The Gift of Failure: What I Learnt From Taking a Wrong Turn

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Failure is inevitable. Use it.

Anyone who tells you that business is all smooth sailing is either lying or in denial. Like anything in life, business comes with its ups and downs. Taking a wrong turn is inevitable. There will be roadblocks and wrong decisions peppered throughout your journey, but each is there to steer you back on the right track. Failure isn’t only inevitable, but essential, for our growth as founders and can actually help us realign with our purpose; our “why”.

For me, this moment came four years into my rapidly scaling aged and disability care service. I launched Afea Care Services at just 24 years old with a very clear purpose to redefine the experiences of people who are ageing or have a lifetime disability.

If your business isn’t changing and adapting, there is no room for growth.

Working as a carer in a local nursing home, I had my “aha” moment when I realised that many of the residents weren’t aware of their options. Many were in good-enough health and could have remained in the comfort and familiarity of their home, with a carer coming to visit a few times throughout the day. I wanted to create something to ensure these services were delivered with love, and that emphasised personalisation. I wanted to make sure our most vulnerable had not only their physical support needs met, but could make a connection with their carers through shared interests and culture. Sometimes a carer will be the only point of contact someone has in a day or week. In the first two years, my idea grew from a one-man band to a team of eight carers, more than doubling again in the next couple of years.

I was relying heavily on my gut instincts when it came to making business decisions and after four years of rapid growth, I decided it was time to consider franchising. It seemed to me that franchising the business was the best way to scale and reach greater numbers of the community. It wasn’t until I’d made a significant financial and time investment, and engaged the best franchise lawyers I could find, that I realised franchising wasn’t the answer for Afea. I had taken a huge calculated risk and was watching my plans fail dismally before my eyes. We weren’t structurally ready to franchise and the process had distracted me fiercely from my purpose and what Afea stood for. It was difficult at the time to accept, but, like all failures, it proved invaluable as a learning curve, enabling us to grow and become stronger in our foundations.

When you’re looking at replicating your business model, it forces you to become 100 per cent clear on every step, process, system and policy in place. I went back to square one to develop a comprehensive quality management system, process mapping and documenting every stage of our workflow, which later proved critical to securing our status as an Approved Services Provider under the National Disability Insurance Scheme and My Aged Care.

Esha Oberoi, founder and CEO of Afea Care Services

There are lessons and benefits in every failure and, as business founders, we need to recognise that if something isn’t going to plan or is turning out differently to what we expected, there is a reason and we can still leverage from the failure. We just need to be patient and allow what is not so obvious to surface as an opportunity. So many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs have tasted failure before soaring to great heights. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company; Sir James Dyson spent 15 years and all of his savings developing more than five thousand failed prototypes before successfully developing a bagless vacuum. It’s not how we fall, but how we pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off, and look for the next constructive change. If your business isn’t changing and adapting, there is no room for growth.

For us, the challenges didn’t end there! We were hit with the largest industry reforms since Medicare when the NDIS and My Aged Care were introduced. It forced us to re-engineer every function of the business – working 70+ hour weeks to adapt the business and transition our whole business.

Change in business is the only thing you can count on! My advice to anyone who has taken a wrong turn, whether your business idea didn’t pan out the way you thought, or your industry faced disruption, is this:

1. Use every opportunity, including when you fail

If there is something that has not gone to plan and you busted on the execution, recheck the result and see if you can find something from the failure that you can leverage, so the events aren’t completely wasteful for the business.

2. Practise mindfulness and meditation

To better prepare for challenges, daily practices like mindfulness and meditation can help you have a more balanced response. I find that meditating and finding that space for my thoughts and emotions to surface on a regular basis has allowed me to respond in a calmer state and from a neutral, balanced perspective.

3. Go back to your “why”

If you need to start over as I did, focus on the problem you’re trying to solve, not the method to solve it. If you can focus on the why – the reason you’re in business and the positive impact you want to have through your business – you can be open to different approaches to solve the problem. If one approach isn’t working, be ready to pivot and solve your customer’s needs.

About the author

Esha Oberoi is the founder and CEO of Afea Care Services, which empowers people to live their best life and continue living in the comfort of their own homes. Servicing on average 500 aged and disability care clients each week, Afea is at the forefront of best practice in health, ongoing innovation and a truly customer-centric experience.

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