Ron Ben-Zeev | Crain's Miami

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

Ron Ben-Zeev

Background:  

World Housing Solution in Orlando manufactures sustainable and rapidly deployable military housing made with lightweight, durable materials that are resistant to harsh weather conditions, mold/mildew, termites and fire. The eco-friendly structures offer the U.S. military a greater quality of life while reducing risk and are deployed in military bases around the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific and South Pacific.

The Mistake:

I didn’t ask for help. But I was fortunate enough that I realized that mistake fairly early.

We were plowing ahead and trying to solve what seems to be a fairly simple problem, dealing with the humanitarian help and how the humanitarian world deals with first responders and disaster relief, and what happens after disaster strikes – either natural or man-made. The traditional response was very simple: People send tents all the time. And we thought we had a great solution.

And we just went ahead and built that solution – without asking for help and without talking to first responders and the disaster relief experts and people dealing within that arena. And we made the mistake of building it first and then hoping that they will come.

And I should have known better. Because I advocate not building first: First go and [pinpoint] who cares about it. Ask yourself, “Is it a problem worth solving? How do people solve it today? And who would buy it if you built it?” And I made a major mistake in taking the lead and the team followed. And it was a mistake that could have cost us the life of the company.

The mistake I made was separating the buyer from the user. And what I mean by that is – when you watch commercials on TV for toys, they’re not addressed to the buyer, but to the user. And the kids go, “Mommy, buy me this.” So the user tells the buyer, “Buy me this.” But a refugee doesn’t have any money. The buyer, the non-governmental agency or the military says, “We can’t afford this – a tent is good enough.”

So building it first and hoping they will come was so dramatically foolish, idiotic, stupid. We were literally facing our impending doom from our mistake. I was solving a problem nobody had. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And the U.S. military thought that what we did had capabilities within their requirements. They approached us to use our technology and our methodology to build larger structures. And thank God for that. Otherwise, we might not be in business anymore.

I was solving a problem nobody had.

The Lesson:

One of the biggest challenges that we have is that we’re often taught to figure it out and we tend to not always ask for help. Or if we ask for help, it’s not at the right time. It’s often a little too late. It’s partly due to enthusiasm. So you have to ask [questions] but you also can’t be mired in analysis or paralysis.

The lesson is to pivot quickly. And never be so married to your idea that you can’t go, “Okay, let me pivot away.” And when you pivot away, you’ve got two methodologies of pivoting. You can pivot at 90 degrees and say, “Maybe one day I can go back to where I wanted to be in the social world and [benefit] those who’ve been afflicted by some form of disaster.” Or you can pivot at 180 and say, “I’m done with that; I’m moving on.”

And we pivoted at 90 degrees. We are currently trying to go back into that world and see if we can have an impact using lessons learned and best practices learned.

Follow World Housing Solution on Twitter at @WHSolution and Ron Ben-Zeev at @Rbenzeev.

Photo courtesy of Ron Ben-Zeev

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email nryan@crain.com.

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