Before Byron Allen became the sole owner of a global media empire, he was broke and sitting around in his undies. 

OK, maybe that’s an overstatement – Allen may have been in his underwear (by his own admission), but he was doing anything but sitting around. 

Allen is the founder, CEO and sole shareholder of Entertainment Studios (ES) based in Los Angeles. His content production and distribution company has more than $1 billion in assets, including the recently acquired Weather Channel. Allen also controls networks behind shows such as “Funny You Should Ask,” “Beautiful Homes & Great Estates,” “Animal Control Patrol” and “Entertainers with Byron Allen.” 

What many people don’t know about him is that the company he founded prior to ES was forced into involuntary bankruptcy.

As he describes it, “ES was launched in my living room. I worked in my underwear, and I was flat broke.” His sunken level is even more meaningful when you realize this is the same Byron Allen who was a household name in entertainment and comedy throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, having launched into stardom at 17 as the youngest comedian to ever appear on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

I recently sat down to talk to Allen for “Uncommon Drive” – the new video series from USA TODAY’s home for startups and entrepreneurs, USA & Main, where I pick the brains of today’s top performing entrepreneurs.

As I reflected on our conversation, which I encourage you to check out at usaandmain.com, I thought about the many entrepreneurial potential assessments out there, each with varying intricacy and accuracy. I’ve taken quite a few of these tests. Early on, I think I took them as a confidence builder to reassure myself I was cut out for the trials and tribulations of self-employment.

And besides, given the enormous amount of time and resources we dedicate to the pursuit of entrepreneurship, wouldn’t it be great if we could take a test that could determine if we’ll be successful before starting our business journey? The stakes are high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that  50 percent of new businesses close within five years.

After taking all those tests, I never thought a simpler version – one with less than 20 questions – would be very informative until my interview with Allen. 

Back to Allen: Following a successful Hollywood career and what he thought was the launch of a promising company, here he was, with nothing.

“Most people would have called that absolute failure, but I didn’t,” Allen said. 

So what kept him going? 

“Failure is not what I’m afraid of; what I’m afraid of is not pursuing my fullest potential,” he said. 

That simple statement encapsulates Allen’s brilliance as well as why not only he, but every entrepreneur I’ve interviewed for “Uncommon Drive,” has succeeded. Each guest has had the same take on failure. It’s simply a data point to tell them what to change, as opposed to meaning what most people interpret from failure, and that’s to stop.

So ask yourself this simple question. Are you more afraid of failure or more afraid of not reaching your full potential?

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Paul C. Brunson, host of USA TODAY’s video series “Uncommon Drive,” is a serial entrepreneur with three exits and a pioneering matchmaker (yes, he is the real-life “Hitch”). He also is building a school in Jamaica. Follow him on LinkedIn or Instagram for behind-the-scenes footage and insights from his interviews and travels.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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