By Published On: January 27, 2023

Over the course of running a business for 23 years, a funny thing happens. One day you look back in time and there’s clarity. Clarity about successes but also about what some might call failures.

Much has been written about “failing fast” in business. I agree you need to take risks and cut your losses, much like knowing when to let go of the rope in water skiing. But if you got up on the skis for a while, and learned how to do it better for the next time, is letting go of the rope a failure?

Failure indicates it’s over and had/has no value. In my experience it’s not that simple. The “failures” of my past had value because each served a purpose at the time—exploring a potential business route, new product “solution” to a problem, or being nimble during the all-bets-are-off times.

Here are some of the ways I’ve “failed” in the last 23 years:

A-La-Card Marketing

When gift cards started replacing gift certificates, we saw a big opportunity for retailers to take advantage of branded gift cards as a profit center. Thus, was born A-La-Card Marketing. This idea was slightly ahead of its time, also not quite targeted to the right audience. We targeted marketers when the gift card products were owned by finance. After a while we closed that business and focused on other card marketing. Failure? No, because it pushed us to change our focus to a more successful direction.

Lesson learned: Do the right research before jumping into business involving an emerging product, to fully understand what you’re getting into.

The Great Recession

Remember that one? Our business had been growing 25-35% year over year for 8 years. Fast 50, Inc. 5000, you name it, we were recognized for it. But the Great Recession made me face my first great business challenge—my business was direct mail for financial services and both of those industries imploded. Yikes. Failure? No, because it made me become a better business owner.

Lesson learned: A business is a living, moving thing and the moment you think you’ve “made it” things change, so pay attention to trends around you and have a plan for hard times. As long as you’re in business, you’re never done.


Reacting to the Great Recession, we needed to change, fast. So, we identified our strengths and started a business called d.sign. This was a graphic design business meant to broaden our reach beyond direct marketing and financial services. It worked. We expanded, and more importantly we began to see that our marketing skills translated well into other marketing channels and industries. We realized we didn’t need d.sign anymore because we had all made a shift in thinking. d.sign was closed after a couple of years. Failure? No. A lever for change? Yes.

Lesson learned: Sometimes you must step out of your normal comfort zones and thought processes to affect change and understand a new path. Once that path is established, you have greater clarity of a new way of thinking.


Since we’re a certified WBE and wanted to keep our loyal staff onboard, even with the reduced revenue, we threw out a life raft for new revenue streams and created d3 (a paper products company). Although we sold some paper products, ultimately it wasn’t anybody’s passion, so we let it go. Failure? No, because we saw clearly what we really love to do and do well.

Lesson learned: If you are lucky enough to do what you love, find a way to do it. Stick with your passion.


With the need to solve a problem for clients who provided marketing programs for smaller businesses, Brand@Hand was born. B@H was a portal for clients to use to organize and manage assets from their many smaller customers and to execute marketing programs for them at scale. It was successful until bigger players created better platforms at a low cost. After 3 years Brand@Hand was closed for good. Failure? No, we filled a niche need for our clients, creating efficiencies for what had been a manual, cumbersome process. A short-term solution in an evolving marketplace.

Lesson learned: Nothing lasts forever. It’s important to solve clients’ problems, including addressing changing technology. It also helped our clients see us as creative problem solvers who are savvy with technology—crucial in today’s marketing.

Sunsetting d.trio

This was a conscious decision to retire a brand that had served us well for 22 years. We’ve updated our business so much – the name, the brand, what we do, how we do it, all of it changed. So, cat&Tonic was born. Failure? Hell to the NO.

Lesson learned: If you are fortunate enough to take a business through 22+ years you hit the jackpot.

That brings us to today. We’ve had our share of failures, but we’re not done by a longshot. With d.trio as our foundation, cat&tonic is launched and taking us to the future.

For those of you thinking about starting a business or who are in earlier stages of your business, I hope this review has given you some perspective. For every perceived failure there’s a lesson learned. Each is a steppingstone to being a better business and more educated owner. Yes, it hurts when you lose, but if you learn something, you’re ahead of the game.

About the Author: Megan Devine

Megan Devine
Megan taps into her left-brain logic and right brain creativity—steering the business, bantering with her team, and strategizing on client work. She says it’s her dream job and we believe her. Using her passion and knack for understanding complex connections in business and marketing, she collaborates to create love between brands and customers. She possesses expertise and experience that only comes from persevering in the ever-changing marketing agency world. Megan co-founded d.trio marketing group, now cat&tonic, in January of 2000 and took sole ownership in 2019. Her vision, support, and sheer stubbornness got us through 9/11, the great recession, and a pandemic. She has judged the International ECHO Awards since 2005, has consulted for several organizations, and serves on several boards. Educated at Carleton College, she learned the importance of critical thinking for success. At home she learned the value of a good story.
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