Posts Tagged ‘Lessons’

El Torero: Business Lessons from a Bullfighter

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

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My uncle, Jack Woodson, was a bull fighter. As in step into an enclosed space with a one ton horned animal and see who’s left standing at the end. As the story goes, Jack was a fan of Earnest Hemingway and had romantic notions of bull fighting. He was also something of a serial entrepreneur, but not necessarily a successful one. The two aspects collided sometime in the 60’s or 70’s, and he decided he wanted to find a way to promote legalized bull-fighting within the United States.

El Torero

His idea was this: take all of his 6’4” and close to 400 pounds pounds, wrap it in football pads, and place it in the middle of a ring with a bull. Then let the bull run over you. Again and again. Finally, when the bull had exhausted itself and was barely able to stand, you could approach it, punch it between the eyes and knock it out fairly easily.

He took the idea so far to try and build a bullfighting promotion business, getting investor help to rent the Astrodome in Houston to hold a bullfight. This was expected to be a huge windfall of money and exposure. And as the legend goes, he made all of this happen. He staged a legal, non-lethal bullfight with himself getting run over by the bull and him eventually knocking it out.

Except that only maybe 100 people came to the 60,000 seat venue to witness it. Money was lost, the business failed and Jack faded into the same anonymous existence that most of us live out.

Now, you may not believe this story is true. I’m not sure how much of it I believe myself, and for most of my life I was skeptical. Until one day a few years ago I visited my cousin, and sure enough, on the wall was a picture of my uncle, in football pads, exploding out of a 3 point stance, about 3 feet from colliding with a bull at full charge.

I’ve thought about the audacity of this idea, and wondered how it didn’t work. I mean, if Jackass can become a successful franchise and Johnny Knoxville a household name, why not Jack? Was he just before his time? Probably. But there is probably more to it than that. Here are the lessons I take out of my uncle’s legend.

Lesson 1: Persevere

If you are smart and just hang in there, you have a chance to outlast something with 2 or 3 times your size and force. That is what my uncle did with the bull — he let it exhaust its momentum while saving his own. Then when the bull was weakened, he would take it down. There is definitely a lesson there.

But did he persevere enough with his business? I’m not sure. He definitely had one big shot, it missed, and there were not more attempts. Given the hazardous nature of what he was doing, that is probably for the best. But to succeed in business, you are going to have to be able to take a negative response and make it a learning experience instead of a defining failure.

Lesson 2: A Good Idea is not Enough

This was a great idea, but that only took it so far. No one knew about it. Only a hundred people or so witnessed the event. Its as if it didn’t happen. You have to have a solid plan to get your audience involved or you will fail.

Lesson 3: Know Your Weaknesses

My uncle could create the event and raise the necessary money, but he couldn’t get enough people motivated to buy a ticket and come to the event for it to be a viable business idea. If he had realized this, he could have partnered with someone who could provide those skills. It might have been the difference between failure and success.

Lesson 4: Make Calculated Risks

Jack made a huge gamble with all of his resources in one domed-stadium basket. It didn’t work, and there was nothing left over to refine the idea into something viable. If you’ve got only one shot, you need to make sure your aim is true. Take the time to vet the concept, refine it and make sure you’ve put the odds in your favor before pulling the trigger.

Lesson 5: Start Small & Build Up

Jack tried to play in the big leagues before spending any time in the minors. Had he started small and worked the idea, the ramifications of “failure” would have been much less. Unsuccessful attempts would have been probings helping to determine a correct course instead of a huge, misguided leap that doomed the business. Once the idea was refined and proved, then resources could have been thrown behind it full force.

Thanks, Jack

My uncle Jack was quite the character, and I remember him fondly. He was a great guy with a big heart. He may not have achieved the business success he was seeking with his idea, but he did leave a legacy of love for family and friends that few could match.

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