Addie Swartz | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Addie Swartz

Background:  

Concord, Mass.-based reacHIRE helps build management potential in women returning to the workforce after a career break, connecting them with companies looking for strong talent and workplace diversity.

The Mistake:

I've been a serial entrepreneur and have started three companies. My first company, BrightIdeas, was a network of moms at home selling software to schools—[but] we didn't really provide the level of training and support necessary to get those women to be successful selling in schools. We too narrowly defined the problem as kids needing software, without really expanding and thinking holistically about kids using software in school.

At the time I didn't realize it, but schools use technology all the time. Teachers at that time were beginning to use computers more and more and we could have retrofitted those first women and done a better job in that expanded channel. I just didn't think about it as broadly and holistically.

Eventually I started reacHIRE after figuring out that I was too narrow in my focus way back when with BrightIdeas. Because actually, it's the same network of women, just at a different stage: Women that are at home with kids. 

[At reacHIRE, we're] thinking about the problem of getting women back in the workplace more holistically. What do the people need in order to be not only inserted in a job but successful? So [we're not] just narrowly saying, "let's get these great women that have been on the sidelines back in," but "what does it take to get them to succeed?"

I think having a narrower focus means that you're not capitalizing on the bigger opportunity. We didn't exploit the selling to schools market effectively.

Make sure that the problem that you define is not so narrow.

The Lesson:

Make sure that the problem that you define is not so narrow. I mean, you have to be focused, but be open to the possibility of ancillary factors that can have an impact on your overall business.

There was a report from McKinsey recently that says that it's going to take 100 years for women to be on par with men in the C-Suite. One hundred years, that's crazy! Having a diverse workforce that's reflective of all the generations of people that the company sells to is important ... you have to look at all pieces of the puzzle, not just the one problem you're trying to solve. 

Follow Addie Swartz on Twitter at @AddieSwartz.

Photo courtesy of reacHIRE.