Entrepreneurs come from many different walks of life and span every industry, product type, generation and culture. But what all of these entrepreneurs have in common is the steep learning curve to success, with many lessons being learned along the way. So what wisdom can we learn from some of today’s leading entrepreneurs?
1. Accept failure as part of the journey
Hiten Shah, co-founder of the hugely successful analytics platform KISSmetrics, launched many failed products. He states his biggest failure was spending $1 million of his own money on a web-hosting company that never even launched. Hiten says, “My co-founder and I were perfectionists so we built the best thing we could without even understanding what our customers cared about.”
Take-away: Accept that failure is par for the course, but accepting and learning from your failures is paramount.
2. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities
Dr Barry Nalebuff, founder of Honest Tea, launched his business when he saw a gap in the beverage market. He found water to be boring, soda to be too sugary and diet drinks to be unhealthy, so teamed up with a former student to launch a new venture.
The company’s popularity took off when Nalebuff was at a yoga retreat and spotted Oprah Winfrey. He offered her a sample and Honest Tea subsequently featured in her magazine. Nalebuff notes: “When opportunity strikes, you have to be prepared for it.”
Take-away: Many new ventures are created out of existing consumer problems, so keep your eyes open for business opportunities at all times. You never know when you’ll bump into Oprah!
3. Never stop creating
Jack Nickell, founder of Threadless, a community website that votes for designs uploaded by artists, launched the company due to his passion for being creative. Threadless was a side-project for Jack for four years during college before it became his full-time job. Jack says: “You can’t predict the results of what you make, what it’s going to turn into. Threadless was never supposed to be what it is today, it was just about making things and putting myself out there. ” Despite employing hundreds of employees and working with millions of designers around the world, Jack still likes to use his creativity every day, on tasks such as coding the company’s website.
Take-away: Do what you love. Make things. Pursue your hobbies. You don’t always need to have a plan about where it’s going to lead, or be good at it, just as long as you enjoy the process.
4. Believe in yourself
Sarah Wood is co-founder of Unruly Media, the world’s leading video advertising platform. Thanks to the results the company has achieved working with top global brands such as T-Mobile, Dove and Renault, company sales have increased five-fold in the last two years. Sarah was voted UK Female Entrepreneur of the Year by the Growing Business Awards.
Despite these successes, she believes women in top leadership positions still worry too much about external perceptions. She says: “There are many extra layers of judgment that are applied to women. It’s not enough to be smart, driven, successful, people also expect you to look fantastic. So, all these additional layers of expectation can wear you down if you let them. We all can just choose not to respond to that and not to care about those judgments and layers of perception.”
Take-away: Always believe in your own strengths and abilities, no matter what external expectations exist.
5. Give something back to the world (and reap the financial rewards)
Blake Mycoskie is a social entrepreneur and founder of TOMS, the shoe business that gives a pair of shoes to a child in the developing world for every pair sold. The business model, which he has trademarked as the ‘one for one’ concept, continues to support socially minded entrepreneurship ventures and is currently expanding into eyewear.
Recently valued at $625 million, the brand knows that social enterprise is big business. “I recognized very early on that when you incorporate a purpose beyond profit in your business, your customers will become your biggest marketers,” says Mycoskie. He also says the brand has worked with many partners such as Ralph Lauren “not because they love our business, but they see that they can connect to their customers in a new way.”
Take-away: Look for opportunities where you can make a positive change in the world whilst developing a profitable business.