Failure is something we all dread – both in our professional and personal lives. But sometimes, failure can be a blessing in disguise.
Few stories illustrate this better than that of Tomas Gorny, the serial tech entrepreneur, and CEO of cloud communications company Nextiva.
Born in Poland, Gorny came to the US at 20 to live a better life. He quickly succeeded, becoming a millionaire at 22. Then, he promptly lost everything again.
Here is the story of how Gorny bounced back from failure, and what he learned in the process.
Living the American Dream – Then What?
Growing up in Poland, Gorny took an early interest in both business and technology.
“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he explains. “My parents told me I started talking about owning my own business and moving to America when I was just 7 years old.”
He started on his future path in 1991, the year DOS transitioned to Windows. “That was my pivotal moment,” Gorny recalls. “Instead of typing long command lines, you could now use a graphical interface. I found it so fascinating that I said, ‘This is what I want to do with my life. I want to make technology simpler to use for people.’”
Five years later, Gorny jumped at a chance to emigrate to the US. No matter that he was just two months from graduating: “It was a simple decision for me – I just couldn’t pass it up.”
Gorny’s first months chasing the American Dream were hardly easy. As a broke 20-year-old barely speaking English, getting a foot in the door in the tech industry was a challenge.
“I actually ran out of money and had to literally live off of $3 a day. I was doing valet parking and cleaning, and any job I could do just to survive. But I didn’t feel pity for myself. I felt I am in the land of opportunity, where I want to be, and this is the journey I want to go on.”
His efforts paid off. He managed to join the web-hosting company Internet Communications as an early stakeholder. When it got acquired two years later, Gorny became a tech millionaire at barely 22.
But where other tales of the American Dream end, Gorny’s is headed for a plot twist.
Failure’s Like Free Tuition
“At this point, I started making my biggest mistake,” Gorny explains. “I began setting my goals around my net worth, and made investments in various companies to grow it.”
In hindsight, investing in tech in the late 90s was a risky business. At the time, Gorny thought he was solidifying his wealth. Instead, it proved to be the path to business failure.
“When the dot-com crash and 9/11 happened, everything suddenly collapsed.”
His investments went up in smoke, and Gorny was left with little money in the bank. But instead of letting his spirits be crushed, Gorny decided to take a philosophical outlook – and started over.
“Failure’s like free tuition. You can reflect and analyze not to repeat mistakes,” Gorny muses. “It’s much harder to break down successes to learn how to improve. I like to say that failure’s like free tuition.”
No Exit Strategy
Looking back, Gorny believes that his near-bankruptcy made him into the successful entrepreneur he is today. Through his failures, he learned how to weather crises – and how to set his priorities.
“I completely abandoned the view of focusing on net worth,” he explains. “The success of a business really lies in the value it provides. I learned that I needed to focus on providing outstanding products, and on customer service.”
Most importantly, Gorny learned that the only way to succeed in business is to go all-in, taking a personal stake in your endeavors. “I firmly believe that as an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t have an exit strategy. If you are planning for an exit, your mind is focused on the wrong things for your business.”
It was these realizations that helped Gorny turn things around after his business failure.
“With these principles, I managed to pick myself up,” he explains. “After I almost went bankrupt, I tried to make the most of my technical knowledge and experience in web-hosting. I founded a new startup called IPOWER in late 2001.”
IPOWER quickly became a key web-hosting player in the US. In 2007, Warburg Pincus and Goldman Sachs acquired the company – reportedly for nearly $1 billion. Gorny, one of the largest individual shareholders at the time, reaped the benefits.
Building the Future with Nextiva
In the meantime, Gorny continued on the path of innovation. He founded a string of successful tech companies, among them SiteLock, a security application that protects millions of websites.
His biggest venture at the moment, though, is Nextiva.
Launched in 2008, Nextiva offers a connected communications platform through proprietary software. It began as a small startup. Today, the company employs over 1000 people and can currently boast over $200 million in annual revenue. And it’s growing fast.
Gorny’s leadership skills and visionary business acumen have won him several awards.
As a true businessman, he keeps looking forward. “I continue to look for new challenges, new gaps in the market – new companies to found. I do believe I have an interesting story. But I feel I haven’t done anything yet compared to what my companies will do in the future.”