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.”
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
failure means you’re trying, and lastly,
it’s the best way to figure out where you’re
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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 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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