Ty Pennington | Crain's Pittsburgh

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

Ty Pennington


As one of the most recognizable faces in reality TV, Ty Pennington has spent the last two decades building his brand on shows such as "Trading Spaces" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."  In 2018, Pennington is planning a reboot of "Trading Spaces" in the works at TLC, as well as a guest spot on the third season of "Small Business Revolution — Main Street." He will co-host the Deluxe Corporation show with Amanda Brinkman, set to revitalize another small town this fall.

The Mistake:

The biggest mistake I’ve made is taking off my comfortable hat. What I mean is, I’ve sort of made a career out of being myself. That’s what I bring to the table. In fact, early on, when I was doing commercials in New York, the reason they were hiring me was because I made other people feel comfortable on camera. That led to some pretty quick success. I think I was sort of taken aback by it.

But the next thing I knew, some of the dreams I’d always wanted were happening to me. I was not only becoming well-known on camera and actually building really cool things and showing off my talent, but I was also introduced to the fact that I could produce my own television. I could create stories, these little moments that led to better ratings and all of the above.

Eventually, I was asked to design my own product brand for home furnishings for a major company. Considering I went to school for graphic design, that was the greatest gift anyone could have given me. But there was so much going on that I almost had to put on even more hats, and for a moment it got so overwhelming. I finally took a break and said, look, you guys do this, and let me focus on that.

I put the comfortable hat back on, and I put my personality into the designs I was doing. The ones I chose to focus on, instead of just give approval for, were the ones that sold the best.

When you sink your personality and soul into what you’re doing, the product itself is going to be better.

The Lesson:

I learned [that] no matter what you’re doing, when you sink your personality and soul into it, the product itself is going to be better. What you can’t do is try to design 170 different products and think you can put that much energy into every one. You have to pick and choose the ones you think are going to do the best and focus on those.

Always wear the hat you’re most comfortable in because that’s what your product is. People are buying it because it’s you. (I could rock the Amish look, but it’s just not me.) The biggest mistake is not to wear too many hats — or if you do, make sure you’ve got somebody who can at least [help] make them fit.

Follow Ty Pennington on Twitter at @typennington and Small Business Revolution at @smbizrevolution.

Photo courtesy of Small Business Revolution — Main Street