If you’re not failing at something, work on harder problems

If you’re not failing at something, work on harder problems

Think of a super successful business person.

I mean it. Think of one.

Got it? Probably a friend or a celebrity? What have they achieved? For me, I’m thinking Elon Musk, Richard Branson and any of the sharky sharks from Shark Tank.

More failure than we could imagine.

The successful person you are thinking of… on the surface, it may seem like everything they touch turns to gold. Like success if their only $%#@ing option. Failure’s not. We nearly always focus on their success, which can be motivational and inspiring, but no matter who they are, I promise they have also failed along the way. More failure than we could imagine.

Successful people (except politicians) are usually the first to embrace failure in a positive way (eg. Elon, Baxter, Branson, Corcoran). The problem is, we barely talk about failure, when there’s many benefits to doing so.

Is Facebook hiding failure and leading to your unhappiness?

Here’s the thing with Facebook. People treat it more like a SuccessBook instead of SuccessAndFailureBook.  The ratio of Success:Failure is way out of touch with reality. We barely embrace failure on Facebook. All this positive talk may seem fine on the surface, but it’s leading to depression in some people, particularly Gen Y (awesome article by they way).

My Finest 5 Failures

I can’t write an article about embracing failure without embracing failure myself, so here we go. Here’s my finest 5 failures.

FAIL 1: I lost ~$500k because I tried to cheat Google.

failureIt was a Saturday afternoon, sipping a frosty cold beer. I had a few hours to spare on my hobby business: a car insurance comparison website. I wanted to improve its ranking on Google. What I did next killed off 95% of the value of the business within 12 months. I tried to cheat Google by linking to the site too often with exact match keywords, from sites that weren’t relevant.

Lesson: Write good content
BORING, blah blah blah blah. I know what you’re thinking. Richard, I’ve heard this one before. But what’s the real secret? The secret is that there really is no secret. Write new, shareable content each week. It’s hard, I know. It takes time. Don’t just write blog posts. Write content that will remain as a permanent part of your website. Update the most important content regularly. Update the home page every week.

Lesson: Getting links is HARD
Hard is good because it’s also hard for your competition. The easiest way to get links is to get involved in the real world. Go to all the events and speak to as many people as possible. Find a way to help each other out with the goal of scoring a link. Make friends in your industry so they want to link to you.

Lesson: Hiring a great SEO agency is harder than learning to do it yourself
It’s not that hard to learn to do SEO yourself. I believe every business owner should at least understand the basics. If you insist on hiring an agency, use this checklist that I came up with while working for car rental website, VroomVroomVroom.

  • Ask for 3 existing clients and interview them
  • Ask existing clients if they are happy with their SEO work, who is their contact, what they cost and would they use them again
  • Analyse existing clients’ content and/or onsite recommendations
  • Analyse existing link building for clients
  • Have them do Sample link (even if at cost to us)
  • Have them do sample content (even if at cost to us)
  • Will they be available 24/5 on Skype?
  • Will they join our SEO hangout once a week for 1 hour?


FAIL 2: I tried to start 2 businesses at the same time

failure20 years old. Uni. Working part time. I spent 2 years of my life trying to build a computer repair business and an ocean wave generator. They both failed. 100’s of hours of work.

Lesson: It’s not about the idea
I used to believe in poor logic: “the better the idea, the more likely it’ll succeed”. So I figured, the more ideas I have, the more likely one of them will work, right? Wrong. I’ve since learned that it’s not about the idea. It’s about execution. A poor idea executed greatly will be worth far more than a great idea executed poorly. Is my current lawn mowing startup, GreenSocks a great idea or is it being well executed? I’m hoping both, but time will tell.

Lesson: The worst enemy of a great idea is a different great idea
Now learning that execution is everything, I realised that executing two different things at the same time will mean that they both suffer. I learned to focus all my ideas into one bigger idea. If you suffer from the Entrepreneurs Curse of having “too many ideas”, try focus those new ideas to help one bigger idea. Throw away other ideas in a safe / book / filing cabinet for later.


FAIL 3: I blew up twitter. Not in a good way.

failure - Batman-Bomb-77710I learned from fail number 523 that I was talking too much on Twitter. You’ve also probably noticed too much talk, not enough listen. So I started listening and then responding to people one on one. This worked great and still works really well. However it didn’t happen without a spectacular fail.

Back in the 20noughties sometime, I found a bot that automatically responded to anyone, saying “I need a holiday“. My response was to them was “Hey, how about a road trip as a holiday? You can rent a car here“. I thought I was being helpful. In reality people that tweet “I need a holiday” actually had a horrible day. I woke up in the morning to a plethora of abuse. I deserved it.

Lesson: Treat twitter like you’re at a dinner party. Not a spruiking carnie.
At a dinner party, you listen to what people are talking about, then chime in with your input in context. Sometimes opening new conversations or transitioning into new conversation.

Lesson: The lazy way is ready for epic failure


FAIL 4: I thought I knew best when it came to Conversion Rate Optimisation

When I worked at VroomVroomVroom, this was the main sales message for several years.


Then experimented for a .5% increase.



Confidence building. A 1.43% increase. People really responded to this message. They HATED hidden fees.


At this point, I became overconfident in my ability. I thought “ooooooh. Lets put ALL of the sales messages on at the same time. It’ll be AWESOME!!!!”  What a fail. 1% decline. This equated to several thousand in losses a week. Luckily it was rectified after 2 weeks.


Lesson: The more we say, the less important everything becomes.
With this new realisation, we then went on to say less in all aspects of the business. Including:

  • Less clutter on the home page
  • Shorter emails
  • Text based newsletters with just a few engaging sentences instead of longer newsletters with lots of images and sales

Lesson: Overconfidence can lead to mistakes 
I should have tested “all-in-one” message. My overconfidence was blinding me.


FAIL 5: They said they would come. Nobody came.

Babu Bhat built a new restaurant. He didn’t test to see if people would actually come to his restaurant before building it. I once wasted 1 year of new product development at a cost of around $50k in man hours. Once complete, no one bought it even though they said they would. Waste of money. Waste of time.

Lesson: Test your ability to sell the product before even building the product. 
It’s easy to build a booking form. It’s easy to build a temporary website. It’s easy to buy google ads. This can all be done in one afternoon. You can use this to test how many people want to actually pay for your product, before the product even exists. If you’re worried about reputation, you can simply use a product name different to the one you’ll launch with.

Lesson: Launch with a minimum viable product.
As an example. GreenSocks managed it’s first 650 lawn mows from a simple Google Spreadsheet as a backend before going live with a custom CRM product.


Final Message

Failure is real, it’s normal and it’s healthy to talk about it. After all…




  1. Jason

    Just wondering how many jobs do you get in Melbourne…and can we get other mowers numbers to chat about greensocks

    • Andrea Martins

      Hi Jason, Thanks for your message. We have your email from this comment so Melisa will be happy to email you on Monday for your number so she can give you a call and answer your questions. Have a great weekend! 🙂


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