Nicole Corbett | Crain's Washington D.C.

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

Nicole Corbett

Background:  

Worn is a magazine-turned-creative agency that works with companies lead by women. Originally headquartered in Washington, D.C., Worn has since moved to New York City. Past clients includes former First Lady Michelle Obama, for whom Worn created a video related to the Let's Move campaign.

The Mistake:

For me, the mistake was not listening to my gut and knowing what was right—missing out on a lot of great revenue and personal fulfillment by not doing that. 

Early on in the business, we were a traditional creative agency trying to find our niche, our specialty, but really doing a mix of services … with no real focus. I knew deep down that I wanted Worn to be a female-focused agency. I reached out to a lot of different people, mentors, just running my idea by them, and the feedback was so negative. It was "Absolutely not, you definitely should not have a female-focused agency. You’ll be cutting off 50 percent of your potential customer base and revenue. Corporations will not understand what you’re doing. They’ll pigeon-hole you." All kinds of things. It really discouraged me. Ultimately, I didn’t do it.

We kind of floated around for the first year not really knowing what we were because I listened to too many people around us who were probably afraid for us and only wanted us to be successful. So we didn’t do anything for the first year and I think that cost us several hundred thousand dollars in revenue, very likely. A year and a half later, I basically just couldn’t take it anymore and decided that this wasn’t going to be right for us.

And then ultimately, when I did [become a female-focused agency], not only did it not cut off revenue streams, it made us way more successful way faster, and we started to grow very, very fast. So basically everybody was wrong and I should have never listened to other people at all.

I knew deep down that I wanted Worn to be a female-focused agency.

The Lesson:

The lesson there is, take risks. Don’t listen to what anyone else has done. Put things into perspective and think about what your time is really worth.

There are moves that I have to make that are different from what the industry is doing all the time. They’re too afraid to lose clients over being political. We’re doing it anyway. We’re not afraid to lose clients. We’re taking a position. I know that ultimately, I need to do what I think is right.

I set that standard at the beginning so it would become a part of the mission of the organization. Being female-focused and so female-empowerment-focused was set in the bones of the organization from the beginning. It’s not that I don’t doubt it sometimes, of course I do. But I encourage our whole team to push in that direction because ultimately, that’s what makes my employees happy. They love working on new, exciting, different things.

Follow Nicole Corbett on Twitter at @NicMCorbett.

Photo courtesy of Worn.