and tried to collect himself. It was then that a voice came to him.

It’s going to be all right. You just need to make some adjustments. Failure is not an option.

Failure is not an option! Now those are some powerful words. And throughout the past 22 years, during which Boulder Weekly and I have encountered a veritable smorgasbord of challenges and obstacles that could never have been anticipated, those words have become one of my most oft-employed mantras.

Each year, when our annual Anniversary Edition comes around, we take stock of ourselves at Boulder Weekly, take pride in what we have done well, and engage in critical self-analysis in the aim of making improvements in our organization so that we can be an increasingly valuable resource to the Boulder County community. We often cite the impressive number of journalism awards we have won (and, indeed, we won 30 regional awards and three national awards last year alone); there is often attention paid to the financial growth we have achieved (and, indeed, 2015 was our most successful year to date in that category, as well); and we proudly refer to game-changing stories we broke (such as when we exposed the CU Leeds School of Business’ role in the Republican Party/oil and gas industry attempt to manipulate public opinion with respect to fracking and increased taxes for public education).

But there is another aspect to Boulder Weekly that may overshadow our awards, financial achievements and watchdog persona. And that is that our organization is comprised of people who have embraced and been infected by the “failure is not an option” attitude that has been the guiding force behind the company that has brought you the Boulder Weekly every Thursday for 22 years.

Whatever challenges or obstacles you may encounter in your life, attitude is perhaps the most important component in your success. And while we will never be able to control the factors external to ourselves or the organizations we belong to — such as the business owner who had already written Boulder Weekly’s obituary before we even had a chance to publish our first edition — we will always be able to control our own attitude. If the Boulder Weekly story is one that inspires our readers and our community to adopt our “failure is not an option” creed, we will have accomplished a mission even loftier than the one that can be measured by awards, profits or exposés.

(One final footnote: One year from the date that I was told to return if Boulder Weekly was still in business, I met with the aforementioned business owner and he chose to initiate an advertising campaign in Boulder Weekly.)

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