Roger Shakes says failure should not be overly shamed or glamourized

Written by Taro Ishida Published on     4 mins read

Roger looks back on the year, his career, and shares his insights from New Zealand.

Roger Shakes has over 25 years of experience in television, media, advertising, and technology. He has produced and presented TV programs for BBC, Channel 4, and Maori TV, as well as delivered advertising brand campaigns for global giants. Roger is an active member of the startup and accelerator community in New Zealand where he’s an investor, business consultant, and mentor to a number of CEOs. As a partner in Media Tech Partners, he works to commercialize media content and tech IP, with specific development interests across Europe and Southeast Asia. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

KrASIA (Kr): You’ve had an exciting career across tech, media, and advertising. Looking back to when you first started working in these industries, what are some of the biggest changes?  

Roger Shakes (RS): I would say, the birth of the internet. Back in the day, you can imagine doing advertising and media planning with documents sent over fax. The whole process of communicating over distances was different, due to time delays. For instance, it took days for my video to deliver via DHL, another two days for the counterparty to respond, and some more time for delivery back to my end. Hence, the internet really made an impactful change in my career. The tech industry has also opened up new jobs, as a result of easy communication and digital transformation.

Kr: Linking your point on easy communication to COVID-19, has the pandemic affected your business and daily life?

RS: As you know, Media Tech Partners operates globally. We have a lot of relationships across Europe, Southeast Asia, North America, Africa, and obviously Australia, being our neighbor. While we used to enjoy face-to-face contact, we now connect with people over Zoom calls. I think what COVID-19 has done is to remove some form of intimacy.

It’s also difficult to reach out to new clients due to the dearth of networking events, or a different environment where people could have come together.

At the same time, I recognize that COVID-19 has helped solidify relationships with our existing clients. With the aid of technology, we proceed with business as usual and appreciate that our existing clients stay with us.

In fact, we have become more appreciative of technology around us, and will continue to look forward to a day with face-to-face contact. As soon as people are able to travel, I think you’ll see business people get on planes and back into that environment!

Kr: You’ve done brand advertising and worked for startups yourself. From your experience, what are common themes that you see, as to why startups fail?

RS: I think failure is a negative word, and I’m never keen on using it. I see those challenges as things that happen to people in organizations.

Sometimes you don’t have the right team to push things forward. Sometimes your offering isn’t quite fit for purpose. Sometimes it’s a case of investors wanting quick returns, where the right approach is long play. Therefore, there will always be multiple factors determining the outcome for a startup.

That being said, when a startup does fall over, I think employees learn and recharge and get energized to start again. Since they understand the pathway that can lead to success, they carry greater confidence the second or third time around. And the element of risk-taking is not necessarily in one’s DNA, but growing within a startup, employees begin to realize risk can benefit a company, taking that into the next role. They grow in terms of boldness, the entrepreneurial attitude and obviously invaluable experience.

I think this is an extremely crucial point, because no one teaches you how to fail. Failure is not exactly something that that you seek, but it is definitely something that you learn from.

I’m always reminded of Winston Churchill, who failed in many ways during the First World War. There were incredibly tough times he had to go through. But that made him well-placed in the Second World War, to actually understand the threat and deal with it. He came through as a hero at the time.

Kr: Like you said, failure has negative connotations to it. But it’s arguable that failure is also over-glamourized at times. People keep saying you have to fail, in order to succeed. What do you think is the perfect balance?

RS: Well, a lot is determined by the culture you’re operating in. For example, in Silicon Valley, it’s normal to have worked for three consecutive startups with zero materialized gains. But in New Zealand, where the market is smaller, going through the same cycle would not be a badge of honor to wear. People might shun you instead, one deemed as a failure.

Failure should not be overly shamed or overly glamourized. I would say, in New Zealand, we’re beginning to understand that failure can help an individual grow, with a better and more refined proposition the next round. We’re also understanding the concept of resilience—be it in startups or established companies—because the world is changing around this.

Kr: Having touched on failure and fear, what advice do you have for young people out there?

RS: To any young person wanting to enter the entrepreneurial world, you are going to encounter different cultures, languages, and types of people. And it will feed your education and business acumen, in a way that you wouldn’t get by just studying. If you’re open to learning new things in new ways, that in itself is success.

For myself, coming from the East End of London and travelling the globe and settling down in New Zealand—that journey is my success story. Carving your own path truly is exciting and dynamic.


Taro Ishida


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