Lessons from Great Entrepreneurs
It’s hard to miss the really successful entrepreneurs. Actions speak louder than words. The deeds of great entrepreneurs trumpet their success. In fact once they achieve greatness in their business endeavours, the media tend to flock to their every move. It’s hard to stop a story about anything a great entrepreneur does.
Richard Branson is a good example. He has established a global brand and applied it to many areas of business. And now whenever he launches something new, or tackles another project or gets involved in a scheme no matter how unusual, the world knows all about it.
An interesting way of looking at entrepreneurs and their achievements is to imagine the world without their contributions. Yes, you could argue that if Bill Gates hadn’t done what he did with Microsoft then someone else would have created a similar project under another name. Or would they? If Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues hadn’t created Facebook, would that life-changing program be with us today? Hard to argue one way or the other but it’s not hard to argue that great entrepreneurs have changed the world and the way we live and work and play.
And another point. So many of the great entrepreneurs did what they did off their own bat. Some started with no capital and messed around with gadgets in their garage - or even someone else’s garage. Entrepreneurs have had a colossal impact on our lives and yet many had the most humble of beginnings.
And on the subject of little or no start-up capital, many of the hugely successful entrepreneurs had next to nothing when they started. Many are millionaires or even billionaires. So should we listen to what they have to say? Well if achievements count for anything, certainly we should. How did they do it? How did they overcome problems? What mistakes did they make? I reckon some words of wisdom from successful entrepreneurs are well worth hearing.
Here’s an interesting thought. Bill Gates reckons that it’s not a mistake if you’re born poor but it is a mistake if you die poor. Think about that. That one sentence tells every entrepreneur everything they want to know about motivation and inspiration.
Forget about your background and your current bank balance. Forget about your lack of experience and expertise. There is a mountain to climb if you want to be successful. So get climbing.
You could not find a better teacher
As an entrepreneur or a budding entrepreneur you will always find useful information or invaluable tips by reading the thoughts of those who've gone before. When a hugely successful entrepreneur talks, we should all listen. We cannot find a better teacher. Here are what some of our greatest entrepreneurs have had to say.
When something annoys you, that's a sign that suggests opportunity. Dr. Barry Nalebuff, a Yale professor, was in a store looking for a cup of tea. He found just about everything else. Obviously there were tons of soda drinks and diet drinks and plenty of varieties of good old-fashioned water. He lost count of the different types of coffee from which he could choose. But all he wanted was a cup of tea. So naturally he was annoyed he couldn't find it. It bugged him that what he wanted wasn't available.
He went away and did some research and in only 26 days started a company called Honest Tea. He became so successful that 13 years after he began the operation he sold it to Coca-Cola. So the next time you find yourself in an annoying situation, think of it not so much as frustrating but rather as an opportunity. What is the solution to the problem?
A couple of points to note from this anecdote.
- Even university professors can become entrepreneurs - you don’t have to be a geek.
- You don’t have to take years to get your business up and running. Honest Tea started in less than 4 weeks.
Expect to fail
Now immediately some of you will say that that's the wrong attitude to take. You must think positive. You must fill your mind with good vibes, with energy and positivity. But let's face it, many entrepreneurs fail and many entrepreneurs who succeed have setbacks from time to time. So let's stop living in some parallel universe and get back to the real world.
Prepare yourself for the possibility of failure. But prepare yourself in such a way that you turn a setback into a benefit. Look upon it as an experience which will make you stronger and better. Eric Lefkofsky who is the CEO of the daily deal website Group On, believes that is the best way to run a business and by using that philosophy he saved his bacon many times. Lefkofsky says that "It's not win or lose. It's always win or learn".
Don't be afraid of failure. Accept that it exists. Have plans in place that will enable you to keep going when times are tough and always, repeat always see a difficult situation as a learning situation. What went wrong and why? How can I prevent this happening again? How can I improve and learn from the experience?
Choose your own path
Of course it's good to study the techniques and methodology of great entrepreneurs. How did they achieve the success they've achieved? What are their secrets? Is there a set path you need to travel down in order to be successful? Well according to Dan Gilbert who was the creator of Quicken Loans the answer is no.
Dan's favourite quote on the subject is that there's no set path to success, but there are many ways to get there. Now just think about that for a moment. You could study with pinpoint accuracy the way certain famous entrepreneurs achieved their great success. But one of those famous entrepreneurs has said in effect don't copy me, work it out yourself.
To my way of thinking that's a great heads up. Sure I want to emulate their success but I don't have to do exactly what they did. I can achieve my goals by using a plan I devise myself. I can get there under my own steam and I can make it happen using my own ideas and techniques. Think about that.
Even the little tips are helpful
You would think that a hugely successful entrepreneur such as Richard Branson when addressing entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs will talk about some grand blue sky scheme with the sky being the limit. He would bang on about a grandiose project which could take over the world and sweep everything before it. Well if you're thinking that prepare to be surprised.
The great Richard Branson likes to get down to the smallest of details. Of course you need to have a vision and to think big but it's the nuts and bolts of daily living as an entrepreneur which means so much to him. For example, Richard Branson believes strongly in forgetting all about the office. Apparently one of his proud boasts is that he's never worked from an office. As he says, "I work from a hammock". So don't develop some preconceived idea of an entrepreneur wearing business clothes and traveling to the 20th story of a giant office block to work in a conventional office with conventional staff. Think outside the square.
Richard Branson also believes in important things such as getting up early, keeping fit and eating proper food at lunchtime. Now these may seem irrelevant when you're looking for inspiration from a great entrepreneur. But perhaps it's not much use having a fantastic idea if you're not fit and well, if you're not able to put in the hours required for success and if your diet is lousy. These tips all sound very practical, very sensible and easy to achieve to me. I guess if they’re good enough for the great entrepreneur then they’re good enough for us.
Folksy philosophy can mean a lot
We all know about Bill Gates and the massive corporation known as Microsoft. We now also know that Bill Gates is a benefactor to many worthy causes. But surprisingly for a man with such massive wealth, Gates continues to have a down to earth philosophy about life and about business. Here is a collection of aphorisms which are attributed to the great Bill Gates. How many of them can you apply to your life and your business? How many do you think are true?
- If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
- Life is not fair -- get used to it.
- Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not.
Warren Buffett has often shared a platform with Bill Gates and he has a down to earth, homespun philosophy. Some of Buffett's best advice is as follows.
- Invest in as much of yourself as you can because you are your own biggest asset.
- Have your own passion, follow it, and don't take the job if you don't like it.
There are no restrictions
Everyone has heard of Facebook and probably almost as many have heard of one of its creators Mark Zuckerberg. There's even been a movie about the creation of the phenomenally successful website. But Zuckerberg himself is a classic example of the lack of restrictions on being a successful entrepreneur.
To start with you don't have to have a great deal of money and you certainly don't have to have decades of experience. If you're reading this and thinking well I have very little expertise and I certainly don't have a lifetime working in business. Some of the greatest start-up businesses have been created by entrepreneurs who had a damn good idea and a willingness to work really hard.
Zuckerberg despite his young years seems to have a very mature head on his shoulder. One of his golden rules in running an entrepreneurial business is that you shouldn't be talked out of anything you feel strongly about. Now think about that for a moment. You may be running a business with a partner or partners. You may have a passion for a certain project or idea. The advice here is that if you feel strongly enough about something you should never give it up or certainly never give it up without a really good fight.
And if that point seems to suggest that you should take wild risks and not be a responsible entrepreneur then another of Zuckerberg's tips is that you should surround yourself with experts. There will always be some aspect of your business operation in which you are not the best person to make decisions. Don't be afraid about asking for advice. Don't hesitate to engage or employ someone who knows a great deal about a specialist area that you really have no knowledge about.
But perhaps one of the most focused tips from the Facebook co-creator is that you must always keep up with the competition. Or rather you must always be aware of what the competition is doing. Of course you need to be involved in your own business but ideas and knowledge will often be found by studying the work of others.
Finally there is a practical tip from Zuckerberg which goes to the heart of the matter, to the most precious resource in your company and that is your people. Here the advice is that you should hire not just the skills but look for passion and that you should always look after your employees. They are the heart and soul of your business. They are more important than your ego or your bank balance. Take special care of your members of staff.
Simple home truths from some savvy entrepreneurs
Jason Cohen who created WPEngine reckons too many entrepreneurs concentrate on the end result and not on the real thing which is the journey. Some of us set goals and work our backsides off to reach that goal. We may or may not reach it but that’s not the point. What have you been doing for the thirty or forty years of running your business? Getting out to smell the roses is excellent advice. Living a day at a time and making the most of life is what should be our top priority.
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