Matt Connelly on How To Bounce Back Stronger in Business
Matt Connelly is CEO and Founder of ihateironing. and knows what it takes to face challenges in business and bounce back stronger. He took some time out to share his insights with The Industry Leaders.
Can you start by telling us a bit about your journey as an entrepreneur, focusing particularly on your experiences with setbacks and challenges? How has this shaped your understanding and mastery of resilience in business?
Before I founded ihateironing, I stepped into consultancy and spent 8 years working alongside startups and small enterprises to help them establish and grow their businesses. I built confidence to pursue my own venture due to the hands-on experience and tangible impact I was able to make, as well as being surrounded by the inspiring people and stories in the startup sphere in East London at the time. When I first started ihateironing, we were a small team. I was doing the laundry deliveries myself - alongside everything else that comes with getting the business off the ground like building the website, going door to door marketing the business, and recruiting dry cleaning partners to work with. In the past 10 years of ihateironing, we’ve had many setbacks and challenges which, at the time, felt detrimental to the business. The Covid-19 pandemic was one of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome as a team, where we were faced with the loss of 70% of our business in the first 3 days of the pandemic. With the benefit of hindsight I can now see that these challenges have been very formative in developing a collective resilience in the team. Overcoming these challenges teaches us that we are capable of much more than we might believe, and instils a sense of pride both in myself and in the team we’ve managed to build over the years.
In the world of entrepreneurship, failure is often seen as a stepping stone rather than a dead-end. How do you perceive failure, and can you share an instance where a failure led to an unexpected growth or success in your business?
The Covid-19 pandemic was definitely the clearest testament to the fact that failure can be a stepping stone. In the first 3 days of the pandemic, we lost 70% of our revenue and our business was at risk of shutting its doors for good. Government regulations meant that people weren’t leaving their homes anymore or going to the office so they no longer needed to send clothes for dry cleaning. It looked like people had no need for dry cleaners anymore.
I had to be quick on my feet and think of a way to adapt our business to keep us - and the network of dry cleaners who rely on us - afloat. People no longer needed their suits and shirts cleaned for the office, but what did they actually need? What was a pain point that we could solve in the same way we solve the hassle of laundry and dry cleaning?
During the pandemic, people were struggling to get their essential groceries due to movement restrictions, empty aisles in grocery stores, and lack of available delivery slots due to the sheer amount of people staying home and ordering groceries online. We had a fleet of London dry cleaners with drivers and vans at our disposal positioned in areas all around the capital, and a booking system in place to help navigate and direct collections & deliveries. We partnered with wholesale grocers to provide Essential Food Box deliveries. Some of our team worked 18-hour days in those first few weeks – but this kept revenue flowing to our business, and made sure we could still support our staff and dry cleaning partners.
Furthermore, in order to help some of the more vulnerable members of our community, we provided complimentary washing for anyone who is over the age of 80 and in self isolation.
This not only helped us survive through the pandemic, but it also helped us grow our business and save 12 dry cleaning partners from shutting down for good. It also displayed the resilience of our team and our resolve to be quick on our feet and do what we need to do when times get tough.
What strategies have you employed to cultivate a culture of resilience within your organization? How have these strategies made your team more adaptable and innovative, especially during trying times?
I like to give people the responsibility and freedom to pursue new ideas and take charge of their own endeavors and projects within the business. For example, I allow team members to pitch ideas for campaigns or community and sustainability initiatives and see those projects through to the end. If something doesn’t work out, we take it as an opportunity to reflect and learn from it and have it push us forward instead of dwelling on it. For example, one of our team members took initiative to arrange with wholesale grocers when we were searching for ways to adapt the business during the Covid-19 pandemic, which made all the difference in the support we could provide to customers.
You've spoken about bouncing back from failure, but I'm curious to know if there is a methodology you follow to analyze what went wrong and how to correct it. Could you describe your process for assessing and learning from mistakes?
The tech team and marketing team both have specific retro methodologies, but more important than methodology is culture. In our management training across all departments, we teach about the ‘Johari window’ - a framework that helps you understand about your conscious and unconscious biases - and thereby the importance of being as open as possible with the team. If I’m open that I’ve made mistakes with certain decisions, it then encourages the rest of my team and the people I manage to not conceal or dress things up if they haven’t worked.
Many entrepreneurs fear failure to the point that it paralyzes them. How do you balance taking calculated risks with the fear of failure? What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs who struggle with this?
I think what helped me take the leap to quit my consulting job and stable income and go full time as an entrepreneur was getting to the point where the fear of failure was less than the fear of the regret of not trying. Generally in the UK we tie up success or failure in business with our feelings of self worth. Failure in business = failure as a person. This is wrong and generally in the US people don’t have this association. Having supportive people around you who help to build your feeling of self worth regardless of how the business does is key. Having supportive people around you who help to build your feeling of self worth regardless of how the business does is key. I was lucky to grow up in a positive supportive atmosphere where my feeling of self worth wasn’t tied to exam results etc. A lot of this starts at a very young age. There's a great Ted Talk about teaching girls to be brave rather than perfect from Reshma Saujani, and I think it’s great to learn from it so you’re no longer fixated on success and failure. For people who are already in business and are struggling with this I would just remind them that it’s not the end of the world. Your friends and family will love you just as much if you fail. You’ll be able to go again and with a lot more experience and know-how.
Sometimes, resilience requires knowing when to pivot or even walk away from an idea. How do you recognize the difference between a challenge that requires persistence and a situation that necessitates a change in direction?
I’ve never seriously considered giving up on the business and there were probably times in the early years when it was the sensible thing to do and 95% of people would have done. I think you have to be very analytical but also have strong instincts and learn how and when to blend the two. When new products and markets don’t work quite as we’d hope, we look closely at the numbers first and then decide whether to step away from that project entirely or pause it for the time being.
The global economic landscape is always changing, and recent years have seen some extraordinary disruptions. How have you adapted your business to overcome unexpected global challenges? What were the key factors in your successful navigation of these waters?
Lots of businesses have struggled or failed in our industry due to the cost of living crisis. I see it as both an opportunity as well as a challenge. Only the best run businesses will make it through and when we do we have the opportunity to increase market share. We’ve always cared about business fundamentals of profit and loss and cash flow, and the ethos of doing more with less is hardwired into our business as we had to build.
Resilience in the face of failure is often linked to personal growth as well. How have your business experiences shaped you personally? Can you share a moment where your professional resilience translated into a personal transformation?
There was a time where the business wasn’t doing very well and we couldn’t afford to pay me a salary for a few months. I had to keep going with very little personal income. I rented my flat out on Airbnb and stayed with my brother.Then, business started to pick up and we got through the tough patch. It seemed difficult at the time but now it’s a fond memory that gives perspective on the severity of any challenges we face.