From quitting cushy jobs to failed start-ups, these business owners tell us how they turned career “mistakes” into opportunities for growth.
Ever made a mistake at work? We’ve all been there, done that – whether it’s missing deadlines, arriving unprepared for an important meeting, or pushing ourselves too hard that we experience burnout. But fret not, it’s totally possible to recover from career mistakes, even major ones. These entrepreneurs in Hong Kong know all about making mistakes, recovering from them, and bouncing back stronger than ever. Here are their stories…
1. Anushka Purohit, 22
CEO of Breer
For me, my biggest career mistake was thinking I was too young to make a difference.
On my tenth birthday, my parents took me to Starbucks for the very first time. While I was waiting for my frappuccino, I watched the barista clearing the shelves of cakes and sandwiches, and dumping them straight into a black rubbish bag. This was also the first time I came face to face with Hong Kong’s food wastage problem, and I remember telling myself I’d try to do something about this when I was older.
In hindsight, I’ve always wondered why I had felt the need to be older to make a difference. I wish I could go back to ten-year-old Anushka and push her to think of ways to solve the problem there and then, because I’ve now come to realise that no step is too small. With Breer, we’ve been able to make a dent in the amount of wastage in Hong Kong. Hopefully, we’re also compelling people to rethink their consumption patterns!
2. Linda Morrison, 35
Founder and Creative Director of MiliMilu
To be honest, I think I’ve made quite a few mistakes throughout my career, but it also depends on what you believe those “mistakes” actually are. They can be the biggest mistakes, sure – but they can also be the biggest learning steps in building your career. I wouldn’t really call them “mistakes”, as I did learn from them and grow from them. I certainly wish I could avoid them, but without them, I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am now.
Some of my main takeaways are to stand up for yourself and your beliefs; to have a good support system; and surround yourself with inspirational people. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was starting my business was trusting and leaning on the wrong people for support and advice. I had come to learn that some people weren’t there to see me grow, but merely for their own benefits and needs.
Also, I underestimated how much work it would be to start a business. As a business owner, one has to wear many hats, carrying roles in marketing and sales, social media, IT, accounts and logistics, operations, and more. Since I came from a full-time job and had just one role, adjusting to my new position was no easy task. This is why I’d advise new startup owners to outsource the skills you don’t have, so that you can focus on business growth and developing your own set of skills.
3. Anastasia Krasavtseva, 37
Founder and CEO of KRSV
To me, KRSV was like a first newborn baby. You’d think you knew what to expect but, in reality, everything was so different and much more complicated.
Here’s my first biggest mistake. My first capsule collection had 16 different styles and, looking back, I think that was a bit too ambitious. While the series looked stunning, I’d start with just eight garments if I had a chance to go back in time. One of the reasons is because I was working with only one professional seamstress, which meant that it took quite a long time to produce the full line. Moreover, due to the large number of pieces, I could only display them on a large rack which was more expensive to rent, resulting in a lot of unexpected expenses!
And of course, there have been other small obstacles on the way, which I bump into from time to time. I do get upset, but I’m also getting stronger and gaining more experience – and this is the beauty of my work. I don’t regret anything; we all make mistakes – and we learn from them. I’m happy to be able to continue fulfilling my dreams and yes, I am ambitious, but KRSV will certainly rock this world one day!
4. Richard Oliver, 49
CEO & Founder of Sustainabl. Planet
If I could give my younger self some advice, it’d be to think twice about becoming a corporate lawyer! I would’ve told myself to “stick to your guns” and work towards the dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur and running my own business.
It all started when I was quite young, at age 12, when I decided I wanted to be “in business” and set out to make things happen. I even wrote letters with (admittedly rather average!) business ideas to Richard Branson and Marks & Spencer.
However, life happened and, having qualified as a lawyer, I spent the first 15 years of my working life in corporate law and not pursuing my ambition of being a successful entrepreneur. After a number of years as a corporate lawyer in the UK, Australia, and Hong Kong, I felt I was stuck in a rut. I wanted to do something which utilised my creative and design side. So, I finally followed my ambition of starting and growing an innovative business – Sustainbl. Planet – aimed at benefitting the Earth. What began as a passion project has quickly grown to become a leading eco-friendly packaging supplier in Hong Kong, with a team of over ten turtle-loving members of staff. We sell what we call “truly” sustainable, planet-positive packaging solutions which are plastic-free, compostable, and recyclable.
If you have dreams of launching your own business but don’t know where to start, I’d advise you to carefully consider the opportunity and, first, test it out with peers and potential customers to see what others think. It’s easy to become blinkered when it comes to your own ideas, so it’s good to have several sounding boards to give any ideas a sense check. And once you have a validated product or service, just take the leap – sooner rather than later!
5. Simran Savlani
The Spark Girl and author of cookbook A Spark of Madness
I wouldn’t call this the biggest mistake of my career as I think there might be still more to come, but one of the biggest mistakes of this year resulted in me being left with more than 150kg of un-set jam.
I’m not a trained chef, nor am I a food writer, so writing a cookbook was a challenge in itself. And since then, it’s been about pivoting and jumping hurdles, but I’ve always looked back at all the moments of chaos as opportunities for growth – whether it was launching Spark Sauces and learning how to run a retail brand, or learning to make chocolates and ensuring it survives delivery in the HK heat! After all these endeavours, I had felt like I was on the right path and I was confident about my results.
That was until this summer, when I decided to expand Spark Store and launch a new product. It’s a unique offering, yet combines the ethos of everything Spark – the perfect balance of sweet, sugar, and salt. And this time, it would incorporate alcohol! Alcoholic Jams, people! The idea was to make jams versatile, so that they can be used as cocktail mixers, bbq marinades, on a cheeseboard, and on scones and toasts. I had learnt to make jams in GCSE Food Tech classes and so, I thought, with some research and experiment, I should be able to get the end result as my past trajectories had proven.
But, this was nothing like it.
Jam-making is a science – it’s not simply throwing things in a pan. Since I’m not a trained chef, you can imagine my despair every time I failed to make jam. Each attempt was either too sweet, not set, too sticky, or just not good enough to be sold. So, I made a focus group of 40 Instagram followers and I got them to try the product without giving them prior information on what it was or what it could be used for. The feedback was encouraging and helpful, and it made me return to the kitchen.
Then, I thought I perfected the recipe and I managed to get the right balance I was seeking. So, I went into production mode – despite not having mastered jam-making! And for some absurd reason, I still went ahead with full gusto. When I finished my production, I opened a jar of jam only to realise that it wasn’t set. It just wasn’t the right texture.
And so there I was, back to square one. I thought I would’ve been ready for a July launch, but instead I just had to calm myself, think clearly, and go back into experimenting without carrying the guilt of the lost jam.
Fortunately, after another seven weeks of jamming, my new product is finally right and I am currently preparing for an August launch! Moral of the story: don’t rush through every adventure; sometimes, some take a lil longer.