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Eight of the most expensive mistakes in business history

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At the forefront of its research, Pack & Send pointed to the instance where Google was almost bought for less than $1m. 

At the time, Excite was a highly-trafficked search engine. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin attempted to sell the company to Excite for $1m, eventually reducing their asking price by $250,000. Excite CEO George Bell refused. 

A few years later, his company was purchased by AskJeeves following a major decline in the value of its stock. And Google is worth 173,333 times more than what Excite would have paid for it. 

Of course, it is now one of the most referenced business decision failures in history – but it is not the last mistake of its kind. Take Blockbuster’s missed opportunity in Netflix, for example.

The company nearly bought Netflix in the early 2000s , according to a profile of Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings by New Yorker’s Ken Auletta. Hastings tried to make a deal with Blockbuster chief John Antioco to purchase Netflix for $50m. In fact, Blockbuster turned down the offer to buy Netflix multiple times. Not only that but the CFO of Blockbuster reportedly “laughed them out their offices”.

Netflix was losing money at the time and only had 300,000 subscribers. But essentially, Netflix was willing to become Blockbuster’s own streaming service. Hastings was going to sell a 49 per cent stake in the company and take on the Blockbuster name – a concept Blockbuster decided to pass on.

Blockbuster wound up filing for bankruptcy in 2010, while Netflix’s worth rose to around $13bn.

While missed opportunities have seen many a board members bash their heads on a desk, nothing can be more devastating than a typo.

For example, a simple oversight in the 1980s ended up costing The Yellow Pages big-time. Banner Travel Services, a small agency specialising in “exotic vacations,” decided to run an advert in the phonebook for $230 per month. The Yellow Pages ended up advertising Banner’s forte in “erotic vacations” instead, and the travel agency wasn’t thrilled about it. 

This resulted in the company suing the Yellow Pages for $10m, which nearly put The Yellow Pages out of business

One of the most infamous typos in history, however, was made by NASA. In 1962, NASA attempted to launch Mariner 1, with the intention of probing Venus. The craft inevitably exploded less than two minutes after takeoff. 

Multiple theories emerged surrounding the reasons behind the craft’s failure, but the most commonly cited explanation, directly from Mariner I’s post-flight review board, is that a lone “dropped hyphen or overbar” in the computer code instructions incited the flight’s demise.

Richard Morrison, a NASA official, said: “[The hyphen] gives a cue for the spacecraft to ignore the data the computer feeds it until radar contact is once again restored. When that hyphen is left out, false information is fed into the spacecraft control systems. In this case, the computer fed the rocket in hard left, nose down and the vehicle obeyed and crashed.”

The omission of the hyphen, which set NASA back $80m, was deemed by “2001: A Space Odyssey” author Arthur C. Clarke to be “the most expensive hyphen in history.”

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