Bitcoins – and the Biggest Mistake I Ever Made


Somewhere in Newport a man is desperately raking through a landfill site…

If 2013 has not been the best of years for you; if Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are hammering on your front door; if your teenage children have just discovered your PIN…

…Then spare a thought for James Howells. Rest assured that he is suffering more than you are.

Mr Howells had a computer. On the hard drive of said computer were 7,500 Bitcoins. Now Bitcoins are best described as a virtual currency. And they’ve had a little bit of a chequered history: they haven’t always been used for trading things that are available on your average high street. Not in daylight hours anyway. And facing a very uncertain future they were at one point more or less worthless.

No surprise then that Mr Howells forgot all about the Bitcoins stored on his hard drive – after all, he’d acquired them in 2009 for almost nothing. And when he finally got round to sorting out his IT equipment, out went the old hard drive and the Bitcoins with it.

But Bitcoins were becoming increasingly mainstream, recognised and accepted by companies like Reddit, WordPress and the Chinese internet giant, Baidu. And not very long after Mr Howells threw out his hard drive, the value of a Bitcoin hit $1,000. Remember, Mr Howells had 7,500 of them…

I think when Mr Howells looks back at his life he might just file that one under ‘Mistakes.’ But he won’t be alone. Today is Friday 13th so – assuming you survived the perils of getting out of bed and eating breakfast – it might be appropriate to look at the mistakes we’ve all made.

Because if you’re running an SME you are certain to make mistakes. Plenty of them. But the question isn’t ‘do you make mistakes?’ The question is, ‘do you learn from them?’

Let me start the ball rolling with The Biggest Mistake I’ve Ever Made – and let me freely confess that I haven’t made this mistake once, I’ve made it twice. Some lessons are clearly harder to learn than others…

Last Friday Paul Dickinson – who’s the MD of TAB UK – was discussing the importance of momentum in a small business. To echo a phrase from one of the very first books on sales I ever read, ‘When you strike gold, dig right through the mountain.’

I remember when I was at Nestle my team created some tremendous momentum and made some giant leaps forward. I didn’t want to lose the gains we’d made. I suppose you’d seek to justify it by saying that I was ‘consolidating.’ But in reality I was sitting back a bit, congratulating myself on being a clever boy and taking a little time out to admire my achievements. The trouble was, I subconsciously transmitted that feeling to my team – and when you’ve 300 people picking up the message, it’s not going to end well.

And then, damn it, I did it again with TAB. I’d reached a milestone which had always been part of my plan: one of the key steps towards my long term goals. And again, I took my foot off the gas and let things drift for a while. The trouble is, when you lose momentum you have to work three times as hard to get it back again.

In any business – especially a small one – you’ve got to keep pushing and pushing. It’s tempting to think that one day you’ll get the snowball to the top of the hill and it’ll roll merrily down the other side, finally generating its own momentum. In my experience that doesn’t happen. Momentum only comes from one thing: the work that you do and carry on doing.

So over to you. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? And far more importantly, what did you learn from it? And what can we all learn from it?

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