IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

If I Knew Then: H&R Block's Co-Founder on His Small Failures That Led to Big Successes

Henry Bloch, co-founder of tax-preparation company H&R Block, opens up about what he learned during his nearly 60-year entrepreneurial journey.
/ Source:

Editor’s Note: Our If I knew then series puts more-established entrepreneurs under the microscope -- asking them what they would do differently if they knew then, what they know now.

If you ever needed assistance dealing with taxes, you may have enlisted Henry Bloch's company, H&R Block, to help you.

Henry and his brother, Richard, founded the Kansas City, Mo.-based tax-preparation company in 1955, and since its inception, it has completed overmore than 625 million tax returns, with this year alone seeing 25.4 million. Pretty impressive. 

Despite retiring from H&R Block's day-to-day activities in 2000 -- currently, he's the chairman emeritus -- the 91-year-old has kept himself busy. He recently donated $32 million to build an entrepreneurship center at University of Missouri-Kansas City's business school. Named the Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the space opened this fall and is equipped with an innovation lab, behavioral science research area and finance center. Plus, it has a mentorship program, matching aspiring entrepreneurs with mentors and potential investors.

As a long-time entrepreneur and now a mentor for others, we wanted to see what lessons Bloch learned along the way. Here is his top advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs:

Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting up? 

A: I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. Like so many young entrepreneurs, my brother and I made plenty of mistakes. But I can say with a high degree of certainty, we would not have become as successful as we did had we not made those mistakes and learned from them. 

For instance, my brother and I asked our great aunt for a gift of $50,000 to start our venture. She ended up doing us a favor -- she turned us down. Instead, she gave us a loan for $5,000. Had she given us $50,000, we would have failed in a big way. We would have hired a staff to implement a business plan that we later learned was flawed. Without much capital at the beginning, we were forced to start small and, fortunately, to fail small.

Related: 5 Signs You're Standing In Your Own Way to Success 
Q: What do you think would have happened if you had this knowledge then? 

A: My brother and I struggled for eight years before we became successful. We learned a tremendous amount in those years, and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. 

That being said, back in the 1940s and early 1950s, we didn’t have an opportunity to take college courses in entrepreneurship. Perhaps, we would have made fewer mistakes in the early years if there was such a thing as entrepreneurship training.

Q: How do you think young entrepreneurs might benefit from this insight? 

A: The vast majority of new ventures fail. To my knowledge, that has always been the case. But in the 21st century, access to entrepreneurship education at universities is making a tremendous difference for budding entrepreneurs. 

I am convinced studying entrepreneurship can reduce the failure rate. That’s precisely why I am a big proponent of programs that focus on active learning in addition to traditional classroom lectures. 

Q: Besides inventing a time machine, how can young entrepreneurs access helpful pearls of wisdom sooner? 

A: In just the last few years, innovation, research and entrepreneurship education have come a long way. The benefits a young entrepreneur can get from an entrepreneurship program are potentially life-changing. It’s so much more than reading textbooks or listening to lectures in a classroom, it’s also about real-world entrepreneurship activities. 

In other words, the best way to learn something is to actually do it.
Related: Seth Godin on Failing Until You Succeed 

Q: What are you glad you didn’t know then that you know now? 

A: I’m glad I didn’t know I would struggle -- almost living hand-to-mouth -- for years before finding success. But as mentioned before, it was an incredibly valuable period of learning, mostly through trial and error. 

I believe perseverance is a quality that any successful entrepreneur must have. There’s an old proverb: Fall down seven times, stand up eight times. A young entrepreneur must expect to travel a bumpy and sometimes treacherous road.

Q: Best advice for young entrepreneurs?
A: I would offer these three pieces of advice. First and foremost, make decisions with your customers in mind. Secondly, don’t look for shortcuts to success. Lastly, never be satisfied, and always reach higher.

-This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Let us know in the comments below.