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10 Rules To Build A Wildly Successful Business


Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff built Honest Tea from scratch into a $100 million enterprise.

In my recent article on Forbes, you get a few lessons and a compelling story of their journey.

But wait, because there’s one more thing. In fact, 10 more.

Goldman and Nalebuff share 10 must-follow rules on how to start and build an equally impressive empire (you can find these rules in the back of their book; Mission In A Bottle):

1. “Build something you believe in — because that’s the first step to building a great brand.”

Just like Goldman and Nalebuff, I learned a powerful lesson in tenacious passion from 30 plus years of entrepreneurship. When you’re all alone, sitting in a dark room wondering why your business is failing, there is only one true thing to power you forward — you believe in your purpose.

2. “Don’t aim for 10% improvement. Make it radically better and different.”

Yes — in today’s society we collectively create amazing products, services and companies through entrepreneurship. World changing at times and Honest Tea was radically different when first introduced. But, if you look around, we also live in the land of ‘me-too’ businesses. Don’t fall for it. Dig deep and decide right now to build something radically different and radically better.

3. “Prepare to be copied. Don’t start unless you’ll survive imitation.”

If your idea is truly radical and takes off, you can count the minutes before the copy-cats arrive. How will you survive competition from the big 800-pound gorillas on the block? Or even from the upstart little guys? Your key is a system of ‘continuous innovation’. Although you could also take the road of Honest Tea — make friends with one of the gorillas and let them buy you out. (Coca-Cola Company acquired Honest Tea in 2011.)

4. “Build up reserves of money and energy for bad luck and mistakes.”

Great advice — but sometimes extremely difficult to do. What startup or growth company has reserves of cash sitting around? But Goldman and Nalebuff make a good point — run as lean as you possibly can and do not waste money or energy. You will endure mistakes and bad luck along the way, so having a good war chest full of capital and energy can help handle it.

5. “Never, ever give up control — until you sell.”

Some high-impact entrepreneurs will readily give up control in exchange for the lure of high-growth through venture capital — but I am not one of them. Relinquish control and you risk losing the culture and vision of the company you set out to build. Even though Honest Tea raised investment capital from the beginning, the co-founders always remained in the driver’s seat. (And yes — Goldman can still drive his vision as CEO of Honest Tea, but his boss at ]Coca-Cola can say ‘no’ at anytime. Thus, true control is forever gone.)

6. “Don’t compromise on the big things — compromise on everything else.”

Vision. Purpose. Core values. Write these things in stone and never budge. But flexibility in the value propositions, products and services you build to execute your purpose is vastly important. Many entrepreneurs I see fail to ‘bend to the market’ by adapting to what their customer’s are telling them.

7. “Figure out how to achieve your goals on a tiny budget — then cut that number in half.”

Yes — you’ve heard it said before — it will cost twice as much, and take twice as long as you think. My recommendation is you apply the principles of lean to your business from day one. No fancy offices. No fancy full color brochures. Your goal is to stay alive until you can nail your secret formula for success. Blowing the budget will insure nothing but a quick death.

8. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Is it ever. Building a business is neither for the faint of heart or the speed demon. Climbing Mt. Everest is not done in 3 easy steps: 1.) decide you want to do it, 2.) fly to Nepal with zero preparation, 3.) sprint straight up the mountain in 12 easy minutes. Build systems for the long-haul and focus on small-connected steps. (It takes 26,364 steps of 7″ each to climb Mt. Everest, and that’s starting from half way up at Basecamp.)

9. “Take care of your family, personal and spiritual health — if you aren’t laughing or smiling on a regular basis, recalibrate.”

Imagine the path to a wildly successful business: founder working at a feverish pitch for 18 hours each day, for at least 5 years straight. True? No, it’s not. In my private conversation with Goldman, he flat-out told me two reasons he made it through the rough years: first — he believed in his purpose, second — his drive for personal balance. The notion we need to kill our family relationships, personal health or level of sanity to build our own business is sadly misaligned. Take it from me — don’t go there.

10. “Build the enterprise and the brand as if you’ll own them forever.”

Will you sell your business someday? Maybe. Should that be the sole reason you are building it? Probably not. When you start and build a business based on passion and purpose, with a burning desire to solve the pain of your customer through the deliverance of monetizable value, you build a far more valuable enterprise. Those in it for the short-term quick buck rarely succeed.

Plaster these 10 rules from Goldman and Nalebuff to your mirror, live by them everyday of your life as an entrepreneur and you might end up as successful as they. Honest.

NOTE: Seth graciously sent me 10 copies of his book Mission In A Bottle to give away to 10 worthy entrepreneurs. And yes — I asked him to personally sign each one. (2 are already gone.) Do you want one of the remaining 8?

Tell me below why you need help with your brand — I will choose the 8 best answers. If you’re one of the 8 — you get his book. (You must have a mailing address in the U.S. or Canada to be eligible.)

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About the Author: Eric T. Wagner is a husband, father and life-long entrepreneur. After starting multiple businesses, Eric is now focused on helping other entrepreneurs find the path to success in business and life. You can also catch his gig on Forbes or connect with him on Google+.


  1. These are 10 great rules, thanks for sharing them. I have already thought of most of them but a few of them really resonate. I’m still at the very beginning with my entrepreneurship and my company. I would love a signed copy

  2. We need help with our brand at La Dorita because we are in year three and need to make the jump to the next level to avoid becoming just a start up “hobby”. We feel a shift is coming, and need to make sure we are open to making this happen.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Josephine. Great to hear from you again. And yes — based on our previous dialogue, I believe a book like Seth’s would help you immensely. Stay tuned…

  3. I need help with my startup because finding help from successfull entrepreneurs is the hardest part.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Izzy. Appreciate you sharing. And you’re right — ‘mentorship’ is a HUGE key to success. Every single successful entrepreneur I have ever spoken with (including Seth), talked about how important mentors and advisers were to making it big…

      • Exactly! sometimes I wish there was an app for this… Like the new app Jelly + AngelList. maybe there is something like this out there now or one is being created as I write this :)

        • Eric T. Wagner says:

          Thx Izzy. That’s actually what Mighty Wise Academy is all about. It’s like having a ‘mentor in your pocket’…

          Regardless of whether you become a member in the Academy, or you build your own network of mentors and advisers; mentorship is vital to your success.

          I like your idea for the app…. :)

  4. I need the book because am starting from scratch to create my business, i know i need more knowledge to make this a success. And if this guys were once like me now at a time, then that book would of great help to me.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks George. Good to hear from you again. And you’re right about knowledge. Because starting a business is relatively easy; a lot of entrepreneurs go for it without understanding the ‘core principles’ of business. Don’t make the same mistake as them. Get solid on your core fundamentals, get mentorship and learn how to connect with other high-powered entrepreneurs who can show you how it’s done…

      I just gave you the secret to your own wildly successful business George. :)

  5. i totally love it…thanks Eric

  6. Hi Eric,
    Thanks for sharing the insights from two very successful guys. Although all the rules resonate, for me #8 – “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” rang pretty loud. One of the challenges of being an indie is accepting the idea that climbing the mountain should somehow be easier and faster. One of my self-imposed rules is to never allowing myself to think there is a “top” – there are only base camps to reach.
    Thanks for all your continued good wisdom and hard work. Much appreciated.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Elaine. Yes — probably a better way to state it: ‘a marathon which has no ending’. Seth (from Honest Tea) is still running the marathon, he’s just in a different section then he was before.

      Small connected steps Elaine…

  7. “What are we going to do tonight Brain…..?”
    “Take over the world Pinky….!!”

    To do that we need to establish our Brand as the first choice in our market segment.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thx Marius. You’re right — credibility (also known as ‘authority’) is a huge factor in building a brand. Authority is one of the 6 key persuasion powers as outlined by Dr. Cialdini (the others being liking; scarcity; consistency; social proof and reciprocity) in his book on the Psychology of Influence.

  8. I need the book because I left my ok paying job at a brokerage firm in the beauty industry to follow my dreams. Although on the outside it looks like my businesses’ /pursuing my passion is the best thing ever, financially it’s a challenge. I would love the book to take my businesses to the next level. Also to avoid more financial mistakes.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Thea. Learn the core principles of business building, surround yourself with key mentors and advisers and then collaborate with other successful entrepreneurs.

      These 3 pillars are your keys to success as an entrepreneur.

      Thanks for sharing and I will keep you posted on the book…

  9. Hi Eric,
    Very good article. I think there are probably a lot of articles with a similar headline that would have tips like “pick a billion dollar industry”, “work like you’re 4 people” blah blah blah. These tips resonated with me. To me the point is that “wildly successful” has nothing to do with money. In the case of Seth money was a result, but it seems it wasn’t the purpose (however money is a good sign of sustainability!).

    Now here’s why I need help with my brand. My company is Kofi and Co. Two years ago I was in Ghana on a study abroad. While there I visited a Kente weaving village. Kente is a traditional African cloth thought to have roots in the 11th century. The skill for making it is passed from father to son, generation to generation. Kente is a bold, beautiful cloth, hand woven on hand made looms. Watching its creation is mesmerizing; the weavers hands expertly throw shuttles of thread back and forth as their feet work levers and knobs, all in perfect unison.

    I learned the making of Kente and the culture behind it is being threatened. It’s a time consuming process, but it’s difficult to make a living with weaving. Income has to be supplemented with farming or other means.

    At Kofi and Co, we create modern fashion products accented with authentic Kente Cloth. This creates a sustainable revenue stream for Kente weavers. This isn’t about handouts, and it’s not about freebies. Its about providing the artists with a market outlet that allows them to provide for themselves and their families. Its about preserving a piece of African culture.

    The entire mission of Kofi and Co rests on the strength of the brand.I have a story worth telling and if I can translate that into a strong brand, this dream of mine can become reality. Kente cloth is just the beginning. If I can get the ball rolling, I can expand my model to use artisan textiles and materials from third-world countries all across the planet.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Congrats Sam, you just earned yourself one of the books from Seth.

      And you’re right — in my conversation with Seth, his passion and purpose was not driven by money. Although yes — we all have to run our businesses as a business (profits/losses/revenue streams) — but it should never be the sole reason we are in business. When I see dollar signs in the eyes of a entrepreneur, I can usually predict their ultimate demise.

      Shoot me your mailing address via my email and I will have your copy sent to you. Email is: eric at mightywisemedia dot com

      Nicely done Sam…

  10. Kim Upright says:

    Story telling seems to be the key to effective Brand and Business building today.

    I am trying to catch up with all the compelling stories that are being told by those who are rocking their passions so that I can learn how to best articulate my own story. My great journey has begun so I am actively searching all the way-finders. Could this book be a sign? Thanks Eric for your shedding light on my path.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Kim. You’re dead right on the story telling aspect. HUGELY important to wrap your message of value around a strong story.

      Not just the story of your company — but also the story of you as Founder. Too many entrepreneurs forget they are a big part of the story and brand (look no further than Steve Jobs).

      As another example for you, please see my story here.

  11. Ryan Bailey says:

    I need this book badly..I struggle with resources. Luckily I found you. I am the guy who can’t walk by a bookstore without reading “Something” YouTube ahold if there’s even such a word. I work & I notice everyone there has the same vision…no vision at all. Great people but I see the bigger picture…
    I have A STUNNING concept but no resources …Honest T is something that can take me over the edge. I am african american and I also see large opportunity in helping other african american who are focused and serious about life. Royalties? I hope you have a book left…could you sign it too? Thanks

  12. Hi Eric,

    I want my customers to feel a deep emotional connection to my company’s brand. I want the company to be a sanctuary where people go to not only improve their physical health and looks, but get a spiritual, intellectual and emotional lift that takes them to heights they never imagined.
    Of course, this is easier said than done and one of the things I need the most help with.
    I would love a copy of his book!


  13. I need help with my brand in order to make myself different and stand out from the rest of the businesses in my arena. I think the biggest thing is taking a risk in not trying to improve it 10% but make it radically better and different. I want to know the most important things to focus on, especially while I’m in the beginning stages of building a brand. This is my second start-up, but my first that I’m doing by myself. Which is why I need lots help from other entrepreneurs who have done it!

    Thanks for sharing more wisdom Eric!

    • Oh, and I guess it might help to share what I do so you can connect with it more.

      I do promo films for small businesses and non-profits sharing their heart behind businesses. I think it’s really important to be able to know why a business does what they do & why they started it. I want to help their customers to connect with them.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Josh. Great to hear from you again. And yes — knowing what to focus is pretty critical. I watch a lot of entrepreneurs spend precious time focused on the wrong things to move their business forward. Seth was a perfect example with their focus on manufacturing instead of brand-building.

      And yes again — radical differentiation (which provides a high level of value) is key. Thanks for sharing Josh and talk to you soon…

  14. Hi Eric,
    Thank you again for connecting people to valuable resources. I appreciate and am in total agreement with Seth and Barry in their rules to help brand a company, and composed a similar list and guidebook before forming my business. I build everything on those tenets and have shared it with employees in their “welcome packet” and remind them during our company meetings. I will be happy to refer the book on to my employees, associates, and other budding entrepreneurs to reinforce a “method of soundness” (not madness). The sharing of successful tips only helps build and strengthen businesses and eventually our economy. Excellent job Honest Tea!!

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Hi Andrea. Nice to see you here and thanks for sharing. Based on our previous conversations and what I know of you and your mission (plus, your willingness to pass the book around to others on your team as you stated here) — we will send you one of the copies. Reach out to me via email at: eric at mightywisemedia dot com with your mailing address. Thanks Andrea…

    • A big THANK YOU to Eric, Barry and Seth for the book!! I look forward to reading it and have already referred Honest Tea and MW Academy to my associates. In a very short amount of time I have learned so much from this incredible program and sense a genuine camaraderie. Eric, you are the mentor I’ve needed; for you not only share your knowledge and wisdom, but introduce us to other successful business managers and insights. I will certainly pass the gift on to my team and to other aspiring entrepreneurs…Respectfully, Andrea

  15. Eric,

    Great post! All items are incredibly relevant. My two personal favorites are #4 and #9. If the result of your start up isn’t rewarding from a satisfaction level and showing progress (building up reserves), you have to wonder if it was worth it.

    The one I might add is:

    11. Prepare to completely let go when you get the offer a lifetime.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Good insight Ken. You’re right — it’s a delicate balance between holding onto the pursuit of our vision and purpose, and our willingness to let go for whatever reason (including getting an offer of a lifetime).

      It’s weird though; you read of some entrepreneurs passing up a billion dollar deal (SnapChat) and some who jump at it (Nest Labs). That’s one of the things that makes entrepreneurship so fun and thrilling — ever shifting dynamics with a multitude of options and choices to make daily…

      Thanks Ken.

  16. Dear Eric, I think I need the book to help me innovate in this part of the world – Lagos (Nigeria) due to competition. We are a media outlet set up in 2012 and wants to make a difference. Although I was thinking there is something to learn from Seth and Co experience that could be useful in the transformation I so much desire as the Lead Strategist.

    I look forward to having this book.

  17. Eric, great article as always. I need serious help with brand building simply because I really am clueless on how to do it right so that it is attracting people. I’ve tried many times in the past to build something on my own and I can never seem to get any interest. I need to learn how to build an attractive brand that people want to follow. I always have the ideas but when it comes to branding it I’m clueless! I suck at marketing. I need to learn the right way the first time.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Sean. Good to hear from you again. And hey, appreciate your bluntness. In my interview yesterday inside Mighty Wise Academy with Kelsey Ramsden ($50 million+ business), she flat-out said the number one key to an entrepreneurs success is their willingness to be humble and admit when they need help. That’s why she has a mentor, I have a mentor, and Seth (from Honest Tea) has a mentor.

      Learn the core principles of how to build a business Sean and know ‘marketing’ (your value proposition + messaging) is only one principle. As Dan Kennedy says; “if your business stinks, the last thing you want to do is get the word out about it.”

      Congrats Sean. You just earned yourself a book… (Shoot me your mailing address please. You should have my email.)

  18. Good Evening Eric!

    I would love to learn more about how to build a brand! My brother and I have launched our own clothing line and we are in the key stages of building a brand right now! One of the greatest opportunities we have right now is to build a great brand name for our company because we are both in college and our brand is just getting known. I would love to read Seth’s book and really learn the best way to build a brand! Thank you for this opportunity and as always I enjoy receiving your emails! Have a great day!

  19. I’m an 18 year old 1st year economics student with lots of ambition but little guidance seeing as very few people in Zambia have achieved what i want to. I need Mission in a bottle (cool name btw) to guide mr through the steps i’ll have to take to achieve my vision of becoming africas Richard Branson… :-)

  20. Eric, I’m constantly pleased with the fact that I subscribed to your email list.

    I’ve got to say that I struggle with everyone of these, but especially #1. None of my businesses are ones that I am ‘proud’ of. In fact, I try to hide what I do.

    Consequently, I am in constant fear of it all being swept away and having to start over.

    Take Canopy Warehouse, for example (one of my proudest ventures to date). There is nothing uniqe. No special touch. To industry revelation.

    If somebody wanted to copy me, they could put the hurt to me in an instant.

    Now imagine running 5 businesses in this position…

    I think, at the end of the day, the real challenge is due to the lack of capital. It’s really hard to differentiate my brand when all I’m doing is selling someone else’s products and philosophy.

    Great read. Keep this stuff coming!

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Quinton. Appreciate your honesty here. Just because you’re in this situation today; doesn’t mean you have to be there tomorrow.

      Meaning? Start looking for a strategic way to incorporate a true ‘purpose’ in one of your current businesses, or perhaps one yet to be started. Seth was able to make it through the extremely difficult times because he had a clear North Star (purpose). He was driven to see it through and it really had nothing to do with money. In fact, they struggled in a huge way financially for at least the first 5 years — barely taking anything out of the business.

      Read the following quote and let it sink in. Then get up, and figure out how to apply it to your situation —

      “Purpose is a soft virtue — but it’s what gives you steel in your spine.” – Rich Karlgaard

  21. Jose Trevino says:

    I need help in building my brand because although I’ve done very well for myself managing my personal funds using a value oriented approach aimed at minimizing risk of loss, no one knows about my performance.

    Truth is, maybe the book can help me, maybe it won’t, but if you award one of the copies to me, it will symbolize the “first brick” of my branding foundation, and it will boost my confidence by knowing that I “sold you” on my plans.

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Jose. You’re right — you can be the very best in the world at what you do; but if nobody knows about it — you’re toast. As I told Robert below, the same applies to you: you’ve already been building your brand and maybe not realized it. Brand is in all the details. For example, part of the Mighty Wise Academy and Eric T. Wagner brand is here I am; responding to you. Giving you real feedback on your comments to one of my articles.

      Does this make up the whole brand of me and Mighty Wise? No. But it is an important ‘brick in the branding foundation’ (to use your term). We have 1,000 bricks in our foundation… and so do you.

  22. I enjoyed this article and the email subscription which led me here, so thanks for that.

    Point 10 in this article really resonates with me. Back in 2009 I turned my passions for web development, blogging and fishing into a fishing blog. My goal with the site was to share my fishing experiences and learn from others who might share with me. Here it is 5 years later and this hobby site might actually turn a profit for the first time!

    So regarding point 10, I didn’t knew how long this site would last so I never bothered creating a Logo or standardizing on a color scheme / font family / etc. My site really has no brand identity and I think this has negatively impacted the growth potential.

    I’ve reached out to an artist friend of mine to now create the above mentioned things and I’m looking into one of those popular online logo shops as well. I plan on continuing the site for as long as I can, so I may as well act like it right?

    Thanks for the reminder on Brand Identity. If I get one of the books, that would be swell too, I’m sure there’s at least one more thing in there that can help me continue improving on the site for its long-term prosperity.


    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Robert. You know what? You’ve actually already been building your brand for the past 5 years. Brand is more than a logo and a color scheme. It’s the culture. It’s your core values. It’s your value propositions and how you deliver them.

      So yes — get yourself a logo made and make your color scheme one that stands for your brand. But never forget your ‘brand’ is really made up of all the details of everything you do and how you deliver it (including the personal brand of Robert Ivan.)

      Make sense?

  23. Thanks for sharing, Eric. Great stuff.

    I don’t need the book. I barely have time to read 3 paragraphs you send weekly. My question though is about whether Seth is a person an average entrepreneur can or should learn from. His starting point was absolutely different from any of us. He was a politician, venture capitalist and just a cool guy everyone knew. Of course he can advise to raise lots of money and not lose control from the beginning. Of course he will suggest protecting brand. What he is not mentioning is that brand protection is extremely expensive and that raising money on idea at good conditions can only happen after your second or third startup.

    It would be nice to know what first timers like myself can do to stay alive and flourish — and follow the rules he suggests.


    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Thanks Natasha. Not sure if we’re speaking of the same Seth here?

      But regardless, the answer to your question is YES, YES, YES.

      My goodness, we absolutely need to be connecting, collaborating and learning from each other as entrepreneurs — regardless of our individual starting points. I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 30 years with multiple startups under my belt. Did I learn something from my conversations with Seth and reading his book? Absolutely — even though I’ve been there; done that.

      Read deeper Natasha. For in the details of each of our successful journeys; with failures along the way — is the key to your own success…

  24. Thanks for another great post! I’m working to help people improve their lives and homes and our first product is “how” we are going to start doing this. I have a series of patents which are designed to do this, but in the end it is about helping people, not the individual products. There is a lot to be done that is not being done for us, like cutting wasteful energy use so people can save their money and spend it as they want. It’s all about enabling people.

    To this goal, I know I can use all the help I can get. We need the results now.

  25. Hi Eric,

    Thank you for sharing. Over the past 18 months, we (my wife and I) have struggled with our business. It has been good but not great by any stretch of the imagination. At times, we find it hard articulating the public brand of the company. Behind closed doors and with our closest allies, there is passion but publicly, I do not believe that comes across. Recently, I have discussed changing the name of the company to at least make it more identifiable to John Q. Public what it is we do.

    We have also made a push to begin hiring talent in an effort to delegate, but finding those who believe as we do is extremely difficult. I know why we started the business – a drive for personal balance and freedom but in light of a recent and dramatic downturn in opportunities, I have considered setting it all aside and returning to the corporate world as a means to stop the insanity.

    Thanks for reading. John

  26. Good morning Eric !
    Thank you for your attention to my success. I am starting my snowshoe business this year. Not a new product, been made for thousands of years. Traditional wood hand made snowshoes. Sooo labeling and brand “Are It”. Just like bottled water anyone. Can do it but its the label that sells it.
    As you know the production part is a breeze for me and I have a few ideas for label/brand but the full vision I have for branding is equivalent to me opening a new restaurant for Chef Ramsey, and I can’t cook!!
    I need help!!
    The quality, integrity, and meeting my clients needs for the last 5 years have shown its value as I have not had to advertise but once for 6 months 5.5 years ago. That will carry over to my construction of the snow shoes but… Why buy mine?
    Thank you
    Darin Niemeyer

    • Eric T. Wagner says:

      Hey Darin.

      Great to hear from you again. And you’re right — marginal differentiation will not cut it. Radically better and different — which includes product, value proposition, story, messaging, and purpose/culture. These items all make up ‘brand’.

      Shoot me an email with your mailing address and we will send you a copy of Seth’s book. My email is: eric at mightywisemedia dot com

  27. Great article Eric. Thank you for sharing.
    # 3 hit home for me. Although we are not a new business we have changed a lot over time. As we have grown we have realized that more and more companies have jumped on this “bandwagon” of providing the same products that we manufacture even though it might not fit into their current portfolio. Everybody wants to make it “cheaper” and the customers are always looking for a better price.
    The challenge for us has been standing out from the crowd without sacrificing our values and vision! It has become more and more important for us to differentiate ourselves from the rest by our brand and our values as a company.

  28. Moffat Thomas says:

    Thank you for sharing this wisdom Eric and for a great blog. I am starting a business in Harare, Zimbabwe and would find the book invaluable in building a successful, grounded and competitive brand bringing value to our customers, staff and community. Learning the right way is better than from many mistakes.

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