Featured image by Ian Kim.
Four Things I Learned from my Latest Failure
It’s coming on a year since I started on my journey to achieve success. It’s been a big and challenging year. While I’ve made a lot of great progress, I have to admit I’ve had two big failures.
My first failure I’ve written about before. My wife and I first started our journey to achieving financial freedom by investing. At the start we didn’t know what we were doing and it cost us. However, we learned from our mistakes and we learned from the experience. Now we are back in the game and doing much better.
Our second venture towards this goal was to start a part time business; a part time hustle to compliment my job, free up my wife and build a passive revenue stream.
Again, I didn’t really know what I was doing. It fell apart after just 4 months. However, I know this is another important piece in my plan for success. So I’ve decided again to learn from my lessons and get back to it and do it right next time.
This seems to be a trend. The path to success, so far, runs along the lines of: try, fail, learn, try again. But I’m warmed by the lessons of others:
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
In the search of great success, failures are inevitable. No one can win all the time. The trick is not to never fail, it’s to face failure and overcome.
So here are the major lessons I’ve learned from my latest failure.
Four things I’ve Learnt from my failed attempt at Business
1. Trust is Everything
I first started a business with my wife’s friend. We are both in English education and we saw the real need for quality, cheap English education in Vietnam.
She had the local knowledge and I have the English skills. Together we planned a business model that had great potential to provide high quality educational outcomes for a low price.
We planned the business and it was ‘scaleable’ and profitable. We ran a pilot program and tested the business with a trial class.
At the beginning I agreed to work for free and let my partner take the revenue as I only had limited time to invest and I was looking forward to the point were this became a business, when we became owners and then we would share the passive profits once we set up the admin. and we hired staff to do the hard work for us.
It was going well, we were getting close to the point of hiring our first employee and turning the corner to make this thing into a real business. It was then that things started to fall apart. And it was all because of trust.
When you start a business with a partner, you need to have trust. You have to be working for the best interest of each other and trusting that you are both building something together.
The Death of Trust
Then my partner changed the terms of the deal.
I believe she saw the potential profits of the future and she felt bad sharing it with me when she had done more heavy lifting to build the business. Now I don’t deny that she was doing more work. However, a lot of the work she was doing was related to other things she was interested in and she was being paid all the revenue of the business to account for the difference.
Anyway, it was that loss of trust that caused her to change things.
I went along because I saw her side of things, but then I realized that she was able to change everything because she had a greater ownership on the customers and the cashflow.
Then I lost trust in her and her intentions and my ownership over the business. Once trust was gone, the business came to an end. In the beginning I trusted that our agreement would hold. That’s why I worked for free and was burning myself out doing the non paying background work needed for this kind of a venture.
The great lesson is that you must have absolute trust in your partners.
My failing was that I had trust, but I had nothing locked down in writing or legally. Trust in business can only really be trusted when it’s enforceable.
So my lesson is not to blindly trust. You can’t work with people you don’t trust. Work only with people you trust and make an official legal partnership.
Lesson learned and we try again – this time I think I can do it on my own with the help of the only person I trust completely, my wife.
2. The Customer Absolutely IS King
Not really a new lesson – all my studies previous to this venture said you don’t have a business without customers. You must focus on your customers if you want to have a business that will work.
We took that approach and that’s why our little business model seemed to be working. (My ex-partner is probably still successfully working it.)
My problem was that I left the actual acquisition of customers to my partner. So my partner had ownership over the customers and ownership over the cashflow. That actually meant I had very little ownership over anything. Even though I was the expert in the field. Even though I was taking responsibility over hiring and managing staff (See my previous post), she still had the most important part of the business.
Further to that, without working to find the customers and win them over and service them directly, the actually drive of the business was out of my hands.
When it comes to being a business owner, it’s not enough to be the ideas man behind the scenes. To have that innovative drive you need to feel ownership of your customers and their problem and their needs.
In business the customer is king. If you’re not the person directly responsible for the customers and fixing their problems, then you probably should just be an employee.
3. Enthusiasm is Good, but You Must Have the Knowledge
Before starting the business I had been studying business. It was part of the literature I was reading towards learning all about success and financial freedom.
So I knew the basics: you need a business plan. I wrote a business plan. As we learned and got going, I realized we needed a map as well. So I wrote up a map of what we had done and the steps we needed to take to build.
My partner then started a course in business and I was regularly reading and studying about the specific things we needed one after the other as they became apparent to us.
So we had some knowledge and I think it was this knowledge that had us on the right track. But at the end of the day a theoretic understanding doesn’t really prepare you for the business. Business is about overcoming problems – not just applying tactics and formulas.
Moreover, as we were both new to the whole game, we didn’t have the language to really communicate and build a business. We didn’t have the shared language of balance sheets and P&L statements and all the rest.
To communicate and work together, or even to work with other businesses and to seek out investors, you need to know the language and understand how business works.
Going forward, I’m taking a lot of lessons with me. The first lesson is that enthusiasm is truly important. You need the passion and the vision to go ahead and build something worthwhile.
So, I’m working to build something I’m proud of and working with people whose problem I want to solve and who I want to service. I’m also building on the plan, the map, the model that I know works and planning so that I’m more ready for that next important step.
However, equally important is the knowledge. I’m diving into the literature of business and learning the fundamentals and the language so that I can have real shot at a business.
A Tough Lesson
I now kind of think that this failure was inevitable. If I set out on this path, I was always going to have this moment. And going forward I’m sure I’m going to get a lot more failures. But it’s not the failure that stops you, it’s the failure to respond to failure that beats you. SO I’m going to power on through and give this another crack in the future.
4. You Have to be Prepared for the Grind
The great thing about business is the inspiration of being your own boss, of being free and the inspiration of building something new and coming up with the material and dreaming of a great new business and how it can be so amazing.
However, the reality is a grind; hard work, frustration and working one day at a time to do the work and build to something workable.
At the beginning, we were inspired. We felt that we had a great plan, we had a good mission, we could help a lot of people and we could make a lot of money doing it. However, then the day-to-day grind wore in.
The big failure of the business, was grinding for a business I didn’t truly own and for customers who weren’t truly mine.
So when you start out you need to be inspired by the dream and have the things in place to keep you inspired through the grind.
Going forward, it’s really important that I do things right so that I have the drive to do the hard work.
For me, if I’m going through the stress of doing the extra work of a side hustle on top of a full time job, then I need to own it and I need to control it. It needs to be my baby and I need to be proud of it. I need to put the customer first and make their needs my first priority.
Going forward, I learned my lessons and I’m ready to overcome this incident so I can call it an experience and not a failure.
Today, far too many people give up after failure. As a teacher I see students give up before even trying. They say, and believe, “I’m not good at this or that”. This stops them from even trying. People tend to have a pre-set idea of what they are good at and they don’t like to take risks.
I used to be the same, I have to admit. However, I was lucky to learn my lesson. Challenge makes us grow. If you try something new, you might fail. But if you learn and keep trying, you will get better. Through challenge and overcoming failure, we become so much stronger. We are then able to achieve the level of success we want.
I don’t know how it will go, but I’m hungry for my successful future and I think it’s worth it to keep trying.
It’ll be hard work and it may mean more failures, but at the end of the day I want to be proud of myself as the kind who goes for the big win and not the type to fold after a little bump in the road.
I also now have a baby on the way and the stakes and payoff is looking so much bigger for me now.
I hope this has helped to inspire those of you who are dreaming of living life on their terms. Never let failure get you down and never stop striving for success.