It may be temping to believe that successful entrepreneurs had an easy rise to the top. Maybe they have inherent business sense, they broke into an in-demand market, or they were simply lucky. But as it turns out, everyone who's started a business has made mistakes (and some big ones, too). The defining characteristic of those who succeed isn't the ability to make perfect decisions all the time; it's the willingness to learn from their failures and the perseverance to never give up. If you ask a CEO the biggest career mistakes to avoid, they'll probably have something to do with staying true to yourself and your company's mission. Sure, processes and logistics must be learned along the way (and with it, some trial and error), but those glitches won’t make or break your success if you maintain the right mindset.
Ahead, five female founders from around the country dish on the most memorable mistakes they've made in their own businesses. From building more confidence, to pushing through failures, to learning how to sort through good and bad advice, these savvy entrepreneurs admit that there were obstacles along the way. So if you're thinking about creating your own company, or even moving up the ranks in your current job, read on. Just remember: While mistakes are inevitable, they're worth making if you're able to learn from them.
Maya French, 28 | Co-Founder of Koia
"In 2013, I realized that I developed a lactose intolerance and as a very active person, I couldn’t find a good post-workout shake. My co-founder, Dustin Baker and I had previously tried to create a cold-pressed juice, but we found it wasn’t sticking with consumers and was very expensive to make. We switched our ideas to a nut-based protein drink. Fast forward to now, we have 11 skus in over 5,000 stores nationwide.
The first two years were full of non-stop mistakes that ranged from cutting corners (that later came back to bite us) all the way to choosing the wrong partners to help grow our brand. These were all mistakes that could have put us out of business early. But we were relentless in never giving up, and smart enough to learn from our mistakes then pivot quickly, all to which has helped us be where we are today.
As young people, we are always trying to prove ourselves and not look like we don’t know what we’re doing. Being young is the best excuse to be vulnerable and reach out to our peers/mentors for advice. The moment I learned this and felt comfortable doing it was the moment I began to grow at a fast pace."
Amy Lacey, 49 | Founder & CEO of Cali’flour Foods
"The inspiration behind starting the company was initially to serve a personal need; to help me continue eating my family’s favorite food! Friday was our pizza and game night, and having been diagnosed with Lupus and Sjogren’s Syndrome, I wanted to find a way to still participate and be able to get out of bed on Saturday morning without severe inflammation. I began recipe creating in my own kitchen, and it was there that Cali’flour Foods was born.
The biggest mistake I made early on was not believing in myself and not having enough confidence that I could run the business. Because of this, I hired a CEO in late 2016. Unfortunately, our values did not align and in July 2017, I realized that I needed to take the reins back. I did, and over the next five months, myself and my newly inspired team grew the business by 500 percent.
Some of my greatest successes in this business have come from failures. It’s perseverance, passion, and learning from those mistakes that have made this business into a multimillion dollar one. I’m 49. I started the company at age 45. This goes to show that it’s never too late to chase your dreams or change your path!"
Lindsay Cook, 36 | Co-Founder & CEO of FitOn
"When I was an executive at Fitbit for five years, I hit a breaking point. Although I worked at a health and fitness company, between working long hours and having kids, it was impossible to get to my favorite fitness classes. I tried finding workout videos that kept me motivated, but I either found myself lost in YouTube, or bored trying to follow moves on various workout apps. Hence the concept and inspiration behind launching FitOn in January 2019.
One of my biggest mistakes early on was trying to go too much against the traditional fitness industry. Since inception, we have always been dedicated to creating fitness into a lifestyle where people can take workouts whenever they want, or a la carte. In doing so, we underestimated the importance of step-by-step fitness programs that users need to make their commitment to fitness each week.
[My advice is to] listen to your customers. In the early months of the business, we did lots of focus groups and reached out to lots of potential users to help refine the concept for FitOn. The more you are able to generate excitement with your user base, the easier it is to get positive word-of-mouth, which is priceless for a new product launch."
Alaina Marie Harris, 31 | Founder of Alaina Marie
"The inspiration behind my business was a lobsterman’s bait bag. I grew up in the Portland, Maine area, which is right on the coast and happens to harbor a working waterfront of lobstermen and fishermen. The materials they use are marine-grade and very durable, and the buoys and netting are often painted in bright neon colors. This combination was the perfect storm that sparked my inspiration behind turning a lobsterman’s bait bag into a fashionable handbag.
As my business grew, people started to take note, and as growth happened, a door seemed to open where people began giving me their unsolicited advice on just about everything I was doing. My biggest mistakes have usually involved letting others influence my business decisions instead of trusting my own instincts.
I am also by nature a 'yes person.' I believe this can be both a blessing and a curse. I always say 'yes' because I never want to miss out on a given opportunity, but at the same time, overcommitting myself has caused me to become extremely distracted and fall off track in growing my business the way I want to.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying that I know everything — far from it! But I have grown and matured enough to trust my intuition and take unsolicited advice with a grain of salt."
Kelly Love, 33 & Allison Evans, 33 | Co-Founders of Branch Basics
"Creating Branch Basics was purely based on our passion to share life-changing information with others about the impact that everyday toxic chemicals can have on our health. We launched our non-toxic, plant-based cleaning formula in 2017 to act as a 'Trojan Horse' for getting our foot in the door of people’s homes, giving us an opportunity and a 'soap box' (pun intended!) to help raise consciousness about how everyday chemicals affect our health.
We learned a ton through failure. In hiring certain top employees, suppliers, manufacturers, and accountants who ended up not being who we thought they were, we cost the company [lots of] time and money. We are much wiser and more prudent in terms of who we bring into the 'BB fold,' which has blessed us with an incredible new team and amazing people/companies with whom we work.
[Our advice is to] trust your gut. It’s something we hear all the time, so it seems cliché, but it can be really hard to follow through with when you’re in the middle of stressful circumstances. Every time we’ve ignored our gut feeling, it led to major regret. When we’ve said 'no' to the easy choice, because it just didn’t sit right with us, it has led to better outcomes than we could have imagined."