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The Review

Bouncing back from startup setbacks


How to reorient obstacles into opportunities from the Sampler team, who have done it many times before

Marie Chevrier spent years building DropGift, a startup that allowed users to send gift cards through Facebook, pouring her heart and soul into the project.

Soon after (and rather suddenly) a leading competitor to DropGift was acquired by tech giant Facebook. Chevrier and her team were left with no real future opportunities in the space. Startup setbacks, like what happened with DropGift, can happen at any time. An essential skill for entrepreneurs, then, is being able to bounce right back.

“For me, that first business was kind of like my MBA” said Chevrier, now CEO of Sampler, which helps brands distribute physical product samples to digitally targeted customers.

DropGift may have failed, but, as Chevrier now understands, the experience gave her the core skills necessary to launch Sampler. Understanding that failures are part of the entrepreneurial process is essential to keep in mind when building up a startup. Sampler, for instance, faced more than a few setbacks early on.

In its infancy, Sampler used Facebook as its sole platform to connect audiences with brands. But, as the Sampler team soon found out, being beholden to Facebook caused some problems.

“Every time Facebook changed their policies, we would have to jump through 20 hoops” said Kelly Stewart, head of marketing at Sampler.

Eventually, after growing increasingly frustrated, Stewart, Chevrier, and the Sampler team decided to change their operation entirely. To remove the obstacle of Facebook entirely, Sampler created their own platform to connect with audiences.

An ongoing issue became an opportunity for growth.

“Don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board, no matter what stage you’re at… It can be a huge payoff if you’re willing to take that risk.”

Setbacks in a startup setting can, of course, come in many forms. Problems can be tangible, like a software glitch, or a valued employee may suddenly leave the team. The latter situation is something Chevrier dealt with recently at Sampler, when a key operations employee decided to start their own entrepreneurial venture.

“Instead of looking at it as an ‘oh crap we’re screwed’ situation… I decided to make it into an opportunity and go deeper into their role.”

So, before the team member departed, Chevier spent time working alongside them, gaining a newfound understanding of the business, especially aspects she hadn’t paid attention to in a while. The lessons learned were also invaluable when rewriting the position’s job description, which had evolved drastically since the initial hire, something other startup executives should consider doing, says Chevrier.

Finding the silver lining isn’t always an easy task, especially when your business is on the line.

When facing a serious problem, one that you don’t think can be remedied, Chevrier has a strategy for that, too: get some rest.

“Everything is better after a good night’s sleep… Give yourself the trust that you’ll figure it out once you’re well rested.”