Lesson for Founders: Learn from Mistakes of Others

“If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not doing anything.” --John Wooden, Legendary college basketball coach

John Moore has spent decades supporting startups in Greenville. He’s seen founders make a lot of mistakes. Moore admits he’s made his share, too.

When he spoke to a packed house at The Platform’s March Business Huddle, Moore delivered a cautionary tale to the entrepreneurs who showed up to learn from his experience.

Moore regularly shares his wisdom as a guest contributor at Upstate Business Journal with his column, Moore to the Point, and he helped hundreds of entrepreneurs as co-founder and CEO of NEXT Upstate. He resigned from that position a few years ago, and he’s now the principal at Momenteum Strategies.

Moore builds entrepreneurial ecosystems—in more concrete terms, think of scaffolding that supports founders through each stage of the entrepreneurial journey. His goal is to fuel economic development in the communities he serves by attracting and retaining entrepreneurs and innovators.

Reno Deaton invited Moore to the Business Huddle. As Executive Director of the Greer Development Corporation and the leader of The Platform, Deaton’s mission aligns with Moore’s. The Platform provides coaching, mentoring, business boot camps, and pitch opportunities for founders.

The Business Huddle audience was full of entrepreneurs who had worked through Deaton’s programs or others like them in Greenville.


“It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.”

--Warren Buffet, Businessman, investor, philanthropist


Moore’s presentation, Founder Failures: 3 Mistakes to Avoid as an Entrepreneur, wasn’t all-problems-and-no-solutions. His lesson came with warnings and work-arounds.

The tone was light-hearted and casual, and the audience was all-in from the start. Almost every hand in the room at Crate Restaurant and Wine Bar went up when Moore asked who had ever made a mistake. Nearly as many hands stayed in the air when he asked who had made a mistake in business.

Moore doesn’t just speak in platitudes. He gained a lot of his wisdom from hard knocks as an entrepreneur. Moore talked about the chain of smoothie shops he opened a couple decades ago.

Even though the business seemed to have promise, Moore had to shut his shops down after only 18 months.

Since that time, Moore has tried to support other entrepreneurs through their ups and downs. He’s found some common threads among businesses that fail.

#1

Moore said the biggest reason businesses go under is that they don’t engage potential customers early in their product design process.

They’re simply making things consumers don’t want at that point in time. Moore’s solution is simple: Founders should solicit honest feedback on their early designs, which he admits can be brutal (but essential).

Every “rule” has an exception, though, Moore said as he put up a quote from Henry Ford, the man who revolutionized the way we get around in America.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” --Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motor Company, developer of the assembly line

#2

The second major mistake Moore said entrepreneurs make is focusing too much on their product instead of the business as a whole. The solution: Put significant effort into business model development, which includes things such as distribution, management, marketing, and identifying your target customer.

#3

The third mistake founders should avoid, Moore said, is underestimating the time and money they need to succeed. Entrepreneurs, according to Moore, should anticipate things going sideways and have a Plan B (and maybe C, D, and E) for when they do. Business ownership is not a straight line from startup to success. Founders who thrive find a way to mitigate the impact of things not going according to plan.

Bonus! #4

Moore knows entrepreneurship can be a lonely game, so he gave folks at the Huddle some bonus content. Mistake #4 to avoid: trying to grow and scale a business by yourself. Moore said founders should be intentional about blocking out time to connect with ecosystem resources and meet with mentors and other entrepreneurs.

He recommended a tool he uses. Moore says Calendly helps him reserve time for important but non-urgent meetings and book them efficiently without the usual back-and-forth-emails involved in scheduling.

Heeding that advice might be tough for founders who strictly subscribe to the old “time is money” adage, but the hours entrepreneurs invest on the front end learning from other people’s mistakes could save them time and money in the end.