I meet with hundreds of entrepreneurs a year…from the smart operators to the ones as dumb and conceited as a rock to the real “game changers” out to change the world.
Given my extensive experience dealing – as a financier and entrepreneur myself – with the gamut of entrepreneurs out there, I thought I’d share with you those 10 priceless tips as to what it really takes to be the Billion Dollar Entrepreneur you aspire to be.
1. Be Yourself – Because you can’t really manipulate yourself into success with personality tweaks or even major overhauls. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The most powerful thing you can do is be real. As in not phony. As in grappling, sweating, laughing and caring. As inauthentic. Think of authenticity as your foundation, your center, and don’t let anyone try to wring it out of you, subtly or otherwise. Billion dollar entrepreneurs are rarely politically correct. They are mavericks with a mind of their own.
2. Be an Outstanding Communicator – If I had to choose another major key attribute that would be most predictive of stunning success for an entrepreneur I would have to say is an outstanding communicator. By that, I mean having the ability to get other people really excited or inspired by your vision. In the end, success comes largely from the work and contribution of others around you, not yourself. That includes employees, investors, customers, users, etc… If you can effectively recruit, pitch, sell and evangelize to these groups then you’re in outstanding shape. There are of course exceptions, but I’ve almost always found when I meet great entrepreneurs they all share that capability… in spades.
3. Dream Big, and Die Trying – Bigger than life entrepreneurship is a combination of three things: genetics, circumstance, and perseverance. Genetics: You were born with it and cannot do anything about it. Circumstance: Luck plays a part in success, but the harder you work, the luckier you get. Perseverance: You only fail in your business when you actually give up, so, in fact, no business would ever fail if people persevered. I know the Founders of many of the most successful technology companies in the world, and there were (and still are times) where the Founders refused to give up despite unbelievable problems, stress, and negative signaling. Elon Musk called entrepreneurship “like eating glass and walking on hot coals at the same time.” An entrepreneur faces all of the debilitating problems of their own life coupled with all of the personal problems of their team, as well as hostile operating environments, limited capital, stretched resources, no time, regulatory burdens, etc… The loneliness and darkness of entrepreneurship are not discussed very often, but they are very real. Those that relentlessly persevere succeed. Those that don’t just don’t.
4. Be willing to knock any obstacle that comes your way – You work on something for months and months, around the clock night and day, and it doesn’t work out. You pick yourself up and try again, and for another external reason, it doesn’t work out. You believe in yourself while others mock you and tell you to ‘get a real job’ but you keep trying. You try again, and this time are convinced it’s going to work out, you almost get there, and once again, it fails…It is this moment that makes a successful entrepreneur. The time when you get back up again when everyone else would stay down and give up. You get back up again and try once more. What makes an entrepreneur, in my opinion, is sheer relentless determination. Sure you need all the other skills, but it’s the sheer determination that will get you to your goals. No matter how many knocks you take, you know your life will be dedicated to being an entrepreneur. You were born to be a superstar – it’s never a lifestyle choice, it’s inherent within you. If you are a true billion-dollar entrepreneur, you won’t ever be able to ever walk away from being one, regardless of the hardships. And conversely, I doubt very much you’ll be able to walk into becoming one, regardless of the aspirations.
5. Embrace risks – In order to succeed, you must first be willing to fail – and you must have the courage to go for it anyway. Risk-taking is absolutely essential to getting any business off the ground. Many of the world’s most exciting and successful companies wouldn’t exist today if the founders were focused on the things that could have gone wrong. Look at it this way: Risks will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to risk. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, tell yourself you lived life to the fullest.
6. Do not be afraid of failure or change – There are notable examples of many entrepreneurs who have previously ‘failed’ but have gone on to do incredible things. It is also important to note that there should equally be no fear of change. Entrepreneurs need to adapt as changes happen. There are many incredible businesses that actually started off as one thing and became another. Your initial mission statement doesn’t matter. What matters is winning and getting there.
7. Never stop learning – The most powerful word in the English language is “Why.” There is nothing so powerful as an open, inquiring mind. Whatever field you choose for building your business – be a lifelong student. The world is full of people who have stopped learning and who think they’ve got it all figured out. You’ve no doubt met some of them already – and you’ll meet plenty more. Their favorite word is “No.” They will give you a million reasons why something can’t be done or shouldn’t be done. Don’t listen to these losers, don’t be deterred by them, and don’t become one of them. Not if you want to fulfill your potential – and not if you want to build a billion-dollar enterprise and change the world for the better.
8. Develop a crazy sense of urgency – Most entrepreneurs have this. They have to have this. It’s part of what pushes you to work late nights, weekends, and while walking on the treadmill. People who don’t have this trait should think twice about trying their hand at starting a business. On the other hand, you need to have a huge amount of internal patience and ability to deal with delays that will inevitably happen, but have an external impatience that demands progress quickly.
9. Develop a real solid network of relationships and an eye to distribution. If you need to strike partnerships, learn about your industry and who cuts deals. Be the most prepared person in the room at every meeting. If you need access to specific channels, learn to dance around the enterprises that shape those markets. This is the best and fastest way sometimes to scale your business and take it to stratospheric levels.
10. Give back – You are ultimately responsible for your success and failure, but you only succeed if you share the reward with others. At the end of the day, ask yourself: Am I making a difference in the lives of others? On that same note, be generous with stock options, find yourself a strong technical co-founder and choose venture capital firm (VCs) that really add value beyond money. Success has many fathers.
You will notice that I have not mentioned your idea as important to success as an entrepreneur. There are definitely better ideas and worse ideas. I have seen great ideas fail and bad ideas become worth billions. The easiest two examples of successful bad ideas are Google and eBay. Doing another search engine around 1999 was a definitely stupid idea. Sending used merchandise through the mail to people that you met online and then mailing a $0.23 commission check to eBay, when stamps cost $0.25, was a stupid idea as well. Stupid or not, their combined market cap is over $500 billion today. There you go.
To close, my definition of success is to have stories that my grandchildren want to listen to.
Success is a “big” term. Each person will have their own ideas of what success might mean.
There are some metrics that are easy – capital raised, IPO valuation, money, sales, number of employees, number of customers… just because they are easy to measure doesn’t make them the most important.
There are some metrics that are very hard – freedom, making a difference to people’s lives, leaving a legacy, growing as a human being, autonomy… these can be what is truly important… but difficult to use external measures to know if you are doing “well”.
So success is not an absolute phenomenon. You will be successful when you got to the point to be or do what others determine is a success.
I would say that facing your own “abyss” is the moment where you can truly clarify who “you” are. Not the you that your parents want, nor the you that your friends remember, but the you that is inside and hidden behind the “shoulds” of your inner voice. Only by taking 100% responsibility for your own life can you go through the path to the abyss and face your fears. I believe that only entrepreneurship allows a 100% responsible for my life attitude – so it is one of the few paths that allow you to grow to your fullest potential as a human being.
I wish you a life that gives you stories that your grandkids will sit and listen to.
Share your thoughts.