Steph Claire Smith and Laura Henshaw on the major 'hurdles' they hit in their business.

Failure is something every single one of us has experienced.

It's on a wide-ranging scale of course, and can cut you deep. But experts say we shouldn't see failure as the opposite of success. In fact, some of the world's most successful business leaders instead define failure completely differently.

For Laura Henshaw and Steph Claire Smith, they owe their success to embracing risks. It was the experience of "stepping outside our comfort zone" that was the biggest learning curve of them all, and led to the creation and success of Keep It Cleaner, aka KIC.

"In the early days, there would be a tendency [from us] to do as instructed by those we deemed superior to us, or to shy away from doing something different," Laura said to Mamamia

"It's ironic because in hindsight, this in itself is an example of where we sold ourselves short, and could have achieved much more if we trusted our gut. But ultimately we had to go through this in order to build up our confidence to roll the dice, take risks and be bold."

Watch: Success, failure and the drive to keep creating with Elizabeth Gilbert. Post continues below.

Video via TED X.

Often it's not until the middle of adulthood or a big career move where business leaders realise the need for a perspective shift on what failure actually stands for.

But for Steph Claire Smith, she had the confidence and instinct to know her worth from the get-go.

"I think I've always been wired to re-frame failure in mind as an opportunity to learn and move forward quickly. With that said, of course we have hurdled many, MANY mistakes along the way, but our approach has never been to dwell on these too much or lose sleep over it — simply just to extract constructive learnings and use them to our advantage in the best way possible," she explained. 

"When anyone experiences a setback, it's a knock to the confidence. What we've learned (and been taught by some incredible experts and mentors along the way) is that if you and your team approach failure with a growth mindset, it makes it much easier to move forward quickly and even celebrate your learnings."

The irony is that generally speaking female business leaders often have no trouble talking about failure and learning lessons. But for their male counterparts, it's an area seldom spoken about — likely due to the culture of traditional masculinity that likes to shun any signs of weakness.

"This is definitely something that Steph and I have seen over the years. 'Failure is a sign of weakness, being vulnerable or admitting to mistakes will harm your path to success' — these are the things that a lot of men, and women for that matter, have been told to believe from a very young age," Laura said.


In a recent KICPOD episode, Laura and her husband Dalton had quite a raw conversation about imposter syndrome and how they each manage it differently as leaders of their respective workplaces. 

It's conversations like these that Laura said she wants to see more of in the public arena.

"There's still a long way to go, but I think we're getting better in adopting a different mindset and encouraging more vulnerable, open discussions."


One male industry leader who has been open about the need to rebrand failure is entrepreneur Mark Bouris.

He explained to Mamamia that whether we choose to see 'failure' as the end of an endeavour or an opportunity to learn and grow, is up to us. 

"Probably my biggest failures have always been around not assessing the marketplace properly — spending money as if there's going to be growth without actually assessing what the future marketplace looks like. I responded to that failure badly, I started blaming everybody else. I had to go look at myself because it was my decision at the end of the day," he said on Mamamia's podcast 8 Minutes To Change Your (Work) Life.


"What's most important thing is that you've got to embrace failure. As coach John Kavanagh said to me: 'There's no such thing as failure. It's win or learn. Change the narrative and it's about learning how to respond next time. There's no point being too tough on yourself."

You can list this conversation below on 8 Minutes To Change Your (Work) Life. Post continues after audio.

It's a sentiment Laura and Steph also feel passionate about.

As they explained to Mamamia: "While a daunting prospect, failure is almost an inevitable part of the start-up journey, but what we've learned over the years is that it's how you respond to these 'failures' that open up opportunities for growth and inform your path to success."

And the more opportunities to lift up small business leaders, particularly women doing amazing things, the better.

"Female founders face a lot of barriers. There are a lot of odds against us and we go to obscene lengths to prove ourselves ten times over in order to be worthy of our role — it's challenging," Laura explained. 

As Steph said, both she and Laura have time and time again not been taken seriously in their roles as business women.


"For years we were just referred to influencers or 'the marketing girls' and not entrepreneurs. It was disappointing because we poured endless hours into our business and it has taken a long time to change this mentality."

And for Steph, as a working parent, she said it would feel remiss not to highlight the juggle. 

"Running a business is hard, and it adds a whole new layer if you're a working parent. But with a passionate team and a supportive network, it can be done. KIC was my first baby, I didn't necessarily go on a traditional MAT leave, and I felt passionate about showcasing this journey to help relate to other mums who might be going through a similar experience, navigating the transition back to work," she said.

Now as co-CEOs, Laura and Steph said their one audacious goal for the near future is this: to encourage other women to take the risk, make the change and not fear failure.

"We don't fit the mould that society once thought we should," they said. "It gives us a powerful opportunity to continue building on the momentum, and empower the next generation of emerging female leaders with the tools they need to be in control of their own destiny."

For more from Steph Claire Smith and Laura Henshaw, you can follow Keep It Cleaner here, and on Instagram.

Feature Image: Instagram @laura.henshaw.