Dan Khabie | Crain's Toronto

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

Dan Khabie


Mirum is a digital agency created in 2015 after Digitaria branched off and merged several companies. The company's North American operations are based out of offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Minneapolis, Miami, Toronto, Montreal and Bentonville, Ark.

The Mistake:

My mistake was holding on too long.

Back in 1999 when the business first started out, one of the things I didn’t realize was happening was that there were macroeconomics at play. Early on I noticed that some of our dot-com customers were struggling, and we were doing a lot of work in that space. But we didn’t realize the whole industry was beginning to suffer and digital was under so much pressure.

One of the things we ended up doing was downsizing the business too late. I really thought we could sell or grow our way out of it. But sometimes you’re in a business death roll, and you just can't fight it. In an effort to fight it, we held onto staff longer than we should have. We didn’t make the changes that we needed to make.

During that period, we didn’t lay off people quick enough, we didn’t control our expenses quick enough — we were caught up in the dot-com bubble. Ever since then, we’ve really focused on metrics and data to help guide the business. Everyone was under pressure at that time, so the industry as you knew it was greatly affected. Coming out of that, it made us stronger as a culture.

If we had paid attention quicker to what was happening around us, we would have been able to react quicker. It had a substantial impact. But it made us and allowed us to flourish as we continued to grow the business. When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, we were very well prepared because we really put the metrics in the business. Those lessons learned in 1999 helped guide us to create better business tools.

The answers to everything are not in boardrooms, they’re out in the market.

The Lesson:

You just have to really pay attention to what’s going on around you. The answers to everything are not in boardrooms, they’re out in the market. The more time you spend in the markets and the more time you spend with clients and the more time you spend with people, the more successful you’re going to be. If you listen and really pay attention to The Street, it’ll really guide you to how to grow the business.

Internally, allow people to be who they are and hold them accountable for that. Allow people to say they have a vision for something, allow them to fall down and allow them to be accountable for that. To me, it’s about allowing everyone in our business to really be entrepreneurs. Focus on growing their respective vision and support them. Give them the structure to make sure that they’re successful. When they’re not successful, you have to make sure they understand why they weren’t, and help them learn from that and grow from that.

Dan Khabie is on Twitter at @khabie and Mirum is at @Mirum_US and @MirumAgency.

Photo courtesy of Dan Khabie.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.