Why failure is critical to business success

For a CEO that guarantees campaign success for my clients, it’s almost counter-intuitive that I would celebrate failure so enthusiastically, but I genuinely believe that failure helps push boundaries further than immediate success ever could.

What does failure mean in business?

From marketing to promotions and hiring team members, the majority of the plays I make would be considered failures.

For example, while you may drive 100 people to a website, 95 to 99 per cent of those people aren’t going to do what you want them to do. No matter what, they are not going to convert. And out of the one to five per cent that do convert, only 10 to 20 per cent are going to buy.

In our agency, everything we do from a marketing standpoint is designed to ensure we only need a small percentage of people to engage in order for a campaign to be considered a success – because those people are the very best of customers. So, as you can see, there’s a lot of failure built into our success.

And this idea applies in a more general business sense too. I rely on just one out of five of my business plays to come to fruition in order to pay for all the losses and mistakes I make along the way.

Why do we need to fail?

I truly believe that unless you are failing often, you’re being too conservative in your approach and you’ll never hit that home run.

For instance, in the venture capital world, for every 15 startups invested in, it’s expected that 14 of those will fail and only one will do really well. But that one sweet victory makes up for all of the other losses.

So in my business, unless I take those big swings, I’ll make lots of small swings. And while those small swings are considered ‘safe’, they are also only going to make me moderately successful.

However, if I take lots of big swings, statistically speaking, I’ll miss a few of them, but the one I do hit will be a big home run.

I also know that if I am having a run where everything is working, and I’m not failing, then I am not thinking big enough. This usually means that I need to take some time away from the business to think about what I could do to improve it. For instance, if I were to pump steroids into my business and grow it in a super-fast way, what would that look like? Ultimately, if I’m not failing enough along the way then I’m playing things far too safe.

How should we recover from failure and what can we learn?

For me, losing is almost a bigger motivator than winning. I have a big appetite for winning and don’t want to lose, but human beings are far more motivated by loss than we are by gain. So when I make plays and experience failures, it makes me realise that I need to stay hungry, because in business you can fail at any time. There really is no room for complacency and I use that capacity for failure as a major motivational tool and driver every day.

So as you begin planning for 2019, remember to think big, take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, start failing, and start failing often. And when you do, get ready to dust yourself off, get straight back on the horse and use failure as your fuel to try again and again.

Sabri Suby, Founder and Head of Growth, King Kong Digital Marketing

Sabri Suby is a 2018 finalist in CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards in the Young Executive category