Mark Lavelle | Crain's Connecticut

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

Mark Lavelle

Background:  

Magento is an e-commerce platform that helps retailers provide consumers with a seamless and cohesive experience whether shopping in their physical stores and online. The company offers customized solutions for B2B companies, fashion retailers and small businesses and counts more than 250,000 businesses worldwide on its platform, including Nike, ZumiezRosettaStone and Ghirardelli.  Before becoming the CEO of Magento, Mark Lavelle was senior vice president of strategy and business development at eBay. 

The Mistake:   

I left my career in financial services. I moved my family from the East Coast down to Texas to start an internet company in the boating parts market, and I did it for all the wrong reasons.   

My overall mistake was jumping into something in the early days of the internet that wasn't something that I knew really well and wasn't really that passionate aboutIn the late '90s, everything felt like it was going to be easy. It felt like you could pick any area, put a dot-com on it and you'd make a lot of money and retire. So a lot of folks, not just myself, felt like they were missing something.  

I got recruited by a guy who was looking for somebody who had internet experience. He wanted to build this company in the boating area, and he was very persuasive and made me the president of the company. Everything seemed really cool and like this could be my ticket to internet fame.   

What I missed was I didn't know much about the guy. I didn't know much about what he wanted to do. I like boats, but I don't know much about them and I wasn't that passionate about them. I was just chasing a new thing.  

 It is an obligation of leadership that you be in it for as much or more than the folks that you are asking to be in it with you.   

The Lesson:   

When you start a company, you give your whole self to itMy wife had just had our fourth child. She was six months old, and I was working seven days a week on this thing. You really burn it on both ends to start something up, and you ask other people to do that, too.   

Ultimately, when you don't believe in what you are doing, it becomes hard to convince other people to leave their families, to leave their careers and devote themselves to what [you're] doing. When I realized that, it hit me like a brick and I said, "I can't do this."  

If I can't be a leader as passionate as I can be, how can I convince people to dedicate themselves to it?  It is an obligation of leadership that you be in it for as much or more than the folks that you are asking to be in it with you.   

When push came to shove, when things got hard, what I learned was, if you don't go into things for the right reasons, because you love it, it probably won't work out. Execution is going to be harder and longer than you think, but if you are in it for the right reasons, you'll get through it.    

Follow Mark Lavelle on Twitter at @mklave1  

Pictured: Mark Lavelle. | Photo courtesy of Mark Lavelle.