Steve Cody knows a thing or two about what it takes to build a startup in the big city. 

The Peppercomm co-founder borrowed $12,500 from his family and friends to launch the New York City-based public relations firm in 1995. Now approaching his 20th anniversary, Cody can look around and see more than 100 employees across four offices, 17X growth, and a "Best Places to Work" award from Crain's New York Business.

In an Inc. Trep Life mini-documentary, Cody reminisced about the old days--cold-calling companies to persuade them to become clients of a startup they had never heard of. One of his earliest and biggest catches, he says, turned out to be a regrettable one:

"My biggest mistake was chasing a client that I knew wasn't good for Peppercomm because they had a big name, a huge budget, but they were also notorious for churning agencies and beating up agencies," he tells Inc. "Sure enough, within a few months, they started beating up our people. Nothing we could do was right, and within 15 months they fired us. Our people were devastated, we lost an $80,000 a month account, and we had to cut back on investments. And it was simply a mistake of mine for chasing a client I had no business chasing."

Cody says it's better to cater to clients you can manage instead of ones that with the potential to cause major damage with little effort. As the leader, you need to know when a client is too powerful for your company's own good.

To get more of Cody's advice, watch the Trep Life full episode below.

Published on: Sep 9, 2014