Trade and business have existed since the start of time. Although the way it is carried out has evolved greatly, the basic learnings and ideas remains the same. Upon which, empires are built, billionaires are made and more importantly, millions and millions of lives are changed. Learning from iconic entrepreneurs in from the last 20 years, here are the key lessons:
Embrace the Aha! Moment
While getting ready for a party one night in 1998, Sara Blakely realised she did not have appropriate undergarment to wear under her white pants. Ingeniously, she cut off the bottom of her control top panty hose and Voila! Not only did she looked and felt fabulous the whole night, this one little action changed her life and the lives of women, completely.
This led to the birth of the footless, body shaping pantyhose brand- Spanx. After 2 years of hard work and rejection, today, Spanx is worth over USD$400 million in sales. It is the most popular brand of undergarment with Hollywood stars and political figureheads and the company has extended its product range to include athletic wear, pants and bras. Its founder, Sara Blakely, has a current net worth of over USD$1 billion (Source: Forbes).
So, what if Sara decided against wearing that pair of white pants since there were not any appropriate undergarments? What if she left that problem as it is? A little ingenuity, coupled with a whole lot of tenacity and hard work, it does pay to pay attention to daily life and everyday problems. As our needs evolve and so do the goods that we consume; therein lies the opportunity to create products that improve lives. Take notice and seek to solve those problems and who knows, you will be on your way to becoming the next Spanx.
“What we’re using today will be obsolete in a few years. The past is never the future” – Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce
Eat “Risks” for Breakfast
Entrepreneurs face risks, every step of the way. From deciding to step away from the stability of employment to igniting the idea and maintaining the business. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, takes every risk, which is worth taking. With foresight and great determination, he took the risk and started his 1st web business in 1995, a time when computers were not a household item.
He identified a gap in the market when he could not find “China Beer” from the Internet, so he built a web directory of Chinese products known as China Pages. After a year, Ma sought funding through a partnership with a government entity which gained majority control, however the bureaucracy led to Ma’s departure.
Timothy Tiah, co-founder of Nuffnang, is no stranger to risk-taking as well. With no background in media buying, the 2 founders dived into the unknown territories of blog ad network and made it a resounding success in Asia Pacific. The company attracted and rejected acquirers, one of which was Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), risking the chance that the media giant would replicate their business. By 2014, Nuffnang is worth RM100 million, with offices in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, China, Australia and UK. (Source: Asiatatler)
Smart entrepreneurs can identify worthy risks. Besides trusting their gut feelings, they research and have a good understanding of the market and its opportunities. They remain humble and patient; and always have a back-up plan.
“Being an entrepreneur is about patience and persistence, not the quick buck” – Reed Hastings of NetFlix.
For Profit and for the Soul
Great entrepreneurs look beyond profits; they are concerned about the community and the world at large. The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, taps on his foothold in the culinary industry to spearhead a global Food Revolution. He believes that it is the human right of every child to have access to good, fresh and nutritious food and he hopes to make a positive shift in the way “our children access, consume and understand food”. The statistics show that there are 41 million children under five years old, who are obese; 159 million children who are malnutrition.
While there are Social Enterprises whose main objectives are to solve social problems, there are businesses that incorporate “giving back” into their business model.
One for One® is a business model coined by TOMS Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie. The main objective is to keep his vision of providing shoes to disadvantaged children, sustainable. The company donates a new pair of shoes for every pair of TOMS sold. Started out in 2006, TOMS has given out more than 60 million pairs of shoes. The business has since grown to include TOMS Eyewear, restoring sight to over 400,000; TOMS Roasting Company that as provided over 335,000 weeks of safe water since 2014; TOMS Bag Collection founded in 2015, provided training and birth kits to help woman give birth safely, supported safe births for more than 25,000 mothers, to date. Each new product line contributes back where it matters, filling market gaps and more importantly filling souls.
In a survey conducted by Australia’s Fidelity Charitable Gift Trust, it is found that companies led by entrepreneurs, gives back more than twice as much as compared to their peers who are not led by entrepreneurs. In fact, 89% of entrepreneurs donate to charity, with an additional 70% who donate their time.
“Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequality” – Bill Gates, Co-Founder of Microsoft and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation