In a world driven by images of success, not a lot of people want to show their failures. But as businesspeople, we have to look behind the veil. Everyone has a failure that, in many ways, helped get them to where they are today.
When I joined my family’s business Ricoma as COO in 2015, it was clear that our website needed a major revamping. Only a couple of months into the job, I decided to take on the project, even though I knew little about website design, or even the kind of content needed to make an impression.
We ended up spending $6,000 to get halfway through the project before I realized how much involvement was really needed. I had hoped to outsource the project and move on to my other duties as COO, but communication issues with both the developer and designer put that notion to rest. I ended up unhappy and stressed, while my family’s company ended up with a half-built website. All we could do was scrap the entire project, write off our investment, and start an internal marketing department from scratch.
There’s a lot to be learned from these failures. Our website revamp fiasco gave me a much-needed wake-up call to focus on processes more conducive to my time and skill set. Failing gave me real-world experience and taught me a lesson that I could never have learned in a classroom.
Looking back, wishful thinking was my biggest mistake. If only there’d been more mentors to tell me what to avoid, and how not to do something.
Thankfully, my father, who was then CEO, was understanding. He knew that any successful business was going to have problems, and that communication was key. As the saying goes, it’s the wise man who learns from the mistakes of others. I’ve come to believe that if your business doesn’t have problems, it probably isn’t growing — in more ways than one.
As CEO, I’ve made sure that my teams communicate their failures not only with one another, but with employees and customers, as well. We all understand that nothing is ever perfect. Yes, we celebrate the wins, but we also take every failure as an opportunity to learn and do better. Often, a failure directs us to something we didn’t know that we didn’t know. If you want to succeed in business, you cannot waste an opportunity to learn.
After we host a conference or trade show, for example, our team gets together for a post-show meeting. In these events, there are so many moving parts that, to some extent, something almost always goes awry. You can have a perfect plan in place, but it will not always go 100% according to plan 100% of the time. Conducting an analysis afterwards, no matter how big or small the failure may be, is essential to continue learning and figuring out how to do better next time.
I was fortunate to come into a family business. I have a great relationship with my father, and we always felt very comfortable sharing our failures, but working with family can be tough when it comes time to separate your professional life from your personal one. After all, no one wants to be the black sheep or the one who tried something new only to let everyone down. Whether it’s a product launch or an oversight of a long-simmering issue, we always come back to what we can do in the wake of failure .
In other words, overcoming failure is not avoiding failure; it’s learning how to react. A failure may seem overwhelming at first — especially a persistent one — but there are so many resources these days that allow us to learn from those who have been through the same experience. If you think no one has recovered from what you’re going through, just run a search on Google or Quora.
Yes, the solution may take time, money, and resources, which for small business owners are always in short supply. However, if you keep a clear mindset in your approach to problems, you’ll find that a solution will always present itself.
Henry Ma is CEO of Ricoma, Inc. Ma began his career at Goldman Sachs and joined Ricoma in 2015. He grew into the CEO role after helping the company quintuple its revenue in five years as COO. Featured in major industry publications, Ma continuously strives to be a thought leader in entrepreneurship and digital marketing.