Founded in August 1998, the online pet-supply company went public in February 2000 and went bust nine months later. Since then it has acquired iconic status as the classic dot-com disaster – a domain name looking for a business plan. Its mascot, the infamous sock puppet, became a much-satirized symbol of Internet excess.
Prior to buying into Pets.com and becoming CEO, Wainwright had enjoyed a stellar entrepreneurial career. As CEO of Reel.com, she grew the online video store sales from $1 million to $20 million in a single year, then engineered its sale to Hollywood Video for $100 million. At Berkeley Systems, she oversaw a strategic shift from producer of software utilities (such as screensavers) to a developer of interactive entertainment (including the popular game, "You Don't Know Jack").
Wainwright resurfaced recently as company-founder of SmartNow.com, an information site (beauty, health, fitness, relationships, you know the deal) for women over 30. In a brave move, she has written an editorial about her personal problems since closing Pets.com.
“What most people don’t know is that the very same week that Pets.com failed, my marriage of seven years failed as well. Actually, it had been failing for a long time. It became officially over that week. My husband decided to call it quits the day before I announced to the employees and the public markets that I was shutting down Pets. It was a really bad week.”
Why is this relevant to Canadian Entrepreneurs? Because it’s so easy to make the same mistakes Wainwright did: focussing too much on your business, and taking the rest of the world (including your spouse) for granted.
“Now, I would like to tell you that [after the failure of Pets.com] I was down but not out. That I just brushed myself off and got on with life. I didn’t. At first, I kept myself hyper-busy. That lasted for about three months. Then, I sank into a depression. I’m sure I was in shock for a long time. It was a very dark, confused time in my life. I kept pushing myself to get back to normal. That didn’t happen.”
Check out Wainwright’s list of “Five Life-Changing Mistakes and How I Moved On.” Here’s a quick summary:
Mistake 1: I allowed others to define me. I completely defined myself as a failure, as the press did.
Mistake 2: I built my image of myself on two main supporting pillars [being “smart,” and being married].
Mistake 3: I stopped believing in myself. You can see how the first and second mistakes might lead to the third.
Mistake 4: I stopped taking care of myself. I had gained weight over the years and stopped exercising. When Pets was collapsing, I started exercising again and the pounds had started to come off, so my physical health had started to improve. What I didn’t realize is that my emotional health was deteriorating. I did not recognize my own depression. For at least two years after Pets shut down, I didn’t care if I lived or died.
Mistake 5: Allowing my head to rule my heart… The head is the ego. Mine was shattered. I had to exercise my heart in order to heal.
Wainwright’s article includes a lot more information, including details on how she coped with each of these problems. It’s candid, revealing and inspiring.
As Wainwright concludes, “If you have made your own mistakes and are not sure how to get on with your life, perhaps my reflections will help you. And if you make mistakes in the future, I hope my lessons help you in some way and that you will learn from your humanness and not slip slide into a dark place for long.”
Check out her story here.