We asked members of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) to share the lessons they learned after some of their biggest misses in business.
Define Roles Clearly
"After we hired our first employee in 2013 into a generalist role, I quickly realized that the position was not set up for success. There were no clearly defined metrics that this position would be held accountable for, and we were pulling this employee in multiple directions. We eventually shook hands and parted ways, and have since implemented clearer accountability standards while regularly meeting as a team to check in on how everyone is progressing."
Ryan Zagata, EO Brookyln
President, Brooklyn Bicycle Co.
Focus on Sales to Start
"Before starting my business, I had a background in consumer products and brand marketing, and was used to huge budgets. For my company, I initially used some of those same strategies and spent a lot of money buying mass-media packages. While I had great branding and professional materials, I didn't have a plan in place to identify what our target audiences wanted and how we were going to reach them directly. I learned we needed to generate sales rather than branding, and to find a way to track or measure all of our campaigns."
Cesar Quintero, EO South Florida
Founder and COO, Fit2Go
Balance the Team
"In 2009, we experienced a difficult year financially due to the recession. We went deep in the red, and I personally funded the company for several months. I thought laying people off would lead to bad morale, but it was actually the opposite. I now know that having the right people in the right seats--and letting go of those who don't fit--is the best strategy. Bigger isn't always better, and to me, it's better to grow sustainably while providing security for our team. It took me failing to realize this."
Keith Roberts, EO Colorado
Founder and president, Zenman
Plan Your Funding
"I funded the startup of my first company using six personal credit cards and started in debt. It was unfortunately a mentality that followed me into my second company, as I hadn't quite seen it as a clear failure yet. Using credit cards or loans to grow and maintain a business is expensive. I learned to operate from cash whenever possible. If you are going to use outside funding, then have a distinct plan in place for when and how it will be paid back."
Jen Sterling, EO DC
CEO, Red Thinking
"My first attempt at analytics technology was a high-risk medication-analysis tool. I deployed the technology in a home health agency I was running, and sent the results to my patients' physicians. I received seven cease-and-desist letters. I was so passionate and sure about what I was doing that I never took a minute to actually consult with the beneficiaries of my technology. I learned to engage with my consumers before I plow forward with an idea."
Dan Hogan, EO Nashville
President and CEO, Medalogix
"While we generally did a good job of making decisions, we did an exceptionally poor job of documenting them. Forgetting to write down both how and why we do certain things yielded countless hours of repeated work and decision-making as employees were gained and lost over the years of growth. Now, we keep careful written documentation of how processes work and why certain decisions were made. It's helped us learn from our mistakes and bring new hires up to speed on key issues much faster."
Pavel Sokolovsky, EO Chicago
Co-founder and CEO, eComfort.com