The mistakes we made in 2016.

The Mistakes We Made

Its generally about this time of year that our TV's, radios, magazines and newspapers become cluttered with reviews of the year that was. We learn, perhaps ad nauseam about the best of's, the worst of's as well as the lowlights and the highlights of the year that was. Its a nice easy brief for journalists to fill I guess as they start to wind down into the festive season.

Without wanting to emulate this kind of list, I've compiled a pretty blunt, factual list of the mistakes I made in our first year in business: in part for fellow business-owners to identify with and take solace in, in part as our mission to be transparent and honest in every aspect of our business, and in part because we believe mistakes are inextricably intwined to lessons learned and by capitalising on the lesson learnt we're building a better business for our customers, our suppliers, the community and ourselves.

A little bit of background

2016 was a year of unprecedented change for us.

We moved our young family from Perth, Australia to Napier, New Zealand.

I left behind a position in a great company, in an industry I adore (wholesale fitness) that offered career progression, unparalleled support, and a consistent healthy pay cheque dropped into my bank account every Wednesday to reward me for my efforts.

As a family we left behind a home brimming with memories, which we were lucky enough to own outright due to perseverance and sacrifice.

We also left behind great friends and family. Folks you love, know and trust.

We packed all of this in and moved to New Zealand. We wanted to be closer to family here and New Zealand, and we also sought change.

I was lucky enough to pick up a job with an absolute tyrant of a bloke before leaving Perth. The bloke has a lot of shortcomings, and Caro, my wife, says he snores and is terrible at opening those flimsy little plastic tops on a box of UHT milk. He made me work long hours, quite often at tasks I didn't fully comprehend (and still don't). The pay was lousy; in fact it was non-existent. I had become my own boss: a pretty scary thought for a guy who's long-suffering wife still ties his ties. Welcome to business.

To my surprise though the work was really rewarding and I was driven solely by total passion: a passion to make our mark on the world, a genuine burning passion to spread our Live Life Active message to generations of Kiwis. Coupled with a passion and ultimate desire to see our young family succeed and thrive. I don't have any concrete evidence here, but I would imagine this may be the foundations of many business start-ups.

5 Lessons Learnt Through Mistakes in Business in 2016

I learnt a number of lessons along the way in 2016. Some were pretty minor, others major and fairly costly. Most of my lessons came from mistakes I made along the way. Here are our Top 5:

  1. You can't be everything to everyone. 2016 proved this. I tried hard initially to offer products and services covering a number of markets, products that were outside of our scope, to customers that were outside of our key demographic. We've learnt that being a small business means you need to think big, but not lose sight of your capabilities. I got lost there for a bit, trying to please too many people thereby sacrificing efficiency, resources, and ultimately our customers: and this really didn't sit right with me.
  2. Work with what you trust. Our charter here at Active Nation has always been, and will always be to work with what we know, and we trust. To make the grade, product has to be innovative, scientifically-backed, and tested. It has to have a uniqueness about it that 'wows' our customers. We're a small business and we offer something totally unique. We'll leave it to the big boys and girls to battle it out on the more generic products.
  3. Understand your business. Throughout my whole career I have been fortunate enough to be involved in private enterprise; with a focus on sales and management roles. I owned my own business for a few years which was a service based business (personal training) with vastly different opportunities and threats to the business we own today (to give this some perspective we didn't have a website, but we did have a full page Yellow Pages ad). Management of someone else's business is fairly straightforward: firstly, invest the time in learning and understanding the particularities that make that business tick and then invest time and energy into ensuring their continued success, secondly, watch the bottomline like a hawk, and ultimately treat the business as if it were your own. Owning a business is different however to simply managing one, and I never quite understood this. Colin Edwards, CEO of the GPI Group (my former employer with whom we still have an outstanding relationship) has always been a great personal mentor to me. Colin taught me a lot of life's lessons in a way only such an accomplished man can. His sayings are astonishingly prophetic and always refreshingly honest, and always steeped in Colin's unique character and I remember him saying once: "in the first 20 years of business you kiss the banks ass, in the second 20 years; they kiss yours". It was a simple saying but I never quite knew what that truly meant until this year, but it all comes down to understanding your business: its seasonal peaks and troughs, and the almighty cashflow. Active Nation is fortunate to be entirely debt-free, possibly a rarity in modern business, but I can now appreciate that at some stage as we continue to expand we may have to go and kiss the proverbial.
  4. Support local. We have been astounded and completely humbled by the support complete strangers have offered us both personally and as a business this year. As new-comers to New Zealand we arrived without a network, and retrospectively and honestly without a clue about the New Zealand market, New Zealand business, or its opportunities. Local business has supported us though in a big way, and we are so grateful. We in turn choose to support local organisations, charities and events based right here in New Zealand: and I guess in this sense supporting local becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our deepest gratitude to all that have supported us through our launch, we can guarantee we won't disappoint.
  5. Deliver happiness. Perhaps the most poignant lesson is last on our list. I read a life-changing book called Delivering Happiness about 12 months ago. The book is an autobiography about a concept whereby Tony Hsieh dissects business into three main parts: Profits, Passion and Purpose. It will fundamentally change the way you view life and business. Delivering happiness taught me the true value in truly delivering happiness to everyone involved in the business chain: your customers, your staff, your suppliers, your community, and even your competitors. At Active Nation we're not perfect, but we'd rather be imperfect than fake perfection, and we try with all our might to deliver happiness every day, in every way.

Where to in 2017?

2017 is going to be a phenomenal year for all of Active Nation's customers: you're going to be delighted with our scientifically-backed, highly-effective, tried and tested product range, and a part of an organisation that's committed to your total happiness.

We've learnt a number of lessons in 2016 that have made us a stronger business poised to dive into 2017 with knowledge earned the hard way.

We're committed to being honest, and being transparent with our customers, suppliers, and all those that support and interact with us. As such, we're committed to being even more transparent and honest about our successes and our shortcomings in business and in life.

We believe business is primarily about creating an entity that spans beyond the individual, gives back to the community, and creates a legacy for future generations to enjoy.

We thank you profoundly for being a very meaningful part of Active Nation in 2016, and whilst the year is certainly, thankfully, far from over, we can't wait to work with you in a deeper, more meaningful sense in 2017.

Until then have a great safe break, and make some serious memories!

Yours in health,

Sam T.


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