It’s been half a decade since founding gr8nola, and I’ve come a long way since becoming a first-time entrepreneur. Last month, I shared five of the smartest choices I made when starting my company, but of course, plenty of mistakes were made along the way. That said, I wouldn’t be where I am today—working on a food venture full-time that I love—if it weren’t for those missteps, and I’m glad to have learned from every single one of them.
And entrepreneurs: Feel free to jump in below in the comments section. I’d love to hear which mistakes you made and how you got back up after getting knocked down!
1. Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch
This is a big one that I know has so many entrepreneurs nodding their heads: Don’t get too confident until a deal is clearly past the finish line. One mistake I made when I was first starting my business was getting too excited when I received verbal commitments and thinking they were a go—only to be devastated when they ended up falling through.
In the food industry, until you’ve got that purchase order signed and in your inbox, nothing’s set in stone. It was a difficult but important lesson: Don’t rely on anything other than what’s right in front of you in writing.
2. Always Buffer More Time Than You Think You Need
This is true no matter what industry you’re in, but even more so when you’re selling a physical product that requires manufacturing time.
When I was planning the release of my new superfood flavors (Coco Cacao, Golden Turmeric and Matcha Green Tea—check ‘em out!), my entire launch was based on how quickly I could print new bags. My packaging vendor promised me a three-week lead time, so I took his word as bond and planned my launch date based on this timeframe. Of course, the bags took much longer than expected, and I found myself scrambling to reschedule everything—from my photoshoot to my PR push to my production dates. My launch ended up being delayed by an entire month!
What was my takeaway? Even if you’re the most organized person on the planet, you still need to include more time than you think to get things done. Play it safe with estimates and plan further in advance than you need to. I know I would’ve saved myself a lot of stress (and money) had I added more lead time from the beginning.
3. The Hard Work Only Begins When You Land That First Large Order
I remember how excited I was when I landed my first big distributor, especially when they placed not just one but three 1,000-pound orders of gr8nola over several consecutive months. I didn’t think to question if my product was actually being consumed that fast or where it was being placed; I just assumed if they kept ordering more product, it had to be moving. The process was working, right?
After that third month, the orders stopped coming. When I checked in, I learned that my distributor wasn’t properly tracking my inventory, so my gr8nola was just stacking up in a warehouse growing stale! This was a huge lesson for me: Even if things seem awesome on the surface, always check in with your customers and monitor every part of the process, especially your initial orders with big clients.
4. Embrace (Quickly) That Things Will Change
When you’re starting a business, every decision is painstaking, and the idea of having to start from scratch is terrifying. But in my case, waiting too long to make a change when one is necessary almost cost me my business.
When I first started gr8nola, I was using a co-packer (i.e. a third party manufacturer that produces your product) that I was generally satisfied with. But after a certain point, I started experiencing product quality issues, which I couldn’t seem to solve. Thinking I had no better options (co-packers are so hard to find!), I dealt with this subpar product for months—until my copacker decided to also raise their prices, which would’ve made my business unviable.
At that point, I had no choice but to find a new co-packer, and I was so nervous that others would be just as expensive and come with their share of (potentially worse) issues. But guess what? I ended up finding a co-packer who was cheaper and produced better product, and gr8nola was selling faster than ever. As soon as I realized how good things were, I was kicking myself for not switching over sooner until I felt like I had no choice but to make the move.
While it’s easy to beat yourself up about the mistakes you make along the way, it feels amazing to look back and see how those challenges grew my business into what it is today.
Hey entrepreneurs, what are the biggest mistakes you made when you first started your businesses? Let us know!