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

President and co-founder, Better Life


St. Louis-based Better Life offers a line of plant-derived, non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products. In 2013, Tim Barklage and company co-founder Kevin Tibbs made a successful appearance on ABC TV’s “Shark Tank,” where they landed a deal with inventor and QVC personality Lori Greiner.

The Mistake:

My biggest mistake was spending too much time trying to compensate for my weaknesses versus embracing my strengths. The first time the issue really slapped me in the face was when a former boss was doing my annual review and the feedback was: “Tim, you spend way too much time trying to be great at everything and not enough time doing the things you are great at and that come naturally to you. Why don’t you just really work at the things you know you’re good at? Spend your time doing those and see what happens.”

That was a huge turning point for me because, when I focused on doing what I really enjoyed and delegated the rest, magic really started to happen. I was getting more done in less time. I think, for the first time ever, I was finding a sense of satisfaction from my work that was beyond just getting the job done. For me, that was what work had always been about. But I started to realize I could express my creativity through work.

When I focused on doing what I really enjoyed and delegated the rest, magic really started to happen.

The Lesson:

That’s when the seeds for my entrepreneurial journey were planted. As I embraced this new philosophy, I started to realize I was really good at creating new approaches to solving problems and building departments from the ground up. I was getting energy from the work. I also realized what robbed me of energy was the endless schedule of meetings and internal politics, which are the realities of what a lot of big companies have to deal with. That’s when the idea that maybe I should start some kind of business began crawling around in my head.

These were all really foreign concepts to me because I grew up in a family where my dad retired from the same company he’d started with when he was 19 or 20. My mom also worked at the same company for 20 years. So this life of an entrepreneur was not something that was in my comfort zone.

But, when my wife Nancy and I had children, we started thinking about chemicals in cleaning products and that products on the market really weren’t meeting our needs as new parents. We happened to have our neighbor Kevin over for dinner. Kevin is a formulation chemist and that’s really how Better Life began. But I would have never been able to run with the idea and become an entrepreneur without recognizing I had to be able to embrace my strengths and do the things I was good at and not be too worried about things I couldn’t do well.

Where the irony and the beauty all comes into it as an entrepreneur is that I would have never thought I would get my fingers into so many areas of the business, and that’s one of the things I love doing. But I recognize where I can add value and where I can’t. I also know I can’t take charge of every aspect of our business. I don’t have all the answers and I have to rely on the people who work for us to do those things. I trust them to do those things now.

The lesson was learning to listen to yourself, learning to trust yourself and really embrace who you are. At the same time, it’s important to recognize you do have weakness in order to see where you can add value and make good decisions without blinders on.

Better Life is on Twitter at @CleanHappens.

Photo courtesy Tim Barklage.

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