Conor Friedmann

Conor FriedmannAlthough the pop culture cliché says “failure is not an option,” 18-year-old Conor Friedmann, the Otto Bremer Student Entrepreneur of the Year for Minnesota, begs to differ.

After participating in the JA Company Program at his school, and then competing in the Minnesota JAUM Company of the Year Competition, Friedmann, a 2016 graduate of Maple Grove Senior High in Maple Grove, Minn., believes learning from “failure” is the ultimate teacher.

Friedmann and his teammates did well enough during the competition to secure a tie for third place. However, Friedmann says through the process of actually building his JA business, he learned a number of ways his company, Crimson Corner, could have been more successful.

“Some of my friends were going to do the company program and I joined them,” Friedmann says. “We came up with about 20 different ideas. One was spirit wear — school-themed socks, caps and mugs. Another was appreciation grams, where people could send a note to say something nice to someone. And another was a study pack with school supplies and tips for various classes.”

The company chose to pursue all three ideas, with mixed results. Inventory cost for the spirit wear was high, and the appreciation notes had a very low profit margin, and worse yet, didn’t sell well.

After some additional research, the team tweaked the study guide slightly and instead offered a college guide to help students get into the colleges they wanted to attend. Colleges included in the guides — which sold for $25 and cost $4.50 to produce — included such top-tier schools as Stanford, Harvard, Notre Dame and Tufts University, where Friedmann will be studying international relations and economics this fall.

“I think one of our biggest mistakes is that we split our focus,” Friedmann says now about what he learned from the company experience. “We couldn’t agree on one product in the beginning but as we moved forward, we began to focus on the college guide. If we’d done that earlier, we would have had more success.”

Friedmann said the experience taught him in a visceral way that failure has its own valuable lessons in the world of business. “In the failing of the appreciation grams, it taught me that it’s really okay to cut a part of your company that’s not working,” he says. “You need to move forward and focus your energy on something that is working. JA actually taught me how to fail, and before this, I would never have been comfortable with the idea of just cutting something that we’d worked hard on. This showed me that if you cut something that’s not working, things could actually turn out better in the end. And JA is a great way to get that kind of real-world experience while you’re still in high school.”