5 entrepreneurs speak to SMH about their biggest failures and fears during their business, and what they learnt.
We fell for the hype
Martin Hosking, founder and CEO of Redbubble, a global marketplace for artists that listed this year at a $200m plus valuation, believes much of his current success is due to his learnings in the 90’s of the spectacular bubble and bust of Looksmart (a company he cofounded) during the very early days of the internet.
Looksmart listed on the NASDAQ and at one stage, when the shares were $70 it was worth more than Qantas!
The company’s shares were going ballistic, and the hype became much more important than the fundamentals of the business. Looksmart tried to be everyone to everybody with very little focus. It did everything and did not say no to any opportunity.
When the bubble burst in March 2001, LookSmart its shares plummeted to 50 cents.
There was a sense of loss, however the experience and learnings were invaluable. The key learning were
– the importance of staying focused, being prepared to say no and subjecting business decisions to rigorous examination.
– the importance of a clear vision – to have a sense of true north; where you’re going and why you’re going there.”
I lost my entire team
In the early days of RedBalloon, founder and Shark Tank investor Naomi Simson had an incident, whereby one of her staff members left her reeling.
She had eight employees, and one of them had a disagreement and left… threatening to take the entire team with her….. which she did, leaving RedBalloon reeling.Fortunately six returned later that week!! Naomi had made customer commitments, promises, brand reputation – leaving Redbubble vulnerable.”
How could Simson ensure that this would never happen again?
What was her learning that made Redballoon the massive success it is today?
Treat your employees and team like gold
RedBalloon looked after their team and strove to become the best employer possible, ensuring they would speak well of the company, and as a result naturally attract more good people.
“One of our kpis of success on the number of unsolicited CVs we get,” she says.
Simson says managing, retaining and inspiring staff is the biggest battle for most businesses,
Keeping our why and values, and ensuring our team continues to be behind us, has enabled us to take risks, fail and be flexible enough to be able to pivot and change directions if things don’t work out.
“RedBalloon has pivoted six times. I’m almost dizzy how much RedBalloon has had to change in 15 years.” Says Simpson
I forgot to celebrate the small wins
27 year old, Daniel Flynn is the co-founder of social enterprise Thankyou.
In the early years, worries over issues in the business and his relentless drive to push things forward probably had a negative effect on some of his team, nearly burning them out.
Instead of celebrating wins, like the landing of a whale like 7 Eleven, the focus was to drive his team to ensure they deliver, and get the next three clients.
The great strength of an entrepreneur is to keep on wanting the next thing and moving forward…. However Hus mistake was to burn out the people around him, sucking all the life out of the room.”
A business mentor helped Flynn realise that he was not celebrating the small wins along the way with his staff, or even alone.
Now Thankyou has regular catch-ups, such as a fortnightly ‘team news time’ to share their wins and recognise staff that have performed well.
“(And) if we have a really big win as a team we’ll stop and celebrate, it could be just pizzas or whatever it is.”
‘I made some horrible hiring choices’
Perhaps ironically, Gen George, who started the hugely successful online job platform OneShift at 21, reckons her biggest mistake early on was hiring the wrong people in her own company
– not having a clear vision and defined goals.
– not knowing what we actually needed from a skillset point of view ..
– not realising you’ve got to get the culture right and then you can train for skillsets.
“It was like having a bunch of stray cats running in all sorts of different directions – not a good way to run things,” says George.
Now 25, and running a jobs powerhouse that’s racked up 630,000 jobseekers and more than 38,000 employers, George says the company’s hiring processes evolved over time, with natural attrition helping OneShift to get back on track.
George says the company now asks potential employees: “Who are you, what do you want? Where are you going and what do you believe in? For instance do you want to change the recruitment world or are you just here for a job?”
However she says mistakes are an important part of business, and often lead you along a different, better path than you had originally imagined.
“Unless you make mistakes you’re not running fast enough and you’re not learning.”
I employed my friends
When Le Ho transformed Capital City Waste Services into a $10 million-a-year operation, she figured it would be best to employ friends to help her.
“I thought it was easier as I knew them and know their experiences and thought it was easier this way than employing a stranger and having to get to know them,” says Ho.
She says it proved almost impossible to separate personal and professional emotions, and as a result list both friend and employee!
Ho sold that business at the end of March, and has since started another venture, Sustainable Solutions Group.
This time, she’s unlikely to be hiring any friends – but if she does, they would be hired by, and report to, one of her managers.
What’s been your biggest mistake in business?