There’s lessons in failure says entrepreneur Paul Carroll

There’s lessons in failure says entrepreneur Paul Carroll

With 25 years’ experience in sales and marketing, Paul Carroll is no stranger to the highs and lows of business. In that time he’s been involved in three start-ups, felt the full brunt of the ups and downs that come with that, and still managed to have fun along the way. This is Paul’s story of how he overcame entrepreneurial burnout and lived to tell the tale.

Bill Gates once said: “success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

When I started my first business in 2001, having moved to Melbourne from Wellington NZ to establish Just Water in Australia, I was confident my previous experience and success meant that the only way was up. Finally, I was in a position to structure a business the way I thought it should be, and the rewards and profits would be all mine – boy was I wrong! Having toiled away for four years, the business was barely alive and I was making below minimum wage, not exactly living the dream.

The decision to leave the business was harder than the decision to start. But thanks to my business partner and mentor, I realised I had lost perspective and continuing wasn’t logical – up until that point my own ego and fear of failure had clouded my judgement. I sold the customer base to our main competitor and returned to the corporate world with my tail between my legs, licking my wounds. I found it difficult to even objectively look at the lessons learned – the business had failed, and I took that very personally.

Yes, I was a recovering entrepreneur, but I took comfort from other stories of those who had failed before finding success. It seemed as though it was almost a right of passage, and in fact I was lucky to put one failure behind me so I could move forward to success.

That success took another few years, but in 2011 my wife and I seized an opportunity to establish our own business.  My Cubby, which designs and builds kids cubby houses, was born out of our own frustration at not being able to find the perfect cubby house for our then two-year-old son. We grew quickly and we’re now the leading online cubby house business in Australia.

Fast-forward to 2015 and another opportunity presented itself to establish the first Australian office of Pure SEO, a digital marketing company based in my native NZ. I was officially back in the world of business ownership, and while I may be a little bruised by my experience, I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.

Top lessons:

  1. Grow fast or go home – we are not in business to just survive and struggle our way along. Having a clear growth plan, including an exit number (if we can’t achieve X by Y we will close the business), is crucial.
  2. Seek advice of mentors – learning from others is key, as many of the problems you’ll face aren’t unique to you. I’m lucky to have surrounded myself with smart people to help guide me – “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
  3. You don’t know it all – be humble and open to new ideas.
  4. Expect to have problems – finding solutions and moving forward is what will set you apart from others, business wasn’t meant to be easy.
  5. I started with a Bill Gates quote, so I’ll end with one: “it’s fine to celebrate success, but it’s more important to heed the lessons of failure.”




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