In the business scene, we often pray for more successes and less failures. However, there is still something to earn from failure, no matter how depressing or unescapable it may be. In this episode, Elizabeth Bachman speaks with Matt Brown about facing your mistakes head-on and recovering from them with profound learnings. He explains the importance of highlighting failures in business conversations and why they must be celebrated as much as successes. Matt also talks about the right time to exit a business and why you should strive to elevate others in whatever you do.
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#Fail And Recover – Learning From Our Mistakes With Matt Brown
Welcome to the show. This is the show where we talk about leadership management challenges, communication challenges, mindsets, and all the things it takes to present yourself so that you can get the results you need. Before we get to our guest, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are strong by taking our free four-minute quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve.
My guest is Matt Brown who is a veteran, founder, and entrepreneur dedicated to aiding entrepreneurs, CEOs, business leaders, and the broader business community in fostering positive change. Matt has founded 14 companies across a span of 25 years, successfully exiting multiple businesses. In the limelight as the host of the globally celebrated Matt Brown Show, Matt has steered over 850 episodes to success. I’m impressed. I don’t have that many, and it’s quite a lot.
He’s recognized for his superpower of asking and getting business leaders to reveal their well-guarded secrets. He has crafted an unmatched network with depth and diversity, hosting a sterling array of guests including billionaires from six continents, New York Times bestselling authors, Navy SEALs, prominent professors, scientists, and a legion of business thought leaders. The show has grown into a repository of high-value content.
He’s a three-time Amazon bestselling author and is also known for his leadership interventions. Through professional speaking masterclasses and personalized coaching sessions, he shares the wealth of knowledge he has accumulated over the years of hands-on experience. All these initiatives stem from a driven desire to usher in a positive change to the business world one startup or one leader at a time. His mission is clear, to facilitate the growth of aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders, steering them towards creating a meaningful impact in the world. This was a very interesting conversation. I know you’ll enjoy it. Onto the interview with Matt Brown.
Matt Brown, I am so happy to have someone awesome like you on the show. Welcome.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Thank you. You have useful advice and you have interviewed so many great people. It’s very exciting. Before I get to my specific questions for you, let me ask you who would be your dream interview. If you were to interview someone who is no longer with us, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?
I’d interview Nelson Mandela. I’m from South Africa originally. The reason why I’d want to interview him and maybe specifically what I’d like to ask him is on the day that he was released after 32 years in prison, why did he choose to influence South Africa in the way that he did? He had a choice not to. He pretty much had groundswell support the day he left prison. Influence is an ethical thing. There is a negative influence and then there is a positive influence, but ultimately, it’s a choice. As business leaders, people, and persons of influence like Nelson was, it’s a choice.
I’d be very curious to know why he chose that because, in Africa, there’s so much corruption and people with corrupt ethics, so to speak. If he hadn’t chosen that, my life would’ve been massively different, and millions of other South Africans too. What he did is he unified South Africa. He was the face of our country internationally. He was the voice of what is possible when it comes to positive influence. That’s what I would ask him.
I’ll be there for that interview. I want to hear that. I wanted to ask you. You talk about so many things and have so much to say about influence. I’ve been curious about a series you’ve done called Secrets of #FAIL. Let’s talk a little bit about the lessons we can learn from failure. I’m curious what made you decide to start this series.
I’m a great believer in this idea of counter-narratives. If there’s a particular narrative that you see in your industry or on social media that you feel isn’t entirely accurate of what is a truism in entrepreneurship, business leadership, public speaking, or what have you, it’s your responsibility to paint the narrative behind the narrative.
In my book, Secrets of Influence, I share a framework called the Counter Narrative Framework. That’s what I was doing with this idea of failure. When you go to LinkedIn, what do you see? You see Elizabeth being super successful and Matt Brown being super successful. Everybody else on social media loves to praise their successes.
As a community of business leaders, we tend to praise success far more than we do failure. In fact, God forbid, anybody fails in public. That’s what I was trying to do with this counter-narrative because failure is a prerequisite to success. The more you fail, the more you learn and the better person you become in terms of influence, your ability to scale your company, or become a speaker and impact your target audience and what have you.
All I did was interview 150 CEOs whose aggregate revenues were over $10 billion about their failures. I was like, “Talk to me about when you lost that business, when you lost millions in revenue, when you had to lay off 250 people, when you spent millions on products that never saw the light of day, or when your partners ripped you off and stole money directly out of the bank accounts.” That’s the true narrative.
As a society, if we can find the courage to talk about our failures more than our successes, then what we’re able to do is positively influence people. For instance, if I failed in business or my business died, there is a massive amount of insight there, lessons there, or stories there. If you have the courage to share those lessons, insights, and stories about your darkest hours, that’s the stuff that people pay attention to. That’s how you get attention. That’s how you ultimately make a difference. I would much rather learn from the mistakes of 150 CEOs than make one decision that forces me to lose my livelihood. That is a narrative worth talking about.
Failure is a conversation we should be celebrating as much as we celebrate our successes, especially for young first-time speakers, entrepreneurs, and things like this. When they enter the business world for the first time as a first-time startup founder, for instance, their whole mindset is that failure is bad. They have been taught. What happens when you lose that NHL game? It’s bad. What if you don’t get an A on your grades? It’s bad. Why? It’s because you won’t go to college. This is what I’m saying. In the real world, failure is necessary. You need fifteen years of failure to become an overnight success. That’s the truth. That’s what I wanted to do with my platform in that series and in the book.You need several years of failure to become an overnight success. Click To Tweet
I’m curious. Of the many that you interviewed, did you have anybody who spoke about being able to talk about failure when it felt like it was too dangerous? I was one of the early women in my business at that point, and I had the feeling that if I failed, then all women failed. I know from many of my friends of color that if God forbid the Black female executive fails, then it’s a failure for everybody. It’s that sort of thing. What are your feelings about that?
It’s probably a very nuanced answer. I don’t think someone felt like it was too dangerous to talk about an experience that they had where it was so traumatic that they weren’t comfortable talking about it.
Too dangerous to ask for help which then led to the crash.
You can talk to me about that.
I’ve done that one too.
There are so many stories like this. This is the idea of market timing. In my previous business, we were doubling revenues every year for three years. By all accounts, we were “successful”, whatever that was. I remember sitting down with my mentor at the time. I said to him, “I have the opportunity to move to America. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I can run a business in another country when I’m not living there. That’s a pretty hard thing to do.” He said, “Sell it.” I’m like, “Why would I sell this business? We’ve been doubling revenues every year for three years. It is global domination.” I was stuck inside the bottle of my own Kool-Aid. I wish I’d listened to his advice then. My pride got in the way.
If you know that you’re the type of entrepreneur that builds and sells, then sell it. If you have a great story, sell it, take the money, and build something else, or buy a business with customers, and don’t take the risk of a startup. Buy a business and scale it. Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to him because eighteen months later, COVID happened and the whole world changed. I couldn’t sell the business and so on and so forth.
I had similar stories repeated to me time and time again. There was an entrepreneur. His name is Peter Shannon. He was in the fracking analytics business for mining. They would work with mining companies to help them understand where sinkholes might appear so that the shafts would collapse or prevent that from happening.
He has the same story. Massive scale, amazing niche, underserved markets, 250 people, en route for an IPO, and then the whole world changed for him too. He missed his opportunity to sell because he was also thinking about how big he could take this IPO. He had a number of PE firms come to him and say, “We’d like to buy you,” and he was like, “No.” He was also stuck on the Kool-Aid train.
You see these types of stories. When you hear them, you think, “Where am I in my business? If I’m doing $10 million a year or doing $1 million EBITDA every year, should I sell now? What could I do with that money?” In these sorts of stories, it’s all about perspective. If you are wealthy in perspective, you can always generate wealth. If you are poor in perspective, you will always remain relatively poor. These stories help, certainly and I hope so. I know that many of my audience believe this to be true. It’s all about giving you a perspective on what your own journey is so that you can make more informed decisions.
That’s fascinating. My next question was about how you know when it’s time to cut your losses. What about all those people who depend on you?
There are two things on when to quit your business. I was interviewing Steve Blank. He wrote the Lean Startup Method and a number of others. He is seen as a true influence in the startup space, like how you build and scale a company. When I was interviewing him about his book, it was all about pivoting the startup’s technology towards the problem so that you can scale and you don’t build something that nobody wants or uses.
I said to him, “What happens when you’re passionate about one problem but now the market doesn’t want that problem or you can’t commercialize that problem so you start pivoting? You move away from the dream that you had for yourself and your business towards a problem that you don’t care about. You do start scaling and start raising money but it’s not a business that you love. Do you stay there or do you quit?” That’s the question. When do you know when to quit?
I’d rather have a smaller business that I love than a business that scales that I hate. That’s what my previous business was. There was a gap in the market, but there was also a market in the gap. We built this amazing operating model and we scaled, but it was leads. I hated the lead gen business. It’s a terrible business to own to earn, but it was successful.
To answer your question specifically, there are two things here. One is the vision. Are you in love with the vision of your company? The second thing is, is your business making money? If you’re in love with the vision and the business is making money, that’s the dream. If you are in love with the vision and it’s not making money, then you have to fix the business problem. However, when you quit is when you are no longer in love with the vision for that company and it’s no longer making money because then, you are the one that needs to pull it out of the fire. Unfortunately, if you’re not in love with the thing, the vision of this company, or the impact that you want to make, then it’s probably time to quit.
The other one to consider is when there are no new answers to new questions in your business. In other words, if you’re working 9:00 to 5:00 in South Africa as a business and you can’t commercialize there, or what if you worked 5:00 PM to 5:00 AM as operating hours and you serve the US and Asian markets? It’s when you keep asking more difficult questions. You’re like, “What if?” You keep asking new questions. When you get to a point where there are no answers or new things to try, then that’s also probably a time to quit.
The opera company that I founded filled a niche, and then the market changed. It took me a year of thinking about it and then six months of working with a consultant to finally say, “We’re done. We need to be done.” She was the woman who helped me start the company. She helped me turn myself from a performer into a producer. How do I run a company? She’s the one who taught me how to do that. She said, “I knew that’s what was going to happen. I knew you weren’t ready.” It took six months of her talking me through it for me to realize, “There is no answer that works. The market has changed. It’s time to let it go.” I relate to that.
I’m glad that it wound up opening other doors for me, but also, to anybody who is in this position, allow yourself to grieve. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of the dream. There will be something else, but it’s a loss. You talk about the role of failure in corporate growth and how it is a stepping stone. I don’t know if people get taught this nowadays. I hope they do. Are there ways that we can learn less painfully or do we have to live through the pain?
There are no shortcuts, unfortunately. My wife always calls me Shortcut Matt because I’m looking at how to go further faster. There are no shortcuts when it comes to failure. To your point, when a business dies, it’s a big thing. It’s traumatic having to sit with 55 people who represented 55 families during COVID and say, “You guys are no longer going to get a paycheck.” I didn’t outsource that to my COO or any of that. I did that because that was the right thing to do. The right thing is always the right thing.
That whole period as this business was going through this tough time was about grief. At the same time, weirdly enough, my mother passed away, so there is this double hitter of personal grief and then grief in a business sense. Grief is a funny emotion. It’s not happiness, sadness, or anger. It’s a different thing. It comes in waves. Many people aren’t prepared or aren’t equipped to manage emotions like grief effectively. In the business sense, what do you do? The biggest cure for grief is time.
When that business eventually died, I was taking a lot of crap on social media from people who didn’t understand what was going on. It was this melting pot of pressure, grief, anger, sadness, and frustration but also a lot of empathy. You have to be empathetic with yourself, firstly, to say, “I’ve lost companies before. We also sold companies.” When a business dies, it’s not you. It’s just the business.
I sold my first one when I was 26, so I thought I could walk on water. The next one then died, and I thought that I was a failure. I thought that I should be taking my grief out on myself. That wasn’t the right thing to do. The right thing to do was to recognize that businesses die every day. Ninety-nine of businesses don’t survive past four years. That’s the truth.
When you learn to separate your identity from the events itself, it gives you bandwidth that you can then use to create momentum for the next venture that you want to create. When you reflect on that traumatic event of a business dying, that’s when you start to recognize, “What should I have done? I should have sold it two years earlier. I shouldn’t have built technology products or tried to take a services business and convert that to a technology platform business. I should have hired more effective senior management people.” When you process these things through your grief and sit in it, then with time, you are able to recognize what you will now do moving forward so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes.When you learn to separate your identity from whatever is happening in your business, it gives you bandwidth that you can use to create your next venture. Click To Tweet
How can you surround yourself with people who will help you recognize when you’re heading towards a mistake?
It’s mentorship. Nobody is an island. We all need help. Everybody needs help. What gets in the way though is our pride. We feel like, “If I asked you for help with the speaking thing,” the pride thing will be like, “Elizabeth will think less of me because I asked her for help.” We see this all the time, especially with youngsters. Nobody wants to ask for help because they feel like they can do it on their own.
You should be able to do it on your own. That lesson gets brought in somewhere.
With my business, all I’m doing in this first month of 2024 is looking for partners who can help me do things better than I can do on my own. I suppose it’s the principle of surrounding yourself with people who are more intelligent than you are. Don’t be the least smartest person in the room. It is all about asking for help and recognizing that people know what you don’t know. They see what you don’t see.
It’s the analogy of being stuck inside the bottle of your own business so you can’t read the label. A mentor will go, “I’ve been here before. In fact, I’ve been here many times. Trust me when I tell you that you should sell. You should listen and heed that advice.” If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. Especially surrounding yourself with partners like mentors, advisors, strategic partners, resellers, digital advertising agencies, or whatever that means for you, pull the trigger on that because it can help you to build a better business faster than you could on your own.
In a corporate culture, it’s about finding your allies within the company and finding your allies outside the company. Many of the people I work with, many of my clients, are networking laterally if you will. People are at the same level, but they’re afraid to get someone who’s more experienced. I always think, “Ask someone for their advice for twenty minutes. Everyone has twenty minutes. See if you can get advice and then listen to it. Do something with it. Keep track.” Some of us, myself included, might need to hear it more than once. Ultimately, it is taking the time to stop and think about that.
It’s what they say. If you want to go fast, go learn. If you want to go far, go together. I suppose it’s this poverty mindset in corporate that there’s not enough to go around. You’re all racing against each other to get a bigger share of the bonus pool. You can genuinely go so much further as a career, to your point, if you know who your allies are and you work together to solve problems for each other. For me, it’s all about this abundance mindset. There’s so much more to go around.
There’s another crazy one. My last book was Secrets of Influence. This lady books a meeting with me under the banner of a sales call. When she arrived, she started asking me all those questions about how I came up with the name of the book, Secrets of Influence. I’m like, “My superpower is unlocking secrets from business leaders, so Secrets of Influence. I’m an influencer,” but it didn’t feel right.
Eventually, she pipes up and goes, “I’m not going to sue you, but I own the trademark Secrets of Influence.” I’m like, “What?” She goes, “Yes,” and then she says, “You can’t trademark a book name.” I’m like, “Why are you here?” I said, “Where are you based?” She goes, “I’m in Canada.” I’m like, “I’m in America. We’re not even in the same country. We are not selling the same thing. Trademarks are about protecting who delivers specific services. What are you doing here? I don’t understand. Why are you trying to threaten me?”
It was a sad thing to experience because I’m not about stealing someone’s future meal. I’m here to elevate others. I’m here to partner and work together to build a better world, better society, better businesses, and what have you. That’s always been my MO. Yet, here is someone who clearly felt that I was a threat to her because of a book that I wrote. You can’t trademark the name of a book. That’s what I mean.
What she could have said was, “I bought a copy of your book,” or, “I love the concept behind your book. I’ve been following your show. How can we partner together? Clearly, you have a big audience. I’m offering corporate-whatever services. I’d love to partner with you,” and not even raise the trademark thing. Why do you feel like there’s not enough to go around?
That’s what I mean by this poverty mindset where if you think that there’s not enough, there’s always not going to be enough. If you think and believe that there’s an abundance mindset, there’s always more to go around, and there’s enough to go around for everyone, you’ll start making better choices. That’s what our ultimate power is, whether you’re sitting in corporate as a senior manager, you’re a CEO of a big listed company, or you’re a startup founder. It’s all about that mindset. If you shift your mindset, you’ll start making better decisions. You’ll find strategic partners in that corporate ladder. You’ll become a better person of influence. That’s what’s important today.
I love that. That’s a very exciting way to think of it. Why does it matter to be a person of influence?
It matters because influence is all about elevating others before yourself. When I ask ten CEOs what’s influence, I get ten different answers. Most people, when you say the word influencer, they try to commoditize the idea of influence in influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is about self-enrichment. If I have a million followers and you pay me $5,000 or $10,000 to promote your product that I don’t care about or don’t use, that is a pretty poor form of influence. When you think about Nelson Mandela or Elon Musk, what are they doing? They’re elevating society, Elon through SpaceX, Oprah Winfrey through her shows, and Nelson Mandela through the political sphere. All the great true influences in the world always elevated others. That was their focus.
For The Matt Brown show, I have been running it for 10 years and have over 850 interviews. The why of the show was always about contribution. How can I help entrepreneurs succeed through information sharing at scale? Meaning, how can I influence them and elevate others before enriching myself? That’s why influence matters. The whole world has problems. Especially if you are in a position of power or influence, if you wield that in a positive way, you can truly change the lives of people. We all need some help along the way.
I love that. Thank you. That’s a great way to wrap it up. Let me ask you. If someone is saying, “I want to know all of this,” rather than checking out 850 episodes of the podcast, can you give us one tip that someone could do as soon as they hear this?
Plato said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If a man does not learn to cultivate and activate his own influence, he’ll eventually be ruled by lesser men.” The thing that I’d like to challenge people on or maybe get them to consider is to start doing something about it. Oftentimes, we’re sitting on the sidelines because we have this fear of judgment or we feel like we’re not good enough. Maybe we feel like we’re suffering from imposter syndrome or whatever it is. We need to get over that, whatever that narrative is. Get over that narrative. Work with an abundance mindset and choose to solve a real problem for someone. Be kind.
Speak up on someone’s behalf.
Start elevating others whichever way you choose, whether that’s picking up the phone and going, “Elizabeth, how are things going? I haven’t spoken to you in six months. What’s up?” or whatever it is. You don’t have to move a mountain. You need to start. Start moving small stones and eventually, that mountain will move itself.Start elevating others in whichever way you choose. Just start moving small stones and the mountain will eventually move itself. Click To Tweet
I love that. Matt Brown, thank you so very much for joining us on the show. There are many ways you can find us. If you enjoyed this conversation, please tell your friends, subscribe to us on whatever app you’re tuning in, and especially leave us a good review on Apple Podcasts. That’s the one that gets us good rankings so that more people can hear great guests like Matt Brown. This has been Speakers Who Get Results. I’ll see you on the next one.
- Matt Brown
- Matt Brown Show
- Secrets of Influence
- MBS406 – Steve Blank The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company
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About Matt Brown
Matt Brown is a veteran founder and entrepreneur zealously dedicated to aiding, entrepreneurs, CEOs, business leaders and the broader business community in fostering positive change. Matt is a veteran founder of 14 companies across a span of 25 years, successfully exiting multiple businesses.
In the limelight as the host of the globally celebrated Matt Brown Show, Matt has steered over 850 episodes to success, making it a powerhouse of insights with millions of downloads. Recognized for his superpower of compelling business leaders to reveal their well-guarded secrets, he has crafted a network unmatched in depth and diversity, hosting a sterling array of guests including billionaires from six continents, New York Times best-selling authors, navy seals, prominent professors, scientists, and a legion of business thought leaders. The show has now grown into a repository of high-value content, syndicated on platforms like Amazon Prime and the Roku Streaming TV Network.