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How to Make the Best Misteaks

Face it, sometimes you're going to mess up. Here's how to do wrong things the right way.
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Winston Churchill famously said success is defined by the ability "to go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

The world's most most interesting entrepreneurs certainly lived that reality.

"If we're not making mistakes, we're probably not growing," said Bo Menkiti, founder and CEO of The Menkiti Group and CEO and founding partner of the city's fastest growing residential real estate brokerage

"As an entrepreneur you're going to make a mistake," agreed Joel Holland, founder and CEO of Video Blocks, a subscription-based stock footage firm. "You can either let it crush you or motivate you."

Recently, Menkiti, Holland, and Naomi Whittel, the CEO and founder of natural supplements company, Reserveage Organics, revealed their best mistakes to Inc. during an event held in Washington D.C., sponsored by Capital One. 

How do you separate the good mistakes--like, say, intentionally misspelling a word in a headline to garner attention--from the bad ones? And if you're going to make mistakes, what kind should you make?

The kind that inspire you 

When Whittel went to sell her first company, she thought she'd done everything right. She hired a business broker, courted suitors, and settled on a family company with an 80-year business history. She developed a relationship with the company's head, even visiting him at home before closing the deal.

The only problem, she said, was that the buyer turned out to be "a very sophisticated con artist." After he'd gained her trust, he convinced her at the last minute to restructure the deal. The change left her holding stock that was essentially worthless.

Whittel went to court over the matter, but in the meantime, she said her husband convinced her to "frame the stock certificate" as inspiration.

It worked.

When she launched Reserveage Organics, she used her bad experience as motivation to grow big fast and keep control. The result? She reached $70 million in sales in her second year and was named Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year in Florida.

The kind that reveal new opportunities

Holland was always an entrepreneur, dating back to when he collected and sold used golf balls as a kid. But he said an early mistake he made in trying to launch a business offering "life advice to teenagers" led to a realization.

Holland did a great job of rounding up celebrities and respected people for videos in which they'd offer inspiration and advice. The problem was that the resulting videos he produced were kind of "boring," he said, and lacking quick edits or fun graphics. "It was like Charlie Rose for teenagers," Holland admitted.

That realization led Holland to discover how few options there were for people who wanted to make videos with stock footage and better production. Eventually, he founded Video Blocks, distributors of 1,000,000 clips of royalty free stock video and audio every month (and one of Inc.'s 30-under-30 young entrepreneurs this year).

The ones other people make

This one is easy, but also easily overlooked. Why not gain the benefit of other people's missteps without actually having to go through the painful experiences yourself?

At the start of his businesses, Menkiti said he experienced six months of missteps, which he attributed in retrospect to having recruited some of the wrong people. Even as he corrected his strategy and focused on building a team that was committed to his vision, he recognized it might make more sense to learn more consciously from other peoples' efforts.

Now he seeks out "people a little bit ahead of me, and I learn from their their mistakes," Menkiti said, in part by constantly reaching out to new mentors.

"Most entrepreneurs are extremely curious and probably really lonely," and thus willing to share their time and expertise, he said. "Call them!"

Like this post? Check out Bill's weekly email.

Last updated: Jun 27, 2013

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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