Lesson 11: Avoiding Common Mistakes

What You’ll Learn: Failure is a natural pathway to success and is inevitable as you strike out on your own as an entrepreneur and small business owner. Bold ideas are, after all, risky. This module walks you through the life lessons of someone who has been in your shoes and shows you how to avoid some of the setbacks and struggles along the way.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.”

Denis Waitley


By: Leigh Felton

Hopefully, you’re getting lots of great advice on how to put the right thought processes into your new business. There is so much you have to do to get a new business successful and get it off the ground, it can feel a bit overwhelming.

Believe it or not, there’s actually very little you have to do to fail at a new startup. Trust me, I know. Between my husband and I, we have collectively and individually started up and failed at about 11 new business adventures. I’ve started and stopped eight of these on my own, including self-publishing two books and becoming a spokesperson after I participated in a successful TV show. And regardless of what I started or tried to do, I just couldn’t get any of these – I mean just awesome, terrific ideas – launched into society. But why?

That’s why I’m here today, to hopefully give you some insights into why new startup businesses fail.

Let’s start with a few stats. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of small businesses fail in their first year and about 50% of small businesses fail in their fifth year. So, let me share with you the mistakes I’ve made as a would-be serial entrepreneur.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried to start so many businesses because, in my heart of hearts, I am an entrepreneur who enjoys creating an idea and then working through all the little details to turn that idea into something tangible, meaningful, and ultimately, something people will want to purchase.

However, I have been far more successful in corporate America, and even in public service, than any of the businesses I’ve tried to start. As some of you may know, I am a former Assistant Director of the Business Services Division for the Washington State Department of Commerce. My time in Commerce spanned from 2011 to 2013. During that time, I had the great fortune to take my skills from my many years of working in corporate America, combined with my enthusiasm for entrepreneur success, and use them to support economic development and growth throughout the state.

Your Instructor

Leigh Felton is Director at Microsoft Corporation in the Office of Responsible AI. She went back to Microsoft after running her own consulting and business strategy business for four and a half years. Her real passion has been starting the many businesses that she has had the opportunity to be part of over the years. Leigh considers herself an entrepreneur by trade, accepting that her calling is in Corporate America, while her heart is seeing the success of businesses get off the ground, and the difference that those businesses can make in the world. 

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Even with all my experience in Corporate America and the public sector, I would say that this experience only led to very minor success as an entrepreneur. My latest venture has been in business consulting. The reason I did well in that space is because I went back to my roots and just focused on what I am good at. I did what I loved and helped many small, medium and corporate businesses with their strategy, operations and communications efforts.

So, why didn’t some of my other businesses succeed? I tried to have a limousine business, a quality goods resale business and attempted to transform the way schools captured yearbooks – that was over 20 years ago. I tried to establish an all-in-one baby’s first year-in-a box-business. Now, you may laugh at some of these ideas, but in my head, they were million-dollar ideas if I ever heard one.

In business, I come from the entrepreneurship side while my husband approached it from the technical side. As a successful Solutions Architect in the finance sector of Corporate America, he has launched several analytics and business intelligence products and figured, why should he do this in Corporate America when he has the skills and knowhow to launch his product ideas on his own?!

He attempted four times to turn, what is still operational today in some aspects, his product idea into a business. You would think with the expertise that both my husband and I bring to this world of commerce and product development, that of course, we could make it. But we didn’t. Why?

I don’t have all of the answers, but I can share 10 of the reasons we didn’t make it, so it can serve as food for thought to you as you go out there and succeed where so many of us have come up short.