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Seven incredible business mistakes that nearly meant shutting up shop

They say business mistakes are a big part of the entrepreneurial journey, but how do you recover from spectacular ones that threaten all of your hard work?
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Business mistakes

Business mistakes: Tangle Teezer’s Shaun Pulfrey failed to properly protect his innovative idea

The learnings entrepreneurs can take from their peer group’s business mistakes are some of the most valuable out there – so here at Real Business we’ve pulled together some insightful examples.

Each of our interview subjects have lived to tell the tale, but learnt a great deal from their business mistakes. We also wanted to learn how they moved on from it and did not let it define their company.

Tangle Teezer is a former Dragons’ Den flop that has gone on to sell its detangling hair products in 70 countries. Founder Shaun Pulfrey answers our questions.

Business mistakes example

When I launched in 2007, I registered patents, trademarks and designs in those countries into which I thought we might sell one day. It was a significant expense for a startup and as a result, there were a few countries where I decided not to register IP at the time to try and save money. One of them was Taiwan.

Shortly after launching in the UK, a copy of the Tangle Teezer hairbrush appeared on a TV shopping channel in Taipei with a video of myself promoting “the copy” (which was of course actually the real thing).

Impact it had

The mistake cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost sales, and many thousands of pounds in legal fees to rectify, and more than a few nights of lost sleep! That fake product closed off the Taiwan market to use for nearly five years, and could have even threatened opportunities in the very much bigger Chinese market.

In retrospect

I absolutely should have seen this coming.  When the video came out, if it wasn’t so serious, it would have been hilarious. It was a huge wake up call – I should have realised earlier on that because the product is specifically designed to suit all hair types, that there would be immediate demand from countries outside the UK.

Avoidance technique

One of the first things I would have done would have been to set up a strong, global IP portfolio such as the one we have in place now.  With any successful brand comes counterfeits and copycats – I would have secured as many intellectual property protections such as trademarks and design registrations around the product as I could afford.

Resolution effort

The first thing I did was to ring-fence our IP globally. Then I thought about Taiwan. I realised that I had to distance our product from cheap copies, and I did that by focusing on the hair salon market rather than the TV home shopping market.

Mistake learnings

I realised that I needed to move fast into exporting, and I needed people on my team who understood global markets and brand protection. You can’t apply for IP registrations retrospectively, so although money is sparse at launch, it’s important to allocate as much money as you can to global IP protection.

Next steps

Eight years on, we now sell in over 80 countries worldwide, derive 85 per cent of our revenues from outside the UK, and count China as one of our biggest global markets. I realise now that our mistake in Taiwan did us a favour – because it happened early in our journey and because we acted upon it.

Keep reading to find out how one business was too generous with credit terms, but lived to tell the tale.

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About Author

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Real Business. He is also the editor of Business Advice, a title focused solely on a section of the business community currently underserved – micro companies. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative.

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