What drives entrepreneurs to pursue their vision (even when others don't share it)? Even when initial reaction to their idea is negative? How do they find the mettle to pursue their next big idea if their first venture fails?

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By accepting—and even embracing—failure, Tom Hunt achieved startup success.

Tom founded (and recently sold) Virtual Valley, a business that helps entrepreneurs source virtual assistants. His latest venture, AskTina.io, offers clients a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence.

But success hasn't always come easily for Tom. Exhibit A: his disastrous turn on BBC's "Dragons' Den" (a UK reality show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas, similar to "Shark Tank" in the US).

The panel didn't think much of his men's leggings, but Tom parlayed his "Dragons' Den" failure into marketing success by wearing his defeat as a badge of honor, posting the YouTube video on the sTitch Leggings website. Smart move: embedding the humiliating video actually increased sales of the macho legwear!

I invited Tom to Marketing Smarts to discuss how he embraced his early failure (he even gave a TEDx talk on it), how he grew his startup, Virtual Valley, into a four-million-dollar business, and how he incorporated podcasting into his marketing mix with his 0-$4 Million podcast, snagging the top spot in the business category of iTunes' "New and Noteworthy" section.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Sometimes, rejection (by the right people) can boost your brand (04:01): "The story behind the brand is all about liberating men from conventional fashion and going against the mainstream. So if six of us go up wearing leggings—three founders and three models who were just our friends—and get rejected by the mainstream, by these millionaires that have loads of money but know nothing about fashion, then if you go to sTitch Leggings.com, you'll see that video on the homepage because it really adds to the brand and the mission."

Podcasting pays dividends (even for those on a tight budget) (06:25): "I spent almost six months building this [virtual assistant] marketplace, similar to Freelance or UpWork, but specific to one type of resource, which is a virtual assistant in the Philippines. And it was a curated database, so it was a little bit less time finding a virtual assistant.

"I was launching this marketplace. We didn't have much money. It was all self-funded. I thought I needed to create a content marketing campaign to bring exposure to the demand side of the marketplace, which is entrepreneurs. I always look to be remarkable in any piece of marketing I do (like the "Dragons' Den" thing) so you get free traffic and exposure. I wanted to track the journey of this marketplace going from just an idea to being sold for four million dollars, which was the original plan.

"We were going to track this on the blog, but I thought, 'Why not also do a short daily podcast to explain progress,' similar to the Startup Podcast, which is amazingly produced and a really enjoyable listen. Ours is a little bit lower-budget, but it's a bit more real, I think. So we started on the 11th of January, and from the 11th of January every weekday until one week ago I recorded a 10-minute episode giving numbers on how we're doing, what I'd learned, and meeting people along the way.

"It was an amazing experience. My speaking improved. The progress in the business improved, because I knew I had to report it every day. I met amazing people....  I've had potential investors nearly invest in a new business because they were listeners to the podcast." 

B2B and B2C buyers are fundamentally the same—they're all scared of something or aspire to something (16:20): "Recently, actually, with the leggings, we've released a lot of new pairs, so I've been doing a lot of online marketing launches for these pairs and writing...emails for B2C. The same when, when I was writing the auto-responders for all the leads we were generating with Virtual Valley, I had different voices in the copywriting I was doing to the leggings customer and the Virtual Valley customer. But in terms of the different style in the content I was producing for the emails, it didn't really change. I was still writing directly to this one person, and I was writing directly to either what they're scared of or what they wanted to achieve.

"In the leggings, it's really all about the guy standing out and being different, not being conventional, so I was writing to that. And then, with Virtual Valley, it's all about how you can build that business so you can be free. They're looking for freedom and to have time to spend with their kids. Different angles, but the content and the way I wrote the emails was exactly the same."

To learn more, visit TomHunt.io, and check out Tina, the AI virtual assistant, at AskTina.io

You can also follow Tom on Twitter at @TomHuntio 

Tom and I talked about much more, including how to cultivate the right voice for a particular audience and the ROI of giving a TEDx talk, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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