My Biggest Mistake: A name that became confused in the translation

Mark Dixon is the founder of Regus, the world's largest provider of ready-to-use offices
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The Independent Online
WE'VE MADE lots of small mistakes, but the biggest was in the early stages of the business. It was our first significant marketing campaign, basically organised by myself and our new American sales director, whom I'd brought on board.

We had decided to do a large mailshot, sending 80,000 pieces in Germany, which was our slowest market. Of course, we thought we were experienced marketeers and experienced Europeans, because we were operating from Brussels.

The mailshot was a little folded sheet and on the front it said: "Who in the world uses Regus?" We got it translated into German, but we didn't check the translation.

After it had been sent out we started to get calls from people. To our horror, the message had translated as: "Who the hell uses Regus?" It was more or less: "What idiot would use Regus?" To cap that, we also found the mail merger had been very badly managed.

We have used this mistake ever since as an example of the fact you have got to think European. We spent almost all our available money doing it. It was not only unsuccessful - it was a complete flop, and we got absolutely nothing from it. One call I will never forget: the guy rang up saying he would like to order some furniture.

Germans get very, very unhappy if you don't get things right. Like the Japanese, they plan things properly. What they like least of all is the fact that people have wasted money and resources.

That's why they are fantastic engineers. The mailshot was a disaster, and we had to work 10 times as hard with half as much money. Then, we had done little things in the local market, but it was seat-of-the-pants stuff. We had 14 or 15 centres: now, we are opening three or four a week. We spend about pounds 25m a year on marketing, and we learnt the lesson of planning your campaign.

We learnt that we couldn't do everything ourselves, and we realised at that stage we had to build up a management team.

One of the reasons we made a muck-up was that we hadn't spent the proper time on it and didn't know enough about marketing. The business had grown, and we hadn't developed a management team to go along with it. The first thing was to hire a marketing director, so at least we would have someone to blame.

Our company is one of the fastest-growing - it has more or less doubled in staff every year for 10 years - and it started to grow after we had put the management structure in place. Now, we develop the management team almost every six months.

What we learnt was: get some specialist people in - don't try to do everything yourself; and plan everything. When you have planned it, plan it again.

Spending half our year's budget at the time would be like risking pounds 12.5m on a campaign now. The first mailshot was a crazy thing to do without testing and planning.

But learning from it has stood us in good stead.