Rebecca Harris | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rebecca Harris

Background:  

The Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University has created economic opportunities for women through entrepreneurial education and training, mentoring, and networking since 2005.

The Mistake:

The mistake that I made is I didn’t do my own research and test my product adequately before it went on the market.

My family is from St. Louis, Missouri, and we had a house on the Chesapeake Bay, which is a freshwater estuary. Every July, the jellyfish arrived, which meant people couldn’t get on or off their boat or go off the dock without getting stung.

So my dad and a boat builder and I invented a really big net that you could swim in so you wouldn’t get stung. We called the company Nettle Not Protective Pools.

The netting was 8 feet in diameter, with PVC floats. The floats kept the netting up through a rim of attached wire. It opened up in a circle, like a round swimming pool, sort of like a shark cage that fit up to three people. We had a patent for the product. The netting was effective in displacing the water and the jellyfish.

The problem was, we didn’t do our research. We researched net buyers and manufacturers. But we took the net seller at his word that the nets were ultraviolet protected and wouldn’t disintegrate in the sun. We made 250 nets. By the second summer, some of the nets started to shred and fall apart.

Don’t overlook what you might think is the less important stuff.

The Lesson:

If you make a product, create a prototype and test it, retest it and test again under many different conditions. Even if a supplier guarantees a material or component, you need to test it for yourself. In the end, you are the one responsible for the product that goes to the customer.

We sold all 250 Nettle Not Protective Pools but had to replace some due to deterioration from ultraviolet light. There also was another competitor on the market with better netting. So I lost on that one. Entrepreneurs win and lose every day. Make sure you control all aspects of your product and service and don’t overlook what you might think is the less important stuff.

Follow Rebecca Harris on Twitter at @cwechatham.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Harris

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