Start-Up Mistakes to Avoid

One of the best lessons in business is to learn from others' mistakes.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the July 2002 issue of Teen Startups. Subscribe »

( - Amid the glitz, glamour and green that surrounds them, it's easy to forget that even the world's most successful entrepreneurs have had their challenges along the way and--yikes!--even made some mistakes.

Now, focusing on other people's mistakes is just not nice, as your mom would be quick to tell you. And while that's true for the most part, we've got another take on it: Learning from the mistakes other entrepreneurs have made along the way can make for some of the best business lessons ever.

Most business mistakes are just blips along the way and a part of the everyday business of doing business, such as customer service. That's a definite area of focus for Elise and Evan MacMillan, owners of Denver-based chocolate maker The Chocolate Farm. If a customer is dissatisfied, Elise or Evan, ages 14 and 16, do whatever it takes to make sure that customer ends up happy--even if it means giving away some free chocolate. "Good customer service is really important to us," says Elise. "Even if we lose money on one customer trying to make them happy, it's worth it in the long run."

Some blunders are simply the result of a bad judgment call--something all of us make from time to time. That's what happened to 'trep Emily Burdick, 18, owner of Emilina's Original Jewelry Designs in Houston.

One year, Burdick's market research revealed that angel pins would be big sellers at fall craft fairs. They were. The next year, Burdick figured that the pins would be a sure sell once again. They weren't.

Burdick's story has both a happy ending and a lesson attached to it: She was able to recoup her investment by selling her pins to a local bookstore, and she learned the value of market research.

Still other blunders could be avoided by simply taking that extra step. Eunice Kindred learned that lesson the hard way. The 20-year-old owner of New Wave Designs, a graphic design business in Brandon, Florida, Kindred goofed on an order for 100 T-shirts emblazoned with a school band logo. She let the design go through the production line without the client's approval. The client later decided the design was too small, and Kindred had to re-run the entire order--at her own cost.

Business and personal blunders usually happen for the same reasons--you're rushing, you're unprepared, or you've taken on more than you can handle. Keep the following checklist in mind when you're about to make a big decision for your business:

  • Conduct ongoing and careful market research so you don't end up with a product that won't sell.
  • Set up checkpoints in your production process to catch glitches and errors.
  • Make sure you have enough time and help to do your job right.
  • Follow your gut instinct--how many times have you known that a decision wasn't right for you, but you went ahead with it anyway?

Despite your best efforts--and we'd place money on this one--you're going to make mistakes in business, even after you're a raging success. Keep in mind that your focus should be not the blunder itself, but how you handle the blunder.


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