A comedy of errors is only funny when it happens to someone else. Enjoy these tales of start-up blunders-but don't let them happen to you.

Roberto Goizueta, by all accounts, was a swell guy-a philanthropist and a brilliant businessman. But his 1997 obituary, published in newspapers across the country, still made it clear: This was the man who came up with the idea for New Coke.

We're all entitled to mistakes. Goizuetta fixed his, three months later, and he left a fortune of $1.3 billion to his heirs; so after changing the Coca-Cola recipe in 1985 and then changing it back again, he probably didn't spend the rest of his life in complete misery.

But you drink Coke; you don't own it. You don't have $1 billion to fall back on. If you make a big blunder, it could cost you your company. In a few weeks, you might be telling your customers "I'm not sure what toy comes with your Happy Meal. Let me ask my manager."

And that's why we spoke to these current and former entrepreneurs, who were nice enough to share their insights on mistakes that they probably wish someone else had made.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to Business Start-Ups. One of his most embarrassing mistakes happened when, as a teenager, he opened a unisex bathroom door on an unsuspecting woman. After they screamed, Williams slammed the door shut, reopened it to say "Sorry about that" and, realizing what he was doing, slammed the door again. His family still chides him about it.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Gotcha!.

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