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Learning From Mistakes

The 5 Most Laughable Mistakes of Otherwise Successful Entrepreneurs -- Like Branson, Lucas and Cook, for Starters

Even successful entrepreneurs make unbelievable mistakes. Then they use them as springboards for greater success.
The 5 Most Laughable Mistakes of Otherwise Successful Entrepreneurs -- Like Branson, Lucas and Cook, for Starters
Image credit: Ernesto S. Ruscio | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Freelance writer
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As a new entrepreneur, or even a veteran, you'll find making mistakes disheartening. Whether you simply fudged a number or sent your company in a tragic direction, any mistake can derail your motivation and make you feel that you aren’t worthy to lead your organization.

Related: 10 Mistakes Millionaires Never Make Twice

Still, there are two positive things to remember about mistakes. First, they’re learning opportunities; as long as your mistake didn’t kill anyone (including you), you’ll have a chance to learn key lessons and walk away as a more experienced, more informed individual. Second, everybody makes makes -- even some of the most successful entrepreneurs in history.

And if you don’t believe me, just look at these examples:

1. Reed Hastings almost killed Netflix.

Netflix has become an unstoppable tech juggernaut, with millions of loyal subscribers and a stock price that just keeps climbing. But back in 2011, co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings made a decision that almost sent Netflix into a death spiral. Hastings announced that Netflix would be spinning off its DVD-by-mail service into a new service called Qwikster -- a move that would separate two core services, make things more complicated for consumers and raise prices simultaneously.

The backlash was immediate and fierce. So, the decision was scrapped and Netflix gradually won back the trust of the public. And Hastings? He had this to say on the matter: “The hardest part was my own sense of guilt. I love the company. I worked really hard to make it successful, and I screwed up. The public shame didn’t bother me. It was the private shame of having made a big mistake and [having] hurt people’s real love for Netflix that felt awful.”

2. Tim Cook allowed the iOS 6 Maps fiasco.

With the launch of iOS 6, Apple decided to push its own Maps app and navigation system, rather than relying on Google Maps. However, the product was riddled with bugs and often gave wrong directions, resulting in thousands (if not millions) of people getting lost in the first week of its launch.

Because Apple had developed a reputation for launching only the best, most quality-tested products, the blow was especially harsh. CEO Tim Cook took responsibility for the mistake in an open letter to Apple customers, saying: “At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers. With the launch of our new Maps last week, we fell short on this commitment.”

Cook went on to suggest third-party alternatives, like Google and Nokia, to fulfill his customers’ navigation needs.

3. Richard Branson tried to sell cola.

Virgin founder Richard Branson has been involved in just about everything, from record sales to space travel, but not all of his business ideas have been well-founded. Back in 1994, despite a major market presence from both Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Branson attempted to launch Virgin Cola as a major soft drink competitor.

As he wrote: “With Virgin Cola, we felt confident that we could smash our way past Coca-Cola and Pepsi, our main competitors. It turned out, however, that we hadn’t thought things through. Declaring a soft drink war on Coke was madness.” It certainly was a hasty decision and one that didn’t account for all the variables in play, but the parent company clearly survived and is continuing to see success.

Related: 25 Mistakes Successful People Never Make Twice

4. George Lucas sold Pixar.

Pixar, the studio behind legendary titles and franchises like Toy Story and Cars, originally started as a division of LucasFilm, George Lucas’s company. Though the studio had been intended to produce new imaging technology and an imaging computer, many insiders were more interested in creating animated films.

Lucas, who was not interested in animated films and was on the verge of a cash crisis, decided to sell Pixar to Apple founder Steve Jobs for $5 million. At the time, that made sense, as animated films weren’t doing well and few could have predicted the massive changes that computer animation and graphics could bring to the film industry. Considering the unbroken string of subsequent hits from the studio, not to mention Disney’s acquisition price of $7.4 billion back in 2006, that $5 million was a steal.

5. Masaru Ibuka started with a rice cooker.

Early in his career, Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka used his factory to create an electric rice cooker for everyday life. In theory, the idea was sound; Japanese people were eating lots of rice and needed a convenient appliance for cooking it. Unfortunately, Ibuka's rice cooker was terribly inconsistent, and despite constant his tinkering to try to improve the design, it was a massive failure.

In the wake of that product bomb, Ibuka left behind his rice aspirations to start an electronics shop in a department store in Tokyo with just a handful of employees. Later, with partner Akio Morita, the company built Japan’s first tape recorder and Sony began to flourish.

So, take heart: It’s always beneficial to look at the mistakes of others, especially if they’ve been successful in spite of those mistakes. Maybe the silver lining here is the comforting we may take in knowing we aren’t alone in our flawed natures and that there’s always something we can learn.

Related: 8 Huge Mistakes Most Entrepreneurs Don't Realize They're Making

Take inspiration and knowledge from these landmark entrepreneurial and leadership mistakes and don’t be too devastated when you inevitably make a few of your own.

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