Without any further ado and in their own words, here are some of the biggest mistakes and lessons learned from 13 successful entrepreneurs.
1. “We wasted $1,000,000 on a company that never launched”
Hiten Shah, Co-Founder at KISSmetrics
My co-founder and I spent $1,000,000 on a web hosting company that never launched. We were perfectionist so we built the best thing we could without even understanding what our customers cared about. We have now learned to spend smart, optimize for learning and focus on customer delight.
Hiten has since co-founded two wildly successful analytics companies with KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg
2. “We built the website first and asked our customers about it later”
Robin Chase, Co-Founder of Zipcar
Get to your customers as fast as possible & learn from them to build your product. With my second company, GoLoco – social online ridesharing – we spent too much money on the website and software before engaging with our first customers. This meant that part of our learning was undoing our first guesses.
Robin is the Founder and CEO of Buzzcar and also the founder and former CEO of Zipcar
3. “One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made at Moz was to build “big bang” projects”
Rand Fishkin – CEO of Moz and Co-Founder of Inbound.org
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made at Moz was to repeatedly build “big bang” projects that required many months of development time without much visibility into progress. It’s sad because it actually worked a number of times, before we fell flat on our faces with a recent project that started in Q4 of 2011, was initially supposed to roll out in July of 2012, and has now been delayed until (fingers crossed) September of 2013. Missing something you budget and plan for by more than a year is really bad news in the startup world.
Don’t be like us – use agile development, have lots of visibility into progress, and keep your team accountable to each other.
Rand Fishkin is the CEO of Moz and co-founder of Inbound.org
4. “I started too late. I toiled in a job I hated for a long time.”
Leo Babauta – Best-selling author
I started too late – because of fear of failure or a lack of belief in myself. I toiled in a job I hated for a long time, instead of starting a blog or building a business I loved.
Knowing what I know now, I’d have started a decade earlier. Not starting is the worst-case scenario.
Leo Babauta is a best-selling author and an entrepreneur
5. “I tried to do it all by myself”
Leo Laporte – Founder of the TWiT network
My biggest mistake was trying to do it all myself. As a founder I felt like I knew everything I needed to know about media, content, even the technology involved to reach my audience. And I did. I just didn’t know anything at all about making a viable business: finance, marketing, advertising, and human resources.
After a few years of rapid growth my company had stalled out, and I was spending more time fighting fires than I was doing the stuff I loved (and that made us money).
Hiring a business partner then giving her full scope to do her job felt a little like giving up my company but it was a vital step toward success.
Leo Laporte is the founder of the TWiT network and host of The Tech Guy and This Week in Tech
6. “If you’re not 100% excited, say no”
Tim Ferriss – NYT Best-selling author of 3 books
Committing to too many ‘cool’ opportunities and projects. I think it’s important, as Derek Sivers (founder of CDBaby) would say, to either say ‘Hell, yes!’ or a flat ‘no’ to things. They should be definitive and binary.
If you’re not 100% excited, it should be a decline. ‘Kinda cool’ will fill up your calendar and leave you wondering where the last year – or 10 – went.
Tim Ferriss is the best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek and an entrepreneur
7. “I’ve let growth exceed my own ability to fund my business”
Michael Hyatt – NYT best-selling author
In 1992, I made the mistake of borrowing money to fund my growing company. Unfortunately, I did not understand the difference between rapid growth (like cancer) and healthy growth (normal cellular reproduction).
Eventually, our growth consumed our capital and the business failed. I learned an important lesson: Never let growth exceed my own ability to fund it. If I am tempted to seek outside funding, it is a sign of a flawed business model.
Michael Hyatt is the New York Times Best-selling author of Platform and also a serial entrepreneur
8. “Spreading myself too thinly over too many projects”
Neil Patel – Co-Founder of KISSmetrics
One of the biggest lessons I learned was not to spread myself too thin. Like other entrepreneurs I love trying to do multiple things at once.
But once I learned to focus all of my time and energy into one business, I was able to make it grow faster than all of my previous businesses.
Neil Patel co-founded KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg
9. “I built a product without understanding the market or the users”
Sandi MacPherson – Editor-in-Chief, Quibb
Last year, I spent 6 months building a product I wouldn’t use very often, in a market I wasn’t familiar with, for users I didn’t understand – big mistake.
It made it extremely difficult to figure out why things were or weren’t working, and I ended up creating a product that no one wanted. I could never become the product expert, which is what every founder/CEO needs to be.
Sandi MacPherson is the Editor-in-Chief of Quibb
10. “I made the big mistake of being a ‘parallel entrepreneur’”
Dharmesh Shah – Co-Founder and CTO of HubSpot
Here’s my biggest mistake: After having bootstrapped a reasonably successful software company ($10M+ in revenue) I mistakenly thought—Hey, I’ve got a team in place, the company doesn’t really need me, and I’m sort of bored and want to do something new. So, I made the big mistake of being a “parallel entrepreneur”. Trying to head up two different startups at the same time.
This was a huge mistake at many different levels. Turns out, startups are an all-consuming thing. You can’t be all-consumed by two companies at the same time – it just doesn’t work. My original startup team (the team I had recruited personally) felt abandoned. My new startup (the one I angel-funded) didn’t feel enough pressure to find product market fit and get revenues.
So, my advice: Don’t do what I did. Don’t ever, ever, ever try to ride two horses at the same time. It does’t work, and you’re going both a disservice. Even with complete, total focus, most startups fail – to divide interests across them basically guarantees failure.
Dharmesh Shah is a Co-Founder and CTO at HubSpot
11. “Protect your company culture”
Derek Sivers – Founder of CD Baby
Protect your internal culture, no matter what. Once it turns nasty, it never goes back. Fire a rotten apple immediately. Note from Belle: Derek wrote a great blog post about this which expands on how he felt after having issues with his company’s culture. Here’s a little snippet: I cut two chapters out of my book because they were too nasty. They vented all the awful details about how my terrible employees staged a mutiny to try to get rid of me, and corrupted the culture of the company into a festering pool of entitlement, focused only on their benefits instead of our clients.
Afterwards, I spent a few years still mad at those evil brats for what they did. So, like anyone feeling victimized and wronged, I needed to vent – to tell my side of the story. Or so I thought. So do you want to know the real reason I cut those chapters? I realized it was all my fault. I let the culture of the company get corrupted. I ignored problems instead of nipping them in the bud.
Derek Sivers is a best-selling author and entrepreneur
12. “I put myself before Facebook, it cost me $100,000,000″
Noah Kagan – Chief Sumo, AppSumo
When I got fired from Facebook, it was my entire life. My social circle, my validation, my identity and everything was tied to this company. As the company grew, I wasn’t able to adapt. One of the reasons why was that I was selfish.I wanted attention, I put myself before Facebook. I hosted events at the office, published things on this blog to get attention and used the brand more than I added to it.
Lesson learned: The BEST way to get famous is make amazing stuff. That’s it. Not blogging, networking, etc.
Noah Kagan is Chief Sumo of AppSumo
13. “People really are everything in business”
Jesse Jacobs – Founder, Samovar Tea Lounge
One thing I’ve learned over 12 years running Samovar Tea Lounge is the importance of having the right people on your team.
It’s worth the extra effort to find the right investors, employees, and vendors who believe in your company’s mission and passionately desire to contribute to it – not just those who want to punch the clock or get their share of profits. People really are everything in business, and the people you align yourself with will either buoy you up or weigh you down.
Jesse founded Samovar Tea Lounges with the mission to enrich people’s lives
reblogged from The Buffer Blog a blog about: productivity, life hacks, writing, user experience, customer happiness and business.
When Steve Blank appeared on the cover of Wired magazine 19 years ago, his company then, Rocket Science Games, was expected to revolutionize the videogame industry. At the time, Blank didn’t let the skepticism of critics faze him.
“I thought I was a genius,” he says. Three months later, when he called his mother to let her know he was about to lose $35 million in investor funding, he wasn’t feeling quite so genius anymore.
“I had lots of choices, including that I could have quit,” he says. “Learning from that failure for me was one of the best experiences of my life.” And learn he did. In 1996, Blank founded the startup E.piphany, which went on to earn $1 billion for each of its investors.
In the past 10 years, says Blank, the culture around entrepreneurship has become increasingly failure-friendly. Serial entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley hop from one failed business to the next and billionaire entrepreneurs like Richard Branson wax on publicly about their failures almost as much as their successes. Still, “no one likes to fail,” says Blank. “We are hardwired for success.”
But what if you could actually use failure to help you succeed? Here are five keys to start failing your way to success:
1. Call failure something else.
When was the last time anyone got hired for a senior-level position without any experience? For serial entrepreneurs, “experience” is simply another word for “failure,” says Blank. By labeling a failed effort an opportunity to expand your knowledge base, you’re framing it in a more positive light, allowing yourself to add to your credibility as a more seasoned entrepreneur.
2. Use failure as a stepping stone.
With every failure, identify what you know you did wrong and be conscious not to repeat your mistakes. This will bring you one step closer to success, says Steve Siebold, a Palm Beach, Fla.-based consultant who works with corporations and entrepreneurs on mental toughness and critical thinking.
“I’ve never heard [a millionaire entrepreneur] say they hit it right the first time out,” says Siebold, whose book How Rich People Think (London House Press, 2010) is a culmination of nearly three decades of interviews. “The bigger they are, the more they’ve typically failed.”
3. Never fail alone.
Entrepreneurs like to be trailblazers. But make a mistake on your own and you might have a hard time determining what went wrong. Having a partner you trust and respect can turn every failure into an opportunity for collaboration. “A good partner can help you determine what not to do again,” says Karl Baehr, director of business and entrepreneurial studies at Emerson College, a private four-year college in Boston focused on communication and the arts.
4. Don’t hide your failures.
Be proud that you were brave enough to take a risk in the first place. By being forthright about your mistakes, you open yourself up to learning from others.
Baehr’s mentor, Walter Hailey, whose insurance company Lone Star Life Insurance went on to become a Kmart insurance company, used to take an hour-long walk at 5 a.m. every morning with a group of close friends to talk about ideas, successes and failures. “By the time they got back to the house, they had solutions,” says Baehr. “They had a plan for the day.”
5. Redefine what you want.
Revisit and refocus why you got into business in the first place. “Look for your emotional motivators. We are emotional creatures. Logic doesn’t motivate us,” says Siebold, who launched five consecutive unsuccessful businesses before he started his current consulting company. For Siebold, that motivator was one day becoming a millionaire, a goal he achieved at age 31. “Most people only half-heartedly decide they want a lot of things. You have to get really clear on what you want,” he says. “The question is: How badly do [you] want it?”
It is only a failure when you give up. You have heard this, right?
Easy to remember in retrospect and more difficult to stay in touch with when we are face to face with less than stellar results. It so easy to think that our failure really is a cosmic message that we need to throw in the towel and do something less than extraordinary.
The article is to help you keep your perspective so that you can reach the heights you wish to reach.
Purpose: Take a moment and pick out three major failures in your life. Who would you be or what would be true for you if you did not have these experiences? If you have managed to fail forward, then chances are you feel that they served a purpose. If you have gotten stuck it might be a little harder.
Quantity: How many mistakes do you make in the course of the day? Did you drop something, forget something, or trip? Did you do less than a great job on an important task, go the wrong way and get lost?
Mistakes are little failures that are a part of every day. How much we beat ourselves up about these little mistakes determines how much they have a negative impact on our day. This is the same with the big stuff as well. If we can resist the urge to mentally hold onto past set back whether large or small, they cease to have the same impact.
Ambivalence: We really don’t know whether our experience counts as a mistake or failure. In fact, there is really no such thing. The only way that failure exists is as a concept not as a reality. So give up judging your experience and just learn from it and keep moving.
Look at the world around you. Everything alive breaths in and out. If you dig a hole in the dirt it fills with air or water or something. Everything is in a constant exchange. It is the natural way of things.
However, we seem to feel that it is somehow unsafe to let things be that way and block one or the other. We block the “inhale” of life which is receiving or the “exhale” which is giving. Sometimes we even block both.
What can we do about it?
The first thing to do is to get back in balance. If you give all the time you are likely depleted. If you receive all the time you have likely depleted those around you.
If you are depleted, start a rigorously loving self-care plan. If you have been taking all the time –just start to notice what you do and why you do it.
Second, examine what the underlying issues are. There are reasons why you are not comfortable giving or receiving. Why do you think that is? What negative experiences or social training have shaped who you are?
Third, practice doing the opposite of what you have been doing. Do you normally take up the space in a conversation? Try listening more. Do you brush off every compliment? Try taking a deep breath, smiling and saying thank you.
Wherever you are blocked with this particular dynamic, it will affect your happiness and your growth so take some time to work with it. The results will be gratifying.
Life pulls us in many directions. No matter the phase of development our work is in, we can get caught in the tangle of competing interest and loss of motivation.
While I think it is unlikely, and perhaps even unproductive, to always stay on track, there are tools for getting back on track faster and easier. When we develop these abilities we also develop trust in ourselves. This makes the time we spend “off track” that much easier and more productive.
One of these tools you may have heard me talk about is the Vision Statement. There are just about as many ways to define the vision statement as there are people in the world, but one thing is sure – the vision statement is a useful tool for getting back on track.
When I talk with my clients, I am continually inspired by the dedication they show in bringing their work into the world. At one point, everyone works to get clear on their vision and their mission. It is not an easy thing – sometimes, the more we care, the more difficult attaining clarity becomes.
Your vision is the heart of what you do. Putting that depth of feeling and complexity into simple yet powerful words is a big task. But when you do it, you have managed to create the very thing that will pump life-blood through your work for years to come.
This means that, when you get off track, you are able to reconnect to the heart of what you are doing just by rereading your vision statement. The benefits do not stop there. Your vision statement also helps you every time you communicate with others about what you do because you are clearer about the real reason you are doing it.
So what is your vision for your world, your community, or your business? What would you like to see be different?
Need more ways to stay on track? A little coaching cal go a long way. Join Dr. Kate’s Inner Circle and get access to her skillful coaching for a low monthly fee.
The most unforgiving voice of all is the one that lives inside our heads. It is the constant drone of self-criticism, less-than and not-good-enough that leads our memory maps, habit patterns and fixed fantasies to the darkest of places. Silencing the Inner Critic is the first step toward rediscovering and reclaiming the authentic self.
You are perfect – mind, body and spirit. You are exactly where you need to be. You have never made a bad decision, although the consequences of your decisions may not have always turned out as you might have anticipated or expected. Sounds like a bunch of New Age nonsense, right? Well, not so much.
The factors that contribute to our evolution are myriad – nature, nurture, socialization, acculturation, collective consciousness, collective unconscious, racial memory, soul memory, in utero experience, prenatal influence – the list is seemingly endless. What often shapes us most immediately and most profoundly, however, are the instructions that we are given as we develop.
There really is no good explanation for why it is that we, as a culture, maintain a propensity to hear mostly the negative, as opposed to the positive, of those instructions, but that is the undeniable, and rather unfortunate, tendency. One supposes it has something to do with the Judeo-Christian ethic of “man-as-sinner” that is so deeply woven into the fabric of Western culture. Regardless, those negative instructions – “You’re fat.” You’re slow. You’re dumb.” You’re clumsy” – are part of the genesis for a pesky, self-critical and masochistic voice of self-denigration that plagues our self-perception.
That voice, however, – that Inner Critic – is predicated upon a lie; actually a whole series of lies. Those lies – or, more properly, our negative core beliefs as proscribed by them – establish for us many of the fixed fantasies that we hold about ourselves. And that voice, in turn, does its level best to inform – and mostly compromise — our self-esteem.
The lies issue from the perspective of those who themselves have lost contact with their own authenticity. They have their own set of lies to believe in. Remember the old adages, “When you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you.” or “We hate in others what we fear most in ourselves.”? Well, there you go. Psychosocially, and from the standpoint of emotional intelligence, the bully is always the weakest one on the playground.
On the other side of things, self-esteem is a wholly Western construct. Indeed, the notion of self-esteem – a notion that necessitates the inclusion of a dualistic “bad me” to balance out the “good me” – is quite foreign to Eastern thinkers. This is uniquely evidenced by the well known anecdote regarding a conference on Psychology and Buddhism some years ago where it was necessary to spend an entire day explaining the concept of self-esteem to a group of quite learned Eastern teachers and contemplatives, including the Dalai Lama. It’s not that they didn’t understand the construct of self-esteem, but, more, it’s that they didn’t understand why such a construct was even necessary.
The construct is necessary because we, at the sufferance of our own socialization, cling to this notion of “bad me”; a notion fostered by our fixation upon those formative negative instructions. There is really no way to avoid these negative instructions because they aren’t about us – they are about the person who issues them. We can, however, manage the experience of those instructions, and the degree to which we allow them to influence us.
If we minimize and contain our experience of those negative instructions, recognizing them for what they are, then there is no real opportunity for us to generate the notion of “bad me”. With no “bad me”, there’s no necessity for a “good me” — there’s just “me” This is a path back to the authentic self — no conditions, no qualifications, no limitations. In this way, we can work toward an unselfconscious iteration of ourselves, rather than version that is constantly second guessing and looking over our own shoulder.
Some people will promise you the world. They tell you that, if you just get their program or learn to be more positive, then you will be able to grow your business, be fulfilled, or what have you.
But they haven’t given you the whole picture. WHO you are on the inside is just as important as what you “know” and “believe.” That is what my work is all about.
While I don’t have a magic bullet (except for the blender) I do have something that has been working for millennia to help people live richer and more fulfilling lives. Awareness.
We have learned so much in our lives. And when we have not learned something, we use whatever information might be close to right to solve the problem at hand. When it comes to emotional issues we can forget what we have learned and when we learned it. Sometimes we can even completely lose sight of what we are feeling. Whether we are aware of it or not, though, these emotions — and sometimes the avoidance of them — play out in our daily lives.
Knowing what we are feeling and why we are feeling it are aspects of our emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is our ability to regulate, assess, and identify the emotions of our self and others. When we are unable to do this, we wind up with a whole host of problems. Most people have not learned to be emotionally intelligent. It is not taught in most schools, in most homes, or even in most coaching training programs. Without being aware of what we are feeling and why we are feeling it, we are doomed to failure. Even if our work is a success in terms of money, our lives will not be at all fulfilling.
So, what can you do about it?
You can take a moment to pay attention to what is going on below the surface. When faced with a difficult person or circumstance, ask yourself what you need that you are not getting and what this person needs that they might not be getting. Then look for solutions that might enrich both of your lives.
1. Meditate, contemplate and observe: You can’t be happy if you don’t know what is stopping you from being happy. Take time each day to focus inward and figure out what is going on.
2. Do something for someone else: We are most fulfilled when we can meet the needs or wants of others — not just when we meet our own needs. Giving back can help us be more fulfilled.
3. Learn to love something even in what you hate: There is always some way to find something good in what is most challenging in your life. Take a moment to see what you can bring to the things with which you struggle.
4. Change your perspective and learn to see opportunity: Opportunity is everywhere. Take a moment to see potential.
5. Eat REALLY well: You can’t be happy with a broken or struggling system. Find a way to get good food in your life.
6. Don’t settle: You know what is best for you. Settling is not a good way to create a fulfilled life.
7. Love what you have: Otherwise known as being grateful. If you can’t love it, see number 6 or number 3.
8. Do what you love: It is the only thing you really need to do and is also what will make you the most fulfilled.
9. Love what you do: See number 6 and remember — if you are doing it, you might as well find a way to love it.
10. Be a really good person: There is nothing that creates fulfillment like integrity. Be the best person you know you can be.
Today I’d like to share one of my favorite tools that helps me (and my clients) be more productive than I ever thought possible:
Ladies and Gentlemen:
SIRI + iPhone Reminders app!
I know it sounds almost mundane and not as fancy as the “usual suspects” such as Calendar and Evernote. However, this is the biggest mental-space and time saver I found to date. It allows us to follow the essential principal of productivity: allocate the RIGHT amount of time and energy to every task.
Why does it work so well?
A) The task is now out of your mind and in a trusted system, that not only will store it for you, but will remind you to address it AT THE RIGHT TIME. Now it doesn’t clog your brain with needless thoughts and worries and doesn’t require any energy/mental space to remember it.
B) For me personally, writing stuff down creates some resistance. It’s too much work! But when I only need to say “Remind me…” and assign a time, it’s easy and doesn’t interrupt the flow of whatever I am doing. This way, many more reminders go in, and subsequently more stuff GETS DONE.
Really, it’s mind-boggling how much more productive thinking I can do since I stopped trying to remember every to-do.
I would like to challenge you to try it for a week, and tell me how it is working for you.
Need to create better systems for your business? Marina Darlow of Vision Framework will help you put the structures in place to make you and your business the most effective.
So what is meant by the term “vision”? It’s simple. Whatever difference you want to make in the world — ending hunger and war, teaching parents how to raise children better, teaching partners how to love better, or however you want to make the world a better place — it is important to have a clear desired end result.
Your vision is your all-encompassing goal. You might never ultimately achieve this goal on your own — after all, ending world hunger is a pretty tall order — but your contribution will get the world closer to that goal.
Your first step is to create your Vision Statement. Most businesses use this step, as well, to help them formulate their business plan. It’s a good way to help clarify your project.
Here is the first part of an exercise to help you write your Vision Statement:
Answer the following questions:
What I want to change about the world is:
One to three things I think the world needs are:
What I want to communicate to the world is:
How is your life and your business currently in line with your vision? What steps can you take today and this week that will bring you closer to living your purpose through this vision?
Does your visions include helping others? Dr. Kate’s Master Transformational Coach Certification will give you a foundation from which you can reach those you most want to effect AND make money doing it.