Dal LaMagna has had quite the life. Since building a cosmetics empire, Tweezerman, and selling it for an undisclosed 8-figure amount, he has written a book, become a peace activist, is a small business coach, and he is simply enjoying retirement.
He spent 25 years working for himself, battling debt, and finally building a company that grew to $30,000,000+ in annual sales with hundreds of employees world-wide.
The most impressive part of LaMagna’s story, though, isn’t his success. It’s all of the failures he suffered along the way. And for LaMagna, there were a lot of them — 15 in fact — that he describes in his book, Raising Eyebrows, A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right.
Still, LaMagna persevered and finally reaped the benefits. We spoke with him about his many failures, why they didn’t work, and what he finally did to knock one of his ideas out of the park.
The idea: (Dal LaMagna) 'At the beginning of my entrepreneurial days, when I was a student at Providence College, I was not a rich person. My family didn't have any money, and I had to come up with ideas that generated their own cash flow instantly.
'The first thing I tried was running a dance called the Christmas colours Capers; I figured students would be coming home for the holidays and I wanted to host a dance where everyone could hang out.'
The failure: 'I borrowed $400 from a classmate of mine, but that night it snowed two feet. Only the band and police showed up. I had to pay the band, so I lost my borrowed $400 and my father lent me another $400 so I could pay it back.
'I got killed by the weather.'
The idea: 'The next thing I came up with was a dance again in 1967, but this time it was set up by a computer. We used computers to match people at the dance, so I was one of the originators of computerized dating. It was such an unusual idea, I convinced the local station to promote it for free.
'As they were advertising the dance, people were sending us $5 to attend and filling out an application, describing themselves and the kind of date they would want to have. We got 400 or 500 people to come to this dance. That part was successful.'
The Failure: 'What I did wrong was I then took all the money I made from that dance and spent it on advertising. All of it. And it just didn't work. The world wasn't set up to do computerized dating back then. First of all, people didn't use credit cards, so you needed to send a check; you couldn't go online and fill out an application. It just wasn't ready, I was so far ahead of my time.
'Instead of just having another dance, doing the process the same way and budgeting myself, I blew it all on the advertising. I learned that you need to balance your creativity, resources and work the three prime functions of the business. If you think of it as an equilateral triangle, you have a product or a service that you develop, you excel that product or service, and then you run and control the business.
'I spent all my time and energy with the computer portion and I failed.'
The Idea: 'Another time I had a product that I developed: lasagna baking pans. These were baking pans perfectly sized to match lasagna; I came up with that idea because I was travelling around the country hitchhiking, living out of my backpack, staying at my friends' house. The reason they allowed me to stay for more than a week was because I was cooking for them. One of the meals I made was lasagna. When I boiled the noodles, I had to cut them because there wasn't a pan to fit them.
'I sold that pan to a lasagna company in Los Angeles. I told them the idea, figuring that once I sold it, I'd have no trouble making it.'
The Failure: 'Surprise, surprise, a square foot pan that was 3 inches deep made out of stainless steel with a cover didn't exist. It wasn't just something I could go buy from somebody, and when I sold it I thought I could. I figured one of these baking pan companies would make them. But no, I had to tool up to make the pans and place an order for 5,000 pans at $5 a piece. Basically, I needed $50,000.
'I didn't have $50,000, so I didn't have a product and that business failed. And that's when I learned to do something with the money resources you have available. Don't start a business that requires a lot of money, or a lot more money than you can raise.'
...Idea #15: Success!
'When I finally found a business that worked, it was a business that I started with $500, which was Tweezerman.
'I bought $100 worth of tweezers and I started selling them as splinter tweezers and then sold them as cosmetic tweezers.'
Dal LaMagna: 'With Tweezerman, I had finally gotten to the point where I realised I needed to do something with the money I had, that I needed to be patient, stay focused, and not try to make $1,000,000 overnight.
'I discovered this Tweezer. I didn't have to spend any money to develop it, it already existed. It was an industrial tweezer that I brought over to the beauty industry -- it used to be an instrument used by people who handle diamonds. Every week I was successful because I was selling enough to make a living, plus buying more tweezers, and it just went on from there.'
DL: 'I made mistakes more than once. It wasn't like I made a mistake and then learned and didn't make it again. But I was very persistent. I didn't give up.
'I got depressed, I admit. You get a great idea then you go off and it doesn't work. What I finally learned was I needed to focus, not go off in 6 different directions with one idea this week and another idea the next. I learned to be patient, and I learned to be happy with success on a daily basis.
'People do succeed right out of the box. My boox is not the 10 points of success. It's not written that way. My book is just a story, a very amusing story of all the mistakes I made and things not to do.'
To read more about Dal's business successes and failures, read his book, Raising Eyebrows, A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right, which is on sale now.
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