6 Entrepreneurs Share the Bad Idea That Led to a Success

Founders reveal the mistakes that led to better solutions.
6 Entrepreneurs Share the Bad Idea That Led to a Success
Image credit: Michele Marconi
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Good ideas are the product of bad ideas -- the failure leads us to success. So we asked six entrepreneurs: What was a bad idea that led to a great one?

Related: The Simplest Test of Whether Your Business Idea Is Good or Bad

1. Free gifts

“When we launched [job marketplace] Vettery, we sent personalized gifts to everyone who found employment through us. A new job is a big deal, and we wanted to help them celebrate! One guy got placed at a mattress company, so we hand-delivered him a new mattress. We quickly learned this wasn’t scalable, but we still firmly believed in celebrating each candidate placement. This led to the idea of a bonus. Now everyone who finds a job on Vettery receives $500.” -- Adam Goldstein, co-founder and CEO, Vettery

2. Company quarters

“When Jopwell was in Y Combinator’s summer 2014 accelerator class, our eight-person team rented a house in San Francisco. In terms of work-life balance -- or sanity -- living together wasn’t the best. But it taught us how to understand one another. Today our 30-plus employees don’t live together, but we try to foster a culture where we feel like family. We named two conference rooms Divisadero and Hayes as a tribute to the intersection where we lived that summer.” -- Ryan Williams, co-founder and president, Jopwell

Related: Need a Business Idea? Here are 55

3. Archived flops

“I keep versions of products that didn’t make the cut around the shop. I have gone back to early iterations and brought a feature into a current model to enhance it. For example, an early version of [engineering toy] Circuit Cubes had holes on the bottom to allow for a connector pin, but I was having problems getting the openings on the circuit board and had to remove them. Four iterations later, I brought back the idea by adjusting the holes to accept a shorter connector pin. Never say never!” -- John Schuster, co-founder and chief design officer, Tenka Labs

4. Multiple missteps

“My co-founders and I first came together to create apps for fashion and dating. We didn’t care about fashion, and we were all married. Both failed fast, and we learned how hard it is to scale an app. So next we tried to build an app to help with discovery, to help others scale. But we couldn’t figure out how to scale that, either. It finally led to AppLovin, a marketing platform for developers to monetize apps. Our first three projects failed, but we wouldn’t be here without those stumbles.” -- Adam Foroughi, co-founder and CEO, AppLovin 

5. Impossible partners

“When I set out to create a system to help women manage their wardrobes, I thought I needed retailers: a customer would buy something on, say, Net-a-Porter, then be prompted to add those items to their digital wardrobe. The idea wasn’t scalable. I would have had to partner with hundreds of stores. But we could acquire the same purchase history by going straight to the end user and cutting out the retailer. Lack of scale is not a barrier. It’s simply a starting point.” -- Whitney Casey, co-founder and CEO, Finery

Related: 18 Ways to Bounce Back from Failure

6. Following the leader

“When we were figuring out pricing at [video­conferencing startup] Highfive, Slack was the darlingest of darling companies. It introduced ‘active user’ pricing, so we, like every other company, tried to implement active user pricing. But it didn’t translate to great economics for our product category, and it was tough to sell long-term contracts. We iterated and landed on an unlimited per-room model, easy to understand and unique -- one of our best decisions.” -- Shan Sinha, founder and CEO, Highfive

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