‘I Accidentally Hired a Criminal’ and Other Start-up Stuff Ups

Errors by entrepreneurs


Perhaps the saying should be, “to err is entrepreneurial.” Here, three start-ups share their stuff-ups. From hiring a criminal to giving a client full access to their competitor’s (highly confidential) data…


“I accidentally hired a criminal” – Phil Foster, CEO of Love Energy Savings

In a past role, before I joined the Comparison website Love Energy Savings, I once opened the office door to be greeted by three armed guards with sniper rifles. They barged past me, quickly tackled a member of staff to the floor and arrested him. I later found out this member of staff had gone into McDonald’s, as he did every day. However this particular morning, rather than paying he decided to “pretend” he was holding up the fast food restaurant, insinuating he had a gun in his pocket (I still have no idea what he was thinking!). The problem was, while walking away with his (unpaid for) meal, he failed to realise he was wearing a company lanyard bearing our logo and company name – a fairly obvious lead for the police. I now check references thoroughly, hire far more carefully and treat the recruitment process with the respect required. Your employees are the face of your company and it’s just not worth the risk, taking someone on face value.


“We revealed confidential client information” – Michelle Pascoe, founder of OOPS

My company OOPS offers retail insight, analysis and trend reporting to companies. We are all about systems, strategies, facts, statistics and attention to details – which is what made this mistake even worse! After many years of paper-based Excel spreadsheets, we decided to move our proprietary system online, which gave our clients the chance to login themselves and read their own reporting. It was a big step for us, as before this we had always been in control of personally handing the report to our clients. It was a thrilling time for the company, particularly as we were celebrating bringing a big-name client on board, who we’d been courting for some time. Unfortunately, in all the excitement I gave that big-name client the incorrect login… not just the wrong login but another client’s login. This meant they saw all the results and analysis of their competitor, instead of their own. Every detail, every sale, every profit and loss, every insight and trend!

As soon as I realised, I was utterly mortified, had to ring their competitor and tell them what had happened, as well as try to convince both businesses the mistake was a one-off, which was totally my fault, and they still could trust our service despite it all.

The incident still makes me blush to think about it, but enforced the belief that honesty is always the best policy and that, even with technology, you have to take personal responsibility. We can all sit back and laugh now as our systems are so much more secure, but the human element still plays a major factor. We now check and double check and triple check to make sure the correct login is always sent.


“I belittled my team” – Tim Fung, co-founder and CEO of Airtasker

Early on in the life of a start-up, we were under heaps of pressure to get results and were working very, very long hours to try and achieve them. When one of our team members had to leave early (probably for a very reasonable purpose), I sent around an email copying in all staff, telling the team to be in the office, at their desk between 9am and 6pm. Every day. Thank you. Not surprisingly, this email did not go down well with the team – at all. We were meant to be a forwarding-thinking start-up. They felt as though I didn’t trust their judgment. What did I learn from that incident? Firstly, if you want to create an awesome, autonomous team that is passionate about the company, you shouldn’t try to manage people’s time down to the last hour. Secondly, email is a terrible way to communicate messages that leave open any type of misinterpretation. I’m a pretty optimistic person so I generally look at these lessons as if they had a purpose to teach, but that being said, it does make me cringe a little… Did I actually think that was a good idea? I think this experience did cost us a back-step in terms of the company’s short-term progress but it also equally forced us to take a bigger picture view on how to build and motivate a team correctly, that can kick butt in the future.

We would love to hear your thoughts:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *