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3 Things I Learned from Failure with Rob Hull, Founder of Adaptive Insights

“I’ve got a quirky sense of humor. I’m an eternal optimist, always looking for the good and the happy."

What is your elevator speech on your professional career: who are you, what have you done and how does that translate into value for your customers?

“I’m an analytically-minded company builder with a passion for creating solutions that truly enhance the lives of customers within an environment that employees love. I’m good at balancing operational efficiency with a ‘get it done’ mentality.

“I was frustrated with the software available to manage my business, so we took advantage of a gap in the market to transform how companies plan and manage their business.

“Regarding our value to customers, I’ve lived their challenges. I understand their needs, and I translate that knowledge into the products and services that we offer. My passion for doing the right thing for customers helps to create strong customer satisfaction and loyalty.”

Let’s show everyone you’re a normal human being. What’s your personality, hobbies, favorite places to visit, pet peeve? Tell us about YOU.

“Love to work hard and play hard (always trying to find the right balance). Love the outdoors, especially the mountains (hiking, backpacking, skiing, golf). Love to spend time with my wife and my two awesome, college-age kids.

“I’ve got a quirky sense of humor. I’m an eternal optimist, always looking for the good and the happy.

“Recent vacation trips include: New Zealand, Italy, California Sierras – beautiful mountains, with family and friends.

“Not a lot of things irritate me. I’m generally easy going and I try to see both sides of every conflict. But there are times when I take a contrarian point of view as there’s something exciting and challenging about trying to see things in a way that others don’t.

“I love Mexican food and anything spicy—and margaritas.

“I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned, hoping something I say might make things just a little simpler for the next entrepreneur. “

What are your “3 Lessons I L from My Most Memorable Failure”?

“My most memorable failure (more like a series of failures) was the year I unsuccessfully spent trying to raise our second round of financing, while still building the company. I knocked on the door of many, many VC firms before finally connecting with an investor who truly understood our story. We ultimately went on to raise over $175 million and built an industry-leading company.

“The three lessons are:

1. Learn from your failure. Don’t fixate on the failure; instead focus on how to get better. Evaluate what went wrong and should be done differently next time and keep going. Expect to iterate many times to get things right.

2. Trust in your instinct and in your vision. It may take time for others to see what you see, or for you to clearly articulate what you are imagining. Don’t give up easily as nothing big comes without struggle. Building companies is hard, and you should expect setbacks along the way.

3. Make sure that you have a good, impartial advisor with whom you can discuss your challenges. It can be lonely leading teams, hitting obstacles, and making hard choices. Find someone from whom you can seek unbiased advice, who has more experience than you do, whose counsel you can trust without question. I failed at this, and I regret it.”

What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?

“Leadership isn’t telling people what to do; controlling their every move. It’s defining a goal and giving your team the tools and support to find the best way to achieve that goal.

“A bad boss may succeed in the short term but will fail miserably in the long run. Projects fail, people leave, and you are left with nothing.

“A negative attitude can be poison to a company’s culture.

Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Describe two that most impacted your success?

“A good friend’s father, Dick Hayes, former president of Xerox Venture Capital, had an early impact on my career. It was a short conversation that took place while we were still in college (and I really knew nothing about business at that time), but it stuck with me and has guided many of my career choices. “

We were having dinner, talking about companies he had worked with and about how many of them failed to achieve their goals. Just when I thought he would warn us about the perils of failure and its toll on those involved, he surprised me and said the exact opposite: ‘Never be afraid to fail. You learn so much from failure that you can use to succeed the next time around.’

“I think about his advice often. Failure is a certainty at some point, and we just need to learn how to turn it into success the next time around. Fear of failure can be very constraining.

“Tom Hutton, who was my boss at Risk Management Solutions, also had a major impact on my career. He was willing to take a chance on me; to give me an opportunity to do something different, and to allow me to take on a role for which I had limited prior experience. RMS had a transition in management within finance, and I stepped forward to fill the role. Thankfully, he agreed to let me give it a try (I had been managing our services team prior to that). This was the start of my career in the finance function, and it was this path that led me to start Adaptive Insights, based on my experience as a CFO.”

What types of books do you read and why, and what one title of this type do you recommend?

“Before I answer this, I need to say that whatever I say will make my wife laugh. She’s a voracious reader and doesn’t really believe that I read much. It’s all relative I guess.

“I tend to read one of three types of books: business books (how, why, what to do) to learn and expand my skills; mystery/drama novels to provide some fun escape from the world (hopefully with a good mind-bending twist to make me think just a little during my escape); and outdoor adventure books about people pushing themselves to achieve something few others have done, many times to their own peril (like climbing Everest).

“These inspire me to push harder, to dare to do something challenging and different. They remind me how small some of my daily challenges truly are.”

Think back in your career to a tough time or moment. How did you handle the emotional part of failure–what was the pep talk you gave yourself?

There are many, many tough times when you are building a company. The way that I get through the tough times is to remind myself that tomorrow is a new day, and new days bring new opportunities that will be bigger than the failure.

“I combine that with learning from the failure, focusing on the problems that created the failure in the first place and making changes to avoid future failure. Knowing that I’ve learned from mistakes and am in better control of them in the future can help take the edge off the current problems.”

What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs or business owners looking to catch their big opportunity?

“Hire great people—people better than you. Inspire them with your vision, and then support them in helping you achieve it. Listen to them and be willing to recognize when they are right, and you are wrong. Don’t let your ego get in the way.”

Looking back, what was the most unconventional way you landed a memorable deal that made your success turn in the right direction? (Have fun with this one)

“One of the catalysts in our growth as a younger company was our distribution partnership with a major ERP vendor. Landing this deal took several years and it started by convincing their team to use our product internally. We believed that if we could prove value to them for their own use, we could then convince them to resell our product to their customers.

“This strategy worked! Their team used and loved our product and as a result their CFO became an internal champion for us in negotiating and signing a distribution agreement that lasted for many years.”  

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