Unfiltered Live 2019: Falling Forward & Failure in Business

In an age where it’s almost second nature to flaunt our successes on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, it’s easy to forget that running a business (or five or more) also means failing and f%cking up along the way. But failing isn’t just the unglamorous archenemy of success. In fact, failure is just success in progress. After all, it’s in the worst of times that we learn and grow the most..

On Friday the 21st of June, top business leaders and entrepreneurs from all over the world came together at the 4th Unfiltered Live in Auckland to discuss their biggest challenges, and shed some light on how to turn their sh!tshows into worldwide hit-shows.

This Year’s Theme: Fall Forward Auckland

“If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall forward. At least I figure that way I’ll see what I’m about to hit. Fall forward.”

Denzel Washington

The theme of this year’s Unfiltered Live was based on Denzel Washington’s famous speech at the University of Pennsylvania. In it, he talked about three main reasons why we should be taking risks:

  • failure is inevitable, you just need the guts to fail,
  • failure means you’re trying, and lastly,
  • it’s the best way to figure out where you’re going.

Every single speaker on the Unfiltered stage told stories of how they’d failed to epic proportions (one of them almost burned down a barn). But what mattered was that they chose to keep going, to trust their gut, and to fall forward.

Local and international business leaders alike shared three of their biggest failures on the open stage and how they overcame them. If you missed this year’s Unfiltered Live, or are trying to get out of a tough pinch yourself, we’ve categorised everyone’s most epic failures in this recap, so you too can learn from some of the world’s most successful business-people.

Let’s get into it!

Failures in Business

No one wants their business ventures to fail, and no one wants to lose thousands of dollars. Despite that, it quickly became clear that most of the speakers were, at some point in their career, in crushing debt and under overwhelming financial pressure before they finally created the company that stuck the landing.

Unfiltered Live 2019 stage photo
The Unfiltered Live 2019 stage

Gary Hirshberg, Co-Founder & Chairman of Stonyfield Farm, shared a particularly gripping conception story. Remember the burning barn? That was just the tip of the iceberg. The Stonyfield epic involves snowstorms, chicken dung on machinery, late-night conversations with a mother-in-law to borrow money behind his wife’s back, and some truth-concealing to get corporations on board.

The brochure was right – Gary definitely f%cked up so you don’t have to! Particularly when establishing a business, he says to keep these three points in mind:

“Don’t rush the big decisions; trust is great, but get it in writing; and don’t shortcut the homework.”

So, you’ve got a good idea or a good product. Great. But who is it for? Whether you’re B2B or B2C Dr Elizabeth Iorns, Co-Founder & CEO of Science Exchange, reminded us about the importance of knowing your audience. When pitching a product or service, always tailor your message to what your audience is looking for. “Determine objectives and audience perspective – and then prepare.” That, or – according to her cautionary tale – show a group of professional scientists a bunch of spicy memes that don’t get a single giggle.

And if you’re thinking of expanding or developing your business, it’s good to take a step back and really consider that decision before jumping in. Peter Gordon, critically acclaimed NZ-born chef of Maori and Scottish descent, said one of his failures was “believing that development will always be good for your business.” Sometimes, what works, works. You don’t have to chase change. Make sure you make decisions that are right for your business.

Finally, despite all the ways you can avoid catastrophic failure in business, we’ll finish off this section with something from Kevin Roberts, Founder and CEO of Red Rose Consulting, and former Executive Chairman of Saatchie & Saatchie. When you fail – and you will – “Fail fast, learn fast, fix fast.” Kevin, despite all his success, made it a point to remind us that we’re all programmed to avoid failure, but when we do experience it, it’s important to get through it as efficiently as possible.

“Adapt, improvise, overcome.”

Failures with People

Surprisingly enough, many of the failures the speakers shared involved people. That is, they hired or worked with the wrong people. This makes perfect sense, considering your business is only as extraordinary as its people.

Dr. Elizabeth Iorns was the first to admit that they hired executives and partnered with big companies too early. When hiring your top-level employees, trust your gut, and try before you buy. If you hired wrong, then fire fast. When it comes to partnering with companies, make sure you align expectations, and be okay with walking away (but make sure you get paid first).

Pure SEO team at Unfiltered
The Pure SEO Team at Unfiltered Live 2019

On the subject of hires, Sharndre Kushor, 24-year-old Co-Founder of Crimson Education, offered a different sort of advice, blatantly saying that “recruiters are a waste of time.” This isn’t to explicitly say that you shouldn’t use recruiters when you need to, it’s all circumstantial. But according to Shrandre, their top-level employees all came from referrals and networking, which highlights the importance of making and strengthening connections with like-minded people. Basically, you shouldn’t settle for someone who works for you, choose someone who can work with you.

Craig Piggott, Founder & CEO of Halter, reinforced Shrandre’s idea, saying that “talent attracts talent.” Think of all your best hires. Does this apply to you and your team?

We’ll wrap up this section with some strong insights from David Rogier, Co-Founder & CEO of America’s MasterClass. “When I need to hire someone, I’m already six months behind.” If you feel like your company or team is currently understaffed, then this one might hit close to home. We all know the time and effort investment it takes to onboard a new hire, train them up to speed, and then finally getting them to produce the great results that we expect. So, if your company is expanding or anticipating growth, get ahead and hire early!

Personal Failures

Everyone fails, but it’s the personal failures – those that affect not just our businesses, but also our lives- which can make the biggest impact. Mistakes happen due to a lack of foresight, or experience, or a combination of both. But from what we’ve learned at Unfiltered – and this can’t be said enough – it’s how we handle these personal failures that really makes a difference to our business’ bottom line, and our personal lives overall.

We’ll start with Tim Brown’s secret to success as Co-Founder & Co-CEO of sustainable shoe brand Allbirds.

“Be honest with yourself [about] the stuff you’re good at and the stuff you’re not good at.”

Tim found it extremely vital to focus on one thing you want to do – whether that’s playing in professional sports or creating the most comfortable shoes in the world. Figure out where your talent and passion lies, and stick with it. Sometimes, we can get distracted by what we think we should do, or what others think we should do. Focus is key.

The Unfiltered Live 2019 Panel 1: High-Stakes Leadership

To add to that, Roberts then said, “being obsessed isn’t sexy.” But, we can either be obsessed or be average. For our business to succeed, we need to get deeply involved and stay close to the details.

Offering a slightly contrasting but still pertinent piece of wisdom, David Rogier revealed that one of his biggest personal mistakes was equating how well his company was doing with his own self-worth. You and your business don’t need to morph together into one entity. When we’re in the thick of it, it can be so easy to attach our sense of achievement to the company’s success. So, how did he get out of this crippling mindset?

“Pick something that, even if it fails, you’re going to be proud of.”

Finally, we’ll conclude this section with what was perhaps the most personal failure divulged at the event. It was delivered by Taranaki’s very own Gavin Faull, Chairman & President of Swiss-Belhotel International.

“I was flying the world,” he said. At one point, he was spending 80 per cent of his time flying from one country to another, leaving him with minimal time for family. But his three sons, all of whom now work for the brand, corrected this mistake for him.

Most of us have family, whether that’s our partners, children, parents, etc. For many, they are our primary source of support and encouragement. The human journey is not meant to be travelled alone, so don’t tunnel-vision on achieving business success and forget to spend quality time with those who you care about.

“You can’t do it alone. Have a good support network.”

Tim Brown


That’s a wrap on this year’s Unfiltered! We missed out some other insightful talks, including David Bell’s four-part talk on brand revolution, Dan Goldin’s exciting venture as NASA’s Former Administrator, exciting conversations about leadership and athleticism from the panels, and more. No recap could fully do the event justice – you just have to be there next year! Unfiltered Live is definitely not one to miss.

At the end of the day, we were all reminded that we’re never alone in our struggles, and left feeling encouraged to push through whatever mistakes and failures we have to go through.

No matter where your business is at, don’t forget to fall forward!

Did you attend this year’s Unfiltered Live 2019? Then you would have received a copy of Richard Conway’s “How to Get to the Top of Google Search: A Practical SEO Guide”. Make sure to take a selfie with the book mentioning your favourite part, and tag Pure SEO’s social platforms on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to go in the draw for a brand new Google Home Hub!

Rachel Matela

Rachel is a Filipino Kiwi with a passion for the arts. Having graduated with an Arts Degree in English from UoA, she found writing work at PureSEO as a Junior Copywriter and quickly moved on to the role of Editor. In her spare time, she reads Austen and teaches dance classes in the weekend.

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