Women's History Month

6 Female CEOs Reveal The One Mistake They're Proud To Have Learned From

CEOs from Birchbox, THINX, and more spill on the mistakes that meant the most.

In a culture that pressures people to be perfect, it can be difficult to own up to a mistake. Making an error is too often associated with feelings of anger, anxiety, and embarrassment. But we might just be looking at mistakes all wrong. 

Successful people understand the importance of taking accountability, and looking at their mistakes objectively. They evaluate the error, learn from it, and come up with solutions to rectify the issue and prevent it from reoccurring. As a result, they become better entrepreneurs, leaders, and members of their team. Mistakes may just improve performance or trigger fresh ideas. 

In honor of Women's History Month, we spoke with several female CEOs who run companies in the lifestyle, fashion, and beauty arenas to learn more about some of the missteps they've had along the way. These women have founded such innovative beauty companies as Birchbox, transformed the feminine care industry with THINX period panties, and created global movements for good with DoSomething.org — and they didn't get there without a few hiccups along the way.  

We asked them to share mistakes they've made that they are proud to have learned from. Here's what they said. 

Katia Beauchamp, CEO and Co-Founder of Birchbox

"There have been so many mistakes. Mistakes that felt earth-shattering and that we thought threatened everything we worked so hard to build. In the early days, at just about one year old, we had our biggest one to date. Something happened with our customer ship file, and thousands of customers received two boxes, while thousands more received nothing. To make matters worse: it was the holiday season, and we had no extra box inventory to ship. 

Here is what happened: every single person at the company became part of customer service. 

We were so lucky to have talent leading the team and organizing a group of people who had never had direct interactions with our customers. It was not pretty, and it was insanely hard work, but it might be one of the best things that ever happened to us. 

We learned what we were made of. We learned that integrity and delivering value to our customers pulsed through all of us. We dedicated more resources (never enough) to improving the tools that we use to manage the process, and we actually connected with thousands of our customers who had a 1:1 taste of who we were. We were in it together. Them, us, and in the end it was clear that even our customers wanted us to win." 

Aubrie Pagano, CEO and Creative Director of Bow & Drape

"The number one reason I am successful, in any capacity, is my team. Early on, I did not put enough stock in nurturing and appreciating great team members. That was dumb. I am happy to say that I have focused on building a strong culture, rewarding awesome people and retaining them, and I feel most proud and fulfilled as a leader for it." 

Miki Agrawal, CEO and Co-Founder of THINX

"I make so many mistakes. I mean, it's just insane. I think the most recent mistake that I've made is in the management of my team. I've been growing the company so quickly and trying to manage a fast growing team. I've had a challenging time managing and developing the team because I was so focused on growing the business, and I feel proud of the fact that I'm now bringing on the right management level people who I think will inspire our team and create some more organization.

I think all we can do is learn and grow. When you go from a small startup with five employees to 35 employees really quickly, you kind of just put your head down and are trying to climb out of molasses going uphill. You're going fast and it's hard and then creating checks and balances is really hard for your team who all have feelings, who all have their thoughts and expectations. When you finally pick your head up, it's important to look around and assess what works and what hasn't. I can definitely attest to the fact that I had some challenges with my younger team and I'm really excited about rectifying that with bringing on senior level managers that can really manage them on a day to day." 

Katerina Schneider, CEO and Founder of Ritual

"One mistake that I made early on that I learned from is that you can't do it alone. When I started the company, I was slow to hire because I thought I could do it all and couldn't trust anyone to care about every little detail the way I did. While I was pregnant and building chairs for the office, painting our office, going up north to raise money and developing our first product, I just got really exhausted and was beginning to feel burnt out. That's when I started to hire a team and found people that were just as passionate as I was about transforming the vitamin industry. And what was really awesome was that they were smarter and more talented than I could ever be in their areas of expertise. When the team started to grow, the company started getting momentum. It was also just really exciting to come to the office and work with great people." 

Aria Finger, CEO of Do Something

"I was so naive when I started working at 22. I guess I just didn't realize how long life was. That sounds so bizarre, but I didn't even date my documents with the year on it because it didn't occur to me that I would ever need to know that. I think that I forgot time and again that the people you meet today are going to hire you in 10 years or you're going to hire them in 20 years. So, I'm not proud to have made this mistake. It was just real dumb and I'm glad that I've learned that life is long, partnerships are long, and the friendships you make will come back and pay you dividends down the road." 

Christine Chang, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Glow Recipe

"We've bootstrapped from the beginning of our startup and in the beginning, we worked nearly around the clock to communicate with our partners halfway around the world and ultimately build the profitable, cash-flow healthy business that we have today. We now know that working at this pace for a prolonged period of time isn't always sustainable. Especially [because] we work in the beauty industry, it's important for us to take a step back from the computer and experience beauty launches and industry trends firsthand and gain creative inspiration from various sources outside of work. It's still a work in process, but our attempts to create work-life balance has helped to drive a healthier, fast-growing business." 

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