To read more articles by Faisal Butt click here.  

I recently had a nostalgic look through some old records and came across a song from the early 90s with a title that resonated with me. The song was "It Aint Over Till Its Over by Lenny Kravitz.  While Lenny was singing about not giving up on a romantic relationship, his relentless repetition of the main chorus line drives home a message that I carry with me in everyday business: it ain't over till it's over.  No matter how bad the situation may be, in most cases, the game is not up and there is a way to turn it to your advantage.  

When you look at a successful business, it can be quite difficult to envision the company as a struggling start-up seeking to find its feet. But the reality is most companies started this way.  What separated those that "turned the corner" and survived and those that disappeared often comes down to the attitude and resilience of the founders.  Making one more sales call, trialling one more marketing strategy, retaining one more customer - it is often these incremental steps that help these businesses survive.  Rescuing your business (and every business goes through "rescue mode" at some point in its evolution) from the brink of failure requires vision and persistence with rapidly executed baby steps. An it aint over till its over attitude is essential to make it through to the other side.

This week, I focus my attention on businesses that edged close to the brink of failure but with strong leadership and vision, turned the corner.  Small and large, early stage and late - every business faces a challenge to its existence at some point.  Here are two turnaround stories that we can all learn from:



In 2004, after a half-century of being at the top of every childs Christmas wish-list, Lego was hit with the biggest loss of their history (£217 million). All financial experts were sure that the companys run was drawing to a close. Children were veering towards PlayStations and Gameboys as the world embraced a digital revolution. Analysts branded Lego another victim of the digital age, soon to be a relic.

Then Jørgen Vig Knudstorp entered the business as CEO. The pressure was on for him to summon an immediate turn in fortune. The new CEO recognised the underlying issue within weeks. The issue was not complacency, nor a lack of worth ethic.

The company had made a healthy annual profit for a 50 year period, but recently figures had been in rapid decline. So what had changed? The issue was innovation.  Sometimes too much of it can be a bad thing.

The company had been concentrating on keeping up with the times, spending a lot of their effort and money on innovating their products to adapt to the new digital age. At the turn of the millennia, Lego vastly expanded its production of memorabilia, television programming, comic books, video games and clothing. Vig Knudstorp decided that Lego needed to go back to its roots. He sold every part of the company that didnt involve the core product and halved the number of components produced (from 7,000 to 3,000).

In 2008, led by Vig Knudstorp's vision and decisive management, the companys fortune had completely turned around, making a net profit of £163 million. In 2009, they were the worlds fastest growing toy company.

Lesson:  Lego forgot what their product was all about. They had become so wrapped up in the idea of keeping relevant that they lost their core values. It took a leader with vision execution capability to turn the corner. Once the company returned to its roots, the public were reminded of what they loved about Lego. Once the customers came back, so did the profits.

Colonel Sanders (KFC)

colonel sanders.jpg

At 65 years old, Colonel Sanders had spent his working life changing from job to job, with little success in any field. In his first week of retirement, Sanders received a social security cheque of $100. This worried him greatly and he soon began to contemplate on how he was going to survive retirement with such a small amount of money. Worried for his financial security, he embarked on one final entrepreneurial adventure. He travelled from his home state of Kentucky in an attempt to sell his fried chicken recipe to restaurateurs in exchange for a cut of the profits. He travelled to 1,008 restaurants, each which declined his proposition.

On his 1,009th  pitch at his 1,009th restaurant, he finally found someone who saw the potential of the idea. Pete Harman of South Salt Lake in Utah partnered with him and the two entrepreneurs founded the worlds first KFC restaurant in 1952.

By 1960, and with Sanders in his mid-70s, KFC had grown into a multi-million dollar business which continues to prosper today. Although he sold the franchise in the 1970s, Colonel Sanders face can now be seen in every KFC restaurant in the world, ensuring he goes down as a historical testament to the fact that it aint over till its over.

Lesson: Persistence is a vital ingredient to success. Most people would have given up after having their idea rejected a few hundred times. Sticking with an idea and your judgements takes huge strength of character. Every business starts with an idea - trust your own judgement, and dont despair when others dont share your vision.  Keep going until you think the game is over, and then, keep going just a bit further.  Because it may not be over just yet.

These historical examples resonate with me personally.  Recently, a venture I was investing in nearly fell apart after a key member of the team pulled out at the last minute. One of my closest advisors (along with many others) suggested to me that the deal was off but I refused to quit. Instead of admitting defeat, I decided to go on a search for a replacement player with similar expertise. Eventually, I found three super star individuals and built a "dream team" around the existing management.  I could have quit, but I didn't.  I refused to accept that the game was over, and I backed my own judgement. Just as the deal seemed like it may be in jeopardy, I used the set-back in my favour and put together an even better team.  I know I'll be reminding myself of this example if I face a similar predicament again (which I'm sure I will).

Every one of your early failures and challenges will take you closer to where you want to be.

Many of my readers are working on launching new initiatives, products, and ventures, and I suspect many of you haven't turned the corner just yet.  Remember, every one of your early failures and challenges will take you closer to where you want to be.  When you're deep in the trenches of running your business, I understand that's not as obvious.  But imagine if you could elevate yourself above the trenches and take an aerial view of your journey:  you would see a zig zag diagram of where you started and where you are now with a green dot on the start line and red dot on the finish line.  Deep in the trenches it may feel like the going is tough, but the aerial view would show that you're progressively moving closer to the red dot. The key is to keep on moving, pivoting, trialling, and going. Kravitz's romantic lyric, "it ain't  over till it’s over”, while deeply emotional and written in a completely different context, does a rather fine job of capturing my ethos in business. 

To read more articles by Faisal Butt click here.  


We caught up with Faisal Butt, founder of private equity boutique Spire Ventures, proptech venture capital firm, Pi Labs and Hamilton Bradshaw Real Estate which he co-founded with former Dragons Den star James Caan.

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