The difference between a startup and a hugely successful business is often a few years (or more!), tons of hard work, a pinch of luck, vision, and timing. The vast majority of successful businesses, corporations and entities were at one time a startup. That’s right–the Starbucks and Walmarts of the world were once mom and pop joints struggling to get by. If you’re an entrepreneur or startup yourself, you probably already know that over 90 percent of all new businesses fail. The odds are stacked against you, and it’s one tough lesson after another to be learned.
But why learn all those rough and tumble lessons yourself when others have already blazed the trail for you? A lot of successful CEOs and founders who were once in your shoes are happy to dole out advice, but are you ready to take it?
Let’s start off with 5 famous entrepreneurs and then go into 3 up and coming entrepreneurs.
CEO Elon Musk of Tesla, Solar City & Space X
Knowing how to take criticism is vital for Musk. “Take as much feedback from as many people as you can about whatever idea you have…seek critical feedback. Ask them what’s wrong. You often have to draw it out in a nuanced way to figure out what’s wrong,” advises Musk. People don’t like to complain or point out faults, but that’s what will make your business stronger.
Remember: You don’t have to agree with them or necessarily follow their suggestions. But the more feedback you have, the more information you’ll have to make the right decisions for your business.
CEO Steve Jobs of Apple
Who would have thought Jobs had such a soft side? He attributes love to being a major driving force with hiring decisions. “When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because, if they fall in love with Apple; everything else will take care of itself. They’ll want to do what’s best for Apple, not what’s best for them, what’s best for Steve or anybody else.”
Your business will always be your baby, no matter how small or big it is. Just like your real baby, you want to hire a nanny that loves your bundle of joy almost as much as you do. That’s what fosters a healthy, happy baby (whether it has 10fingers and 10toes or 20 board members).
CEO Steve Ells of Chipotle
“I had a very strong vision for the way Chipotle was going to look and taste,” recalls Ells when talking about the history of what’s now one of the most well-known “fast food eateries” (sans drive through window). An art history major who went to culinary school after college because of his passion for cooking, he was inspired by the economic model of Chipotle while eating at a small neighborhood taqueria. He used what he learned at culinary school and while working at a restaurant to “really elevate fast food.”
The lesson from Ells? Follow your cravings (sometimes literally!), learn first-hand from various viewpoints of your industry, and find a unique way to do something better.
(God, I love Chipotle.)
CEO Richard Branson of Virgin
Branson’s all about passion projects and has been since he founded Virgin at just 20 years old. “When I started Virgin from a basement in West London, there was no great plan or strategy. I didn’t set out to build a business empire. For me, building a business is all about doing something to be proud of, bringing talented people together and creating something that’s going to make a real difference to other people’s lives,” he tells Business Insider.
Of course, you can’t find success on passion alone. However, if you’re a huge book lover with a degree in English but have zero experience in search engine optimization (but you hear it’s a cash cow!), you likely won’t have success in SEO. You have zero passion, zero experience, and a whole lot of competition. You already know what you love–find a way for it to make you money.
CEO Jerry Murrell of Five Guys
“Do you want fries with that?” is a line that got Murrell rich–not a dig at a subpar career path. Murrell didn’t find success as an entrepreneur until his four sons were college-aged (but didn’t want to go to college!).
Jerry and his four sons became the Five Guys. This is a true family owned business, and well after launch day Murrell still worked at his career in stocks and bonds.
“We figure our best salesman is our customer. Treat that person right, he’ll walk out the door and sell for you. From the beginning, I wanted people to know that we put all our money into the food. That’s why the decor is so simple–red and white tiles. We don’t spend our money on dcor. Or on guys in chicken suits. But we’ll go overboard on food.”
Quality and passion. Those are the real “secret ingredients” of Five Guys–and they’re the perfect foundation for any business.
CEO Josh Manion of Ensighten
How can being a national chess master help you become a successful entrepreneur? For Manion, “Chess was instrumental in establishing the right rigor for the way that you problem solve and approach business and life.” This doesn’t mean you need to go out and become a chess champion (although it couldn’t hurt). However, you can apply that kind of focus and critical thinking skills to your business.
Manion encourages entrepreneurs to wait if they see a good opportunity in case an even better one is around the corner. He reminds entrepreneurs that winning demands you to plot far in advance because every small move counts. Time management is also critical to both chess and business.
CEO Ron Bodkin of Think Big Analytics
“To get good payback on an investment…there needs to be a good strategy, a roadmap, adjusting the course with seven to ten corrections at different stages of the journey. The point is to reduce the cost of going to scale,” Bodkin stated. Of course, Bodkin is largely focused on big data (no surprise considering the name of his company), but that approach can be tweaked to suit any entrepreneur’s venture.
It’s why your business idea should have a business plan as a springboard. It’s why being flexible and not sticking to The Plan “no matter what” is critical. Keeping a budget in mind, practicing frugality, and knowing that plans are necessary albeit constantly in transition are all building blocks of success according to Bodkin.
CEO Vincent Mifsud of ScribbleLive
“There are a lot of startups that burn through cash excessively. Yes, you need money to fuel growth, but if your primary strategy is pure spending, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Once your team is used to a culture of spending, it’s extremely hard to roll back and put accountability in place. Learn from the tech companies that went bankrupt in the late 90s when the capital markets dried up.
“Be laser focused with your investments instead, especially when it comes to marketing – place bets on content, not ads, and use the proper tools to ensure you’re making data-driven decisions.”
Mifsud is spot on. In today’s age of rapid change, you should focus on creating great content that will inspire, inform, and educate your ideal customers. This is what works today. Things change quickly in this space.
These eight entrepreneurs were once standing exactly where you are.
Use their lessons for your own empire, and learn from these great leaders. Perhaps by doing so, you’ll struggle a little less, live a little longer and be a whole lot wealthier than you are today.