Yes, he is a friend. And, no, this would not ordinarily seem a kind thing to say. But Richard was referring to a little story I had told him about how I first met my business partner, Melissa.
See, back in the day, I had a company that distributed large format digital printing supplies: all the raw materials that go into making billboards and bus graphics and the like. I was 23 years old; 95% of my business was to a single customer -- who, by the way, also owned 80% of my company. When his company went bust, so did mine.
I immediately jumped back in the fire, this time with an Internet education company. We wrote books, produced a series of videos, and traveled around the country on a bus tour to teach kids and parents how to use the Internet in a fun, safe and educational way. Our content was great. Our show was a hit. We got on CNN and in Entrepreneur magazine. But we had no business model at all, and shut the doors in late 2001.
For the next five or six years, I licked my wounds and collected a paycheck. I didn't want to be in charge. I didn't want to be responsible for whether or not someone else's family got to eat dinner that night. I just wanted to go to work, do my job, make a little money, and sleep at night.
Then one day I happened to attend a talk by the new CEO of a local company. Melissa was addressing the Women in Technology group at a luncheon. There were around 20 of us, seated in a big square, and she started by going around the room and asking for everyone's 10-second bio.
"I'm Kaila," I said. "I've started two companies and they both went under."
Melissa's reaction was immediate and uncompromising: "You need to start another company immediately, before you're too scared to go back and before you forget everything you learned. You'll make mistakes, but at least you won't make those mistakes. And call me for a cup of coffee."
I will forever be grateful to her for that flash-of-light, catalyst moment. We are now business partners in one company. She is on the advisory board of another company of mine. She'll be a bridesmaid at my New Zealand (as opposed to the one I just held in the States) wedding. And this profound and rich relationship came from her ability to see my failure as something to be cherished.
As MySpace struggles under Facebook's relentless onslaught, as Twitter finally prepares to monetize through deals with the godfathers of search, as our online landscape shifts and morphs and transforms, as you make the everyday decisions that affect your business and your customers and your livelihood, I hope you can have the perspective to know that you might not get it right. I hope you then have the perspective to immediately regroup, reassess, and recommit. These three actions turn failure into a launchpad instead of a resting place.
Regroup, reassess, and recommit. Then call me for a cup of coffee. I look forward to hearing about your mistakes.