“I lost a company. So what? It’s just stuff. Can’t take it with you.” – Wally Amos
This month, to celebrate Black History Month, we’re highlighting lessons entrepreneurs like you can learn from some of the most influential African American business leaders. The story of the “Famous” Wally Amos and his unbeatable enthusiasm and ability to turn lemons into lemonade should inspire any entrepreneur.
If you’ve eaten “Famous Amos” chocolate chip cookies, you’re tasting part of a baking legacy. Amos, who owned a talent agency in Los Angeles, made cookies as his calling card for meetings with agents and clients. Pretty soon, his cookies were known throughout the entertainment community, and he opened his first shop on Sunset Boulevard in 1975. From there, his cookie empire exploded in popularity. Franchises opened up nationwide.
However, as demand grew, Amos began to release control of the company—including his famous recipe. When the financial struggles became too much, he eventually lost the company. At the time, Amos was a sought-after motivational speaker, well-known author and was considered to be an example of entrepreneurial success—but that image came crashing down.
Despite the major failure, Amos didn’t give up! He continues to be a cookie connoisseur and entrepreneurial example of success.
Here are three sweet lessons from the original cookie man.
“I got ahead of my team. I forgot there was a team. I thought that because I was famous Amos…I had all the answers, but I was very, very wrong.”
Amos has been very vocal about the mismanagement of his company and puts the blame squarely on his own shoulders. He relied on his own opinion rather than trusting in his team, and as a result, the company struggled, was sold through several owners, and then eventually acquired by Keebler.
Lesson 1: Hire people who support your vision and trust them to help you
“Nothing is an obstacle unless you say it is.”
When he was forced to sell his company, most of his assets and even his name in the late 1980s, Amos didn’t give up. He couldn’t use Famous Amos, Wally Amos or any combination thereof in his marketing so he launched the Uncle Noname Muffin company from his new home base in Hawaii, wrote a new book and started on a speaking tour to promote it. He generated enough attention to find a partner to grow the company—which became Uncle Wally’s Muffin Company in 1996. Eventually, Amos was able to legally re-enter the cookie market and launched the Cookie Kahuna in 2014.
Lesson 2: Find ways to get around any obstacle in front of you—even if you can’t use your own name
“I thought I would help other people, but it ended up helping me more than I could have imagined.”
Shortly after the launch of the original Famous Amos store, a friend introduced Amos to the Literacy Volunteers of America. The cause was near and dear to Amos’s heart, and he dove into volunteering. Since 1979 he has advocated literacy, led programs across the country and hosted a television series about literacy on PBS for a number of years.
Lesson 3: By giving to others, you’re really giving back to yourself
What sweet lessons of success are you going to take away from Famous Amos? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for relevance.