The Best Mistakes I've Made: Tony Marsh on learning failure

Idealog has partnered with Callaghan Innovation to take a look at the nature of failure in business – the good, the bad and the unintentionally educational. So we’re asking Kiwi high-fliers and heavy-hitters about what failure means to them, what they’ve learned, and what ‘mistakes’ they’re most proud of. This week: Tony Marsh, personal trainer and founder of fitness app I.AM.

Entering into the business world after an international sporting career and at 43 years old was never going to be easy, I just never realised quite how difficult it was going to be. Do your homework, work hard, execute the plan and it’ll be fine, right? Wrong!

Involved in the fitness industry at various levels for twenty years, I identified what I believed to be a gap in the market. The problem, in my view, was twofold; firstly, people were failing to connect with the right fitness expert to stay motivated and engaged with health, and secondly, smaller fitness businesses and professionals were unable to promote themselves to a wider market in a simple and cost effective way.

Enter I.AM, the fitness app designed to change that way that Kiwis do fit. The concept of connecting people with fitness experts and training buddies was a winner and easy to get across the try line.

After researching the market and establishing that there was nothing in this space, I set the wheels in motion. Business plan and strategy complete, it was a race against the clock to be first to market in an industry evolving at high speed.

With little experience, a lack of guidance and advice from the right people, and fueled by tons of energy and passion to get it done, I made a series of decisions that, in hindsight, I’ve learned the hard way from.

Committing to employing personnel for a certain time frame when I wasn’t sure what work I could complete myself or was required in the early launch phase, poor financial forecasting, app failings around functionality and scope were just some of my shortcomings.

They say that it always takes twice the time and budget to implement the game plan – and that’s with the requisite experience. I certainly complicated the process and in doing so it has been both drawn out and more expensive than it ever should have been.

Yet my failings – or learnings as I prefer to call them, have been invaluable and next time round I know the price won’t be quite so high. For those just starting out, as I was with I.AM, I’m only too happy to share some of what I’ve learned:

  • Be passionate
  • Have a clear strategy from the outset but stay open minded
  • Surround yourself with the right people
  • Communicate and get feedback - good, bad and in between. In fact I found the bad, to be the most useful!
  • Get involved in all aspects of the business; the more you know the better
  • Don’t spend money on what doesn’t matter
  • Don’t expect hired people to be as devoted as you are

I have relied on my networks from both within and outside the sporting industry to guide me between the touchlines as a number of mistakes could have easily thrown I.AM off course. With the app now live and with over 1000 users onboard, I’m proud to say that what started as an idea is now a reality… with a hell of a lot more work still to do.