The world’s most famous entrepreneurs didn’t just change the game in their respective industry, they disrupted the norm. While some are known for creating a new industry from the ground up, others took an existing business and completely transformed it. But, their path to success didn’t magically appear at the snap of their fingers. As the Twitter co-founder Biz Stone would say, “Timing, perseverance, and 10 years of really hard work will eventually make you look like an overnight success.”
We took a deep dive into previous Babson interviews with famous entrepreneurs and rounded up some of the best pieces of advice on creating a new business. To our surprise, the best lessons weren’t solely about investing and work, but about life, how to be a better human, and how that can be applied to a future business endeavor.
Babson alumnus and Toyota Motor Corporation President and CEO Akio Toyoda MBA’82, P’14 sent Babson’s graduate Centennial class of 2019 off with a heartfelt Commencement speech, encouraging students to “Have fun. Really figure out what makes you happy in life. What brings you joy … find what makes you happy and don’t let go.”
When it comes to business, his advice: “Do the right thing. Because if you do the right thing, the money will follow.”
Arthur Blank ’63, H’98, co-founder of the Home Depot, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta United soccer team, likes to tell a story about the lion and the gazelle.
The story goes, in Africa during the early mornings, the gazelle wakes up knowing one blunt truth: To survive, it must run faster than the lion. At the same time, the lion wakes up knowing an equally hard truth, that if it doesn’t run faster than the gazelle, it will have nothing to eat.
Blank says, “Whether you’re a lion or a gazelle, you’ve got to get up and move in the morning.”
At 75, Blank is still moving. He owns two ranches and the PGA Tour Superstore with locations across the country. In addition, he finds time to give back with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
At the age of 27, SPANX founder and CEO Sara Blakely started her company with only $5,000. Eventually, Neiman Marcus agreed to sell the shapewear brand. Fifteen years later, her startup turned into a billion dollar empire.
When asked for advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, the billionaire and member of Babson’s Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs® encourages students to, “Differentiate yourself. Learn how to tell somebody in a minute or less why you’re different, why you’re the best option, and work really hard. Never underestimate how hard you’ll work.”
Famed fashion designer Tory Burch, the entrepreneur behind the Tory Burch brand, started her business in 2004 without actual doors. She could feel the self-doubt setting in. Burch feared, that like the doors, shoppers wouldn’t show up. By 6 p.m. on opening day, she had nearly sold out of her inventory.
Before speaking at a Babson Commencement ceremony, she shared her experience on conquering self-doubt and the cynics.
“When we were first starting out, there were many naysayers …” She recalls, “Others called our early success ‘a flash in the pan.’ I’m a sensitive person, so it was hard. My parents told me that I needed to develop a thicker skin. They said I should think of negativity as noise and focus on what I was doing. It was great advice that I have kept in mind ever since.”
Her game plan in times of doubt: “I just put my head down, focused, and worked harder.”
There isn’t a list that would not be complete with the “Omaha Oracle” Warren Buffet.
In a recent conversation with a Babson graduate student, Buffet stated, “… we are influenced by people we spend time with. We either get better or worse based on our partner, friends, and business colleagues, so who you surround yourself with is critical.” He also encourages entrepreneurs to, “… look for people and partnerships who also aim for the long term.”
The takeaway: It’s not a horse race. Look to invest long term. Which can be applied to choosing your team wisely. Who you work with will eventually be who you succeed with at the end of the long road to success.
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