How one leader’s embarrassing faux pas was actually great for business

June 13, 2017

The next time you think you’ve said the wrong thing to a VIP, consider what happened to Melissa Anderson, co-founder and President of Chicago’s Public Good.

Her company’s technology identifies causes in news articles, matching socially active readers with local nonprofits working on those causes. Partners include CNN, the Chicago Tribune, State Farm and the Gates Foundation.

Anderson made a faux pas at an event, but the momentary mortification led to a one-of-a-kind business development. She explains her mistake — and what she learned from it — here:

THE MISTAKE: I was at an exclusive, invite-only event in Hawaii thrown by San Francisco venture capitalists. It was a phenomenal opportunity to make connections, but it was pretty intimidating. I was amazed that I was invited.

My colleague said that if I found Jennifer there, she could connect me to "Pancakes" — a person who could be of great value to us. I didn't realize that this was our private nickname for him, not his actual nickname. At breakfast, I saw Jennifer, ran up to her and said: "You know Pancakes!"  

Shockingly, she wasn't offended. She smiled at my genuine, enthusiastic approach and even guessed who I was talking about! Not only did she connect me to "Pancakes," but she also connected me to the US Olympic Bid Committee.

IMMEDIATE FALLOUT: Eh, yeah, that was pretty embarrassing!

ULTIMATE BENEFIT: As a result, Public Good is now an official advisor for the LA2024 Olympic Bid Committee!

There were a few lessons that I learned from this:

  • When you see the opportunity to connect with someone that could be key for your business, just go for it! Even if you don't get it quite right, you will likely get a positive result if you are genuine, enthusiastic and honest.  
  • People and events are only intimidating if you allow yourself to be intimidated. So don't be!
  • The key to being a successful entrepreneur is being opportunistic and having a bias for action.

Read about Public Good here. 

Got a great "best mistake I ever made" story? We want to know about it.


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