Climb ep 7 (1)

Breakdown Or Breakthrough? How Mindset Can Make Or Break Your Business

By Ivan Meakins with Dan Kirby

This blog has been taken from Episode 7 of the Climb podcast, a show that was recorded for the CLIMB23 event, hosted by Gordon Bateman and Investor Ladder.

Find the full conversation with Dan Kirby here. 

The calm before the storm

Dan Kirby has been an entrepreneur for 22 years.

He’s no stranger to the heights of success that the most dedicated entrepreneurs can reach. In 2004 he co-founded the Tech Department, a plug-in tech team building digital products for impact startups. 

By 2015, Dan had been listed as number 24 in the Digerati, a list of the most influential people in the UK’s tech and digitalisation industries. 

But in 2017, it nearly all came crashing down. Dan found himself dangerously close to bankruptcy.

So what did he do?

He rebuilt not only his business but himself. He started a podcast, Honey I Blew Up The Business, dedicated to talking about what went wrong. He brought other entrepreneurs on the show to talk about their failures. He dedicated huge amounts of energy to shining a light on the dark side of entrepreneurship: the failures, the lessons and the mistakes.

This is his story.

Unlucky number 13

Dan: “It was all going really well. We were kind of – very high-status clients, very high-status business, winning lots of awards, international travel, all that good stuff. Fame and money, it was going real good. Until about 2017 when it all went horribly wrong for a year… And this was year 13 of our business. Literally on our 13th birthday, it all started going wrong. Unlucky number 13!”

It was during this unlucky 13th year that Dan realised some bad habits had manifested themselves in the way the business approached things. Instead of sailing off into a future of fame and fortune, Dan hit a brick wall of his own making.

As a tech business, Dan’s company was intensely vulnerable to shifts in the outside world. At its heart, it was reliant on its early adopters spending a lot of money – which might have been doable without the added complication of Brexit and some poor decisions. Suddenly, money being invested in innovative new technologies was no longer a priority.

And there was no Plan B. 

Dan: “We didn’t know we needed a Plan B. Plan B was we’ve got Plan A, that’s working great, it’ll carry on like this forever…and then it didn’t.”

Honey, I Blew Up The Business!

Dan: “The important thing that happened in that year when the business blew up was that it created a breakthrough… In the moment, in 2017 when it was all going wrong, I had a moment of quiet and clarity in the middle of it. Which was that I got it wrong.”

Our ego is hardwired to protect us. Part of this protection is our ego’s ability to subtly contort reality into a version that’s less uncomfortable for us, meaning we continue to repeat mistakes, get stuck in unproductive patterns and fail to take accountability.

But, numbers don’t lie. Sometimes, we have no choice but to admit failure.

An admission of failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. It can be a lesson in humbling ourselves, in returning to the basic principles of business and in reframing our perspective. 

In fact, Dan credits this breakthrough as the catalyst for his now-successful business. During a time when all hope seemed lost, Dan was able to rethink his business model. Little did he know, this rebirth would allow him to:

  • Build better long-term relationships with his customers
  • Develop a more rewarding way of working with clients
  • Create a new business model which increased efficiency 
  • Deliver an even higher-value bespoke service

He couldn’t have known it when things started to take a turn for the worse in 2017, but that intensely dark, uncomfortable and revealing time would help shape the business he has today. 

Dan: “This is the dark side of entrepreneurship. This is the thing they don’t talk about in the success books. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge in yourself that whilst your opinion and your mindset and insight are the things that can make you, they’re also the things that can break you. There’s a yin to the yang. The dark to the light.”

Turning things around

For Dan, the thing that made his company so successful was the thing that nearly destroyed him: his mindset. 

So what are Dan’s top three tips for a great mindset?

  • Operate from a principle of service: to your staff and to your customers
  • Focus on building healthy relationships with yourself and others
  • Open up, be humble and don’t be scared of vulnerability

We can surmise then, that the key is really quite simple: embrace the dark side. 

This is a line Dan uses frequently in his podcast. If you can do this, you show vulnerability and a willingness to accept who you are. From here, you can work towards who you want to be, becoming a better entrepreneur and person in the process. 

Being a better human doesn’t mean focusing on the good parts of yourself. As Dan emphasises, it means understanding your dark side: those parts of you that have a tendency to self-sabotage. As the head of your business, your relationship with yourself directly impacts everything around you: it is at the centre of the spider’s web. 

Dan: “When I became a better human being, my business grew. On your deathbed, are you going to say you crushed those pitches back in 2022, or do you want your children to hang out with you when they’re in their 20s?”


For more like this, Dan’s podcast, Honey, I Blew Up The Business can be found here. For more information, visit The Tech Dept or head over to Dan’s LinkedIn


To hear Dan’s full insight, find him on Episode 7 of the Climb podcast, sponsored by Investor Ladder. To find out more about Investor Ladder and upcoming events, click here.

If you enjoyed this blog or listened to the Climb podcast and wanted some advice on how to create regular thought leadership content for your business, get in touch with Write Business Results today.  

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