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How To Stay Focused As An Entrepreneur

How To Stay Focused As An Entrepreneur

The part of every entrepreneur’s DNA that allows her to dream big and envision a world where her creation impacts countless lives and generates incredible wealth is the very thing that can lead to failure. Especially in the early days of working on something, every new opportunity can feel like the one that will change everything. Many founders get caught in the cycle of chasing shiny objects, but when resources are limited and it’s a race against time this can be detrimental. Here’s how you can avoid this classic entrepreneur’s dilemma.

Stay focused on the path of least resistance

Some problems are inherently harder to solve, some markets are more difficult to compete in, and some customer segments take longer to educate and convince of your value proposition. Serial entrepreneurs know this all too well. You can spend months, even years trying to generate revenue for one business and then start another business with money and customers in the first 4 weeks.

Paypal started off as a company called Confinity that allowed people to send IOUs from Palm Pilot to Palm Pilot. The relatively niche market didn’t adopt their technology fast enough, so they pivoted to creating a payment system aimed specifically for the web so that one person could email money to another. People were just starting to spend more money online with the rising popularity of ecommerce sites like eBay, making this demographic an easy target for Paypal.

Especially if you’re trying to gain early revenue traction, it’s easy to fall into the trap of attempting to sell to any customer that will buy. The truth is, some customers are a better fit, both in terms of revenue opportunity and cost, and thus are more important to spend your time on. Others can seem promising but will never actually materialize into real revenue. Double down where you think you’re likely to have the most traction and ignore everything else – it’s a distraction.

Stay focused on where you can build value the fastest

Surviving the early days means creating massive value for a specific customer segment whose pain is not being addressed. You might have a big grandiose vision of how your company will change the world, but you will not win by trying to solve everyone’s problems.

Apple didn’t start by creating products that can be used by anyone – they first built for computer hobbyists that loved to tinker with electronics. Amazon wasn’t always a place where you can buy almost any product imaginable. They first focused on disrupting the online book sales market.

Almost every successful business started off doing something niche. Figure out an area where you can quickly create value for your customer that your competition is ignoring, and avoid working on things that aren’t critical to this goal.

Recognize When Something Isn’t Working

This sounds contrary to the idea of staying focused on one main path, but it’s equally important to recognize when something just won’t work. Entrepreneurship is full of ups and downs, and it is true that sometimes you can spend months grinding away at something without a reward. However, if you go too long without experiencing any ‘wins’ it can be very difficult to keep moving forward. More importantly, it can be a sign that you need to course correct.

It’s difficult to admit that you’re wrong, especially when you’ve invested a lot of time into trying to make something work, but it’s even harder if you’re forced to admit defeat and close your business because you’ve wasted too much time doing the wrong things. Change something about your approach if you’ve been fighting an uphill battle for too long, whether it’s your core value proposition, target customer base or customer acquisition channel, and hopefully you’ll finally start to see some positive indicators.

Simon Sinek wisely said that “vision is a destination – a fixed point to which we focus all effort. Strategy is a route – an adaptable path to get us where we want to go.” Your strategy will change as you learn new information while working toward your goal, but your vision should stand firm, unaffected by distractions that might come your way.

Originally posted on Forbes by Sergei Revzin and Vadim Revzin

 

I Survived September 11, but My Business Didn’t. What I Learned From Rebuilding.

I Survived September 11, but My Business Didn’t. What I Learned From Rebuilding.

On this anniversary of the day that changed the course of American history, I must reflect on how September 11, 2001, changed me both as a person and a businessman.

Seventeen years ago, I was running my first business, AbraCadabra Digital Printing on the 18th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower in New York City. Business was booming. We were generating about $4 million a year with 30 employees and five locations across New York and New Jersey.

I was finishing up a meeting with my business manager when the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Seventeen minutes later, we were standing on the streets of New York as the second plane crashed into the building where we had just stood.

Following the events of 9/11, my once thriving business suffered as many others did at the time. My sales plummeted to $600,000 in 2003. I finally sold the business in 2004 for $325,000.

Seeing so many lives destroyed and losing my business was a major setback for me both professionally and personally that, ultimately, taught me a number of enduring lessons about perseverance, rebuilding from the ashes and the importance of consistently reinvesting in myself. Although it is hard for anyone who was not there to relate to the extreme tragedy experienced on 9/11, the lessons I learned can apply to turning around any struggling business and to every entrepreneur looking to start again with a new venture.

Recognize when it’s time to let go and start over.

Business in New York was dead after 9/11. Our most profitable branch had been destroyed and the business was suffering immensely. I had a family to care for and had to let go employees who I’d been working with for years. When my business revenues dropped to just 30 percent of what they’d been just years before, I knew it was time to let this venture go.

Business owners and business persons alike often make the mistake of holding on to what they know, when letting go could be their best shot at future success. As a business owner, when you see your business is failing and know the chances of it improving in the foreseeable future are slim, it’s imperative to know it’s time to move on.

This means reinventing yourself and reinventing your business — not quitting entrepreneurship for good. Stay in the same field of business if that’s what you’re passionate about, but find that new sweet spot with a brighter, clearer future that gets new energy moving and reignites the excitement behind the business.

When I decided to sell AbraCadabra Digital Printing and join Cartridge Word, I was entering into somewhat unknown territory. I’d known very little about franchising, advertising such products, the top competitors in the industry, etc., but I made the bold move to purchase the franchise rights to Cartridge World when there were zero U.S. locations. Now there are 287, of which 70 are mine. Sometimes letting go of smaller ventures can lead you to greener pastures.

Reinvest in yourself.

As an entrepreneur, you are your biggest asset. You are the driving force behind the business; therefore, you should always seek to learn as much as you can about your business and industry for when big decisions need to be made.

Make the time to take additional courses throughout the year to learn and grow. Whether it be a business course on the latest techniques or technology, or a marketing and advertising course covering modern trends and creativity, always work to reinvent yourself and grow your knowledge base. I typically allott five to 10 days a year to attend a courses so I keep growing and widening my capabilities.

Furthermore, have a mentor to help guide you and advise you during your business journey. As your interests or field of business change, seek new mentors who can guide you along the way. In my experience, those who’ve made it, so to speak, are typically happy to help others make their dreams come true. Do your best to return the favor. Meet with fellow entrepreneurs, learn their stories and share your own. Networking is fundamental to growing your business.

Take responsibility for your business.

Whether times are good or bad, you need to realize that the state of your business is a reflection of how you, and you alone, are running the business. If times are bad, but you insist on running your business like you’ve done for the past 10 years, you can’t expect anything to change. If catastrophe strikes like it did on 9/11, be prepared to make major changes and adapt, even if that means leaving one venture behind and starting a new one.

To run a successful business, you need the energy, goals and dedication to self-improvement to keep it running and thriving. All businesses can get stale, but it is up to you as the backbone behind the company to make changes and keep the energy high.

When I decided to take one of my Cartridge World locations back to the new World Trade Center, I was the only business tenant pre-9/11 to return after the attacks. I knew this was a bold move, but a move that ignited my spirits and in turn, my business.

 

Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by Greg Carafello

The Most Successful Entrepreneurs are Middle-Aged

The Most Successful Entrepreneurs are Middle-Aged

Here’s refreshing news for Boomers and Gen Xers, especially women considering starting businesses after 50 (who I’ve been writing about this year): When it comes to launching a successful business, youth is not the magic elixir.

“Successful entrepreneurs are middle-aged, not young,” according to Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship, a paper by Pierre Azoulay and J. Daniel Kim of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Javier Miranda of the Census Bureau’s Center for Administrative Records Research.

Most Successful Entrepreneurs: Middle Age and Beyond

“We find that age indeed predicts success, and sharply, but in the opposite way that many observers and investors propose, they wrote. “The highest success rates in entrepreneurship come from founders in middle age and beyond.”

The provocative paper published earlier this year may stun some people, but not me. It confirms what I’ve found studying and interviewing midlife entrepreneurs for more than a decade; I profiled successful launchers in my book What’s Next?

Refuting the Conventional Wisdom

The paper’s authors said: “Many observers, and many investors, believe that young people are especially likely to produce the most successful new firms. We use administrative data at the U.S. Census Bureau to study the ages of founders of growth-oriented start-ups in the past decade and find no evidence to suggest that founders in their 20s are especially likely to succeed. Rather, all evidence points to founders being especially successful when starting businesses in middle age or beyond, while young founders appear disadvantaged.”

While the authors parsed their research by age, geography and industry, I was disappointed they didn’t tease out data on gender; more on that shortly.

The study’s researchers calculated a mean age of 45 among the 1,700 founders of the fastest-growing new ventures. And they found the “batting average” for creating successful firms rises dramatically with age. “A 50-year-old founder is 1.8 times more likely to achieve upper-tail growth than a 30-year-old founder,” they wrote.

Older Entrepreneurs Vs. Younger Ones

As my colleague Richard Eisenberg noted in his Next Avenue column, research from The Kauffman Foundation, a nonpartisan group supporting entrepreneurship, backs the researchers analysis. In its 2018 State of Entrepreneurship survey of 2,165 business, older entrepreneurs reported having less difficulty starting their businesses than younger ones, in a variety of ways.

For example, while 32% of startup owners under 45 said obtaining the necessary licenses to operate their business was difficult, only 23% of older ones did. And 21% of those under 45 said applying for loans was difficult, but a mere 14% of those 45+ did.

The authors of Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship theorize that there are few reasons an older entrepreneur may reap the benefits of start-up success over a younger one. These include: greater management, marketing and finance experience as well as a richer, deeper knowledge of an industry. Also — and this is important — they may have larger financial resources to tap and more social networks to mine for support in leveraging their idea.

The Importance of Work Experience for Successful Ventures

That said, they explained in a Harvard Business Review post about the study, “we found that work experience plays a critical role. Relative to founders with no relevant experience, those with at least three years of prior work experience in the same narrow industry as their startup were 85% more likely to launch a highly successful startup.”

Since I’m particularly interested in women entrepreneurs over 50, I contacted MIT professor Azoulay and asked if he could speculate on whether the results would be as true, or truer, for women midlife founders than for men. “We do not have any evidence on gender, so we cannot enlighten you, very sorry,” he replied.

What About Women Entrepreneurs?

Frankly, I’m surprised the gender discussion was left on the table. I regularly receive emails and calls from women interested in starting businesses and looking for guidance. Generally, they’re over 50. The number of businesses owned by women in the U.S. has more than doubled in 20 years, and women are starting an average of 849 new businesses per day. There are now 11.6 million women-owned businesses, employing nearly 9 million and generating more than $1.7 trillion in revenue.

So I’ll take a stab at the question myself. My unscientific prediction is that if gender had been part of the research findings, middle-age and older female entrepreneurs would have risen to the top of the charts in performance over time.

Here’s why: As I wrote in this recent post, after 50 can be a great time in life for women to launch companies. “Research shows that women’s confidence at work increases with age while at the same time, their family responsibilities — especially related to child bearing and rearing — decrease,” Kimberly A. Eddleston, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University and a senior editor on the EIX Editorial Board of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, told me. “This makes entrepreneurship over 50 a great idea and a possibility.”

Midlife Women and Entrepreneurial Mojo

Another compelling reason midlife women have entrepreneurial mojo: “With their greater work experience and confidence, such women are more likely to see opportunities for a new business — customers whose needs are not being filled and gaps in product categories,” Eddleston said. “In turn, their work experience often gives them the networks to successfully launch a business at this career stage. They also often have the financial resources to support a new business.”

Sanyin Siang, author of The Launch Book: Motivational Stories to Launch Your Idea, Business or Next Career, told me that women have a few advantages over men as entrepreneurs. For one thing, they’re connectors. “We tend to have a diverse network,” she said. “That’s a diversity in terms of people with different backgrounds.”

Another advantage, according to Siang: Women tend to be open to “collaborative entrepreneurship.” That’s a terrific asset, but one that many would-be business owners dismiss.

“There is this idea that when we are starting something, we have to do it alone, to be the front and center person for it,” said Siang.  In reality, she noted, “to succeed, you need to expand your thinking about what your gifts and talents are. It might not be you running that company. You might come up with the idea and partner up with someone who is much better than you at execution and implementation. That’s collaboration, and something that comes naturally for many women.”

David Deeds, the Schulze Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, concurred.  “Entrepreneurship is a team sport, and women are good at working with others. That gives them a little advantage.”

Serious Concerns for Women Entrepreneurs

We hear a lot about sexism against businesswomen and a lack of capital for women-owned enterprises. And both of these are serious concerns. Nevertheless, experts I’ve interviewed have consistently told me that decades of workplace experience can make a big difference in whether womens’ businesses thrive. “The added work experience and the associated boost to their self-confidence significantly assists in the development of their businesses,” says Eddleston.

And women in mid- to late-career generally have more capital of their own to invest in their businesses than younger ones. “The ability to invest more capital provides a substantial advantage to these businesses,” Eddleston says.

Struggles in Year One

That doesn’t mean it’s easy for women owners. In the first year of owning a business, female entrepreneurs appear to struggle more than men, according to The Kauffman Foundation. Only 52% of women with first-year startups said their ventures performed well last year, while 67% of men said theirs did. The difference, however, fades over time. Among businesses that are five years old or older, 77% of women and 77% of men said their company performed well last year.

So my advice to mid-life female entrepreneurs or wannabes: Stay the course.

As Maya Angelou said: “All great achievements require time”

 

Originally posted on Forbes by Kerry Hannon

4 Entrepreneurial Skills We Should Be Teaching in Schools

4 Entrepreneurial Skills We Should Be Teaching in Schools

“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball” is the most memorable line from the 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. In the film, a kid fails to dodge the heavy steel projectile and gets nailed in the face; he falls to the floor writhing in pain.

For me, this is the perfect metaphor for the American educational system, with the wrench being the future students aren’t prepared for.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can teach that kid, the ill-prepared student roaming the halls of the school in Everywhere, USA, to anticipate and learn to play — to succeed. We can teach him to build platforms, create confidence, recognize patterns and win by failing. We can teach him entrepreneurship.

Building platforms.

Beyond skills, the ability to think critically and creatively is what often separates the most successful from the average. They are learned platforms an individual can leverage to deliver value and outperform the competition. Blogs, vlogs and podcasts, on the other hand, are examples of platforms entrepreneurs use to reach potential customers. The idea is to combine the two types of platforms to influence the marketplace and make profit.

Schools already teach content creation, but it’s often outside of the realm of useful — kids do it for a grade and little else. What if we replaced English essays with compelling blog posts? Argumentative writing supported with evidence is already taught in high school English and could be applied to a blog. With teachers no longer being the sole audience, the effectiveness of the student’s arguments could be judged by metrics such as engagement numbers, reader or viewer or listener comments, and eventually product/service purchases.

Personal branding.

Kids know what they like but don’t always know what they stand for. They are influenced by peers and media. Marketers have developed a set of strategies to sway their opinions. Psychologist Marc Andrews describes advertising techniques such as using attractiveness, humor, scarcity, fear, social proof, sex and subliminals in his book Hidden Persuasion: 33 Psychological Influences Techniques in Advertising — all designed to influence and close the deal.

But, if a teen spends time branding herself, which involves reflecting on personal values and identifying who she truly is, she can become more self-aware and use this awareness to influence the world in positive ways. Then, she can create stories and products or services that are valuable, not superficial, because they are things she is passionate about and wants to share with the world.

Personal branding has other benefits, too. It builds confidence. It allows individuals to introduce themselves to the world and create a positive digital footprint, which is becoming essential in pursuing business and employment opportunities. Additionally, creating a personal brand differentiates one from the crowd and allows her to showcase skills and expertise.

Creating products or services.

While startup failure statistics vary greatly depending on the criteria used to define failure, a CB Insights survey of 101 failed startups found the top reason for failure was creating products consumers did not want, with 42 percent of the companies naming this as one of the reasons. Product “pricing/cost issues” and “user-unfriendly product” were near the top as well.

Renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explained on The James Altucher Show that robots are “really bad at pattern recognition,” a skill that is strictly human. For now. Armed with the knowledge artificial intelligence will stink at it for decades, we can teach pattern recognition in school. And while some of it is intuitive, a 2012 study concluded that expertise in a domain greatly improves intuition. The researchers also found individuals can be trained to recognize patterns when given a set of thoughtful criteria to use.

Thus, we can teach students to develop approaches they can use to create products and services people actually need. One such strategy is design thinking — a human-centered design model developed by the Stanford d.school — currently gaining popularity in K-12 education.

Smart failure.

Experts say the willingness to start over from scratch is one of the key traits of successful entrepreneurs. This involves skills but also mindset — the willingness to change products, adjust the marketing approach, shift industries or rebrand.

And this is an area in which American schools lack. While growth mindset has become part of educational jargon and is encouraged, many of the encouragers — school teachers and administrators — do not practice it. Failure is often final, as evidenced by the emphasis on test scores and grades. It is still uncommon for high school teachers to allow students multiple ways and opportunities to prove concept mastery. While NECAP has nothing to do with fixing torn menisci, STAR will not make your child popular among his peers and PAWS is not the title of the latest episode of Paw Patrol, every U.S. state participates in standardized testing, and a multimillion-dollar industry exists to get parents and students “ahead.”

George Couros, a well-known educator and author, writes about the need for educational leaders to “make it clear that failure is an option” and teaching students that reflecting on failure and learning from it leads to “true growth” in his bestseller The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. As a successful entrepreneur himself, Couros recognizes that status quo education is lacking in its preparation of kids for the world of now.

Perhaps this excerpt from The Innovator’s Mindset says it best: “If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past ‘the way we have always done it,’ and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves. This does not mean replacing everything we do, but we must be willing to look with fresh eyes at what we do and ask, ‘Is there a better way?'”

Teaching entrepreneurship in schools is one way. It will help students gain transferable skills they can use to play the career game well, no matter what the future throws at them. Undertaking the entrepreneurial journey early on will prepare them for this game. They’ll still get hit by a ball here and there. But, they will always dodge the wrench.

 

Originally Posted on Entrepreneur.com by Oskar Cymerman

5 Things the World Cup Teaches Us About Entrepreneurship

5 Things the World Cup Teaches Us About Entrepreneurship

All eyes are on the World Cup, the world’s biggest sporting event. Thanks to social technologies and digital media, the global soccer (or fútbol, depending on your location) community shared millions of pieces of content, including more than 140 million related Google searches, before a single match was played.

World Cup fans are no longer confined to experiencing the games within their direct community. Rather, this audience taps social platforms like Twitter to share real-time reactions, VSCO (full disclosure – VSCO is an Accel-backed company) to share beautiful images of the sport and Facebook to express patronage with other fans (and foes) on a global scale.

Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from how the World Cup has brilliantly navigated the evolving media landscape in support of a more technical audience. Soccer’s global governing association FIFA, advertisers, teams and fans are brought closer together as information transcends borders and demographics in real-time. That brings big opportunities for companies small and large.

Globalization has impacted the FIFA fan community and entrepreneurship at large. Soccer talent has long come from all corners of the world. Teams from dozens of countries compete at the World Cup. Similarly, entrepreneurship has broken through geographic boundaries, thanks to social media, venture capital investment and technology. Entrepreneurs with winning startup ideas are surfacing from nations big and small.

Here are five specific lessons that the World Cup can teach us about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

1. Embrace change. This year, FIFA integrated new digital media and technology to promote the event and increase anticipation. When compared to the last two World Cup events (2006 and 2010), mobile adoption has skyrocketed to become the primary means of communications for the “mobile-first” generation.

The World Cup’s adaptation to new technology and consumer trends is an example for entrepreneurs who must continually understand customer behaviors to remain relevant. Startups must be prepared to iterate a product, service or entire business roadmap based on new trends and customer trends.

2. Utilize engaging content. We’ve seen outstanding content from the World Cup and its advertisers. A steady cadence of visual, engaging content that solicits deep emotional ties to the event and individual teams amplifies anticipation. Ideas that spread are emotional. Only companies that touch a person’s heart will touch a customer’s pocketbook.

If you haven’t already, watch the “Game before the Game” video from Beats, which solicits an emotional connection to the World Cup and the Beats brand.

Start by understanding which channels your customers acquire information. Develop content that appeals to their needs. Determine the real pain your widget solves and base your company’s content strategy on that, not what you think will work. Beats found a way to add value to the World Cup conversation through entertaining content, not the other way around.

3. Build a community. Soccer fans are among the most passionate sporting enthusiasts in the world. They eagerly come back with more energy and enthusiasm than ever, even after waiting four years between World Cup events.

Similarly, social media enables young companies to build devout communities through a shared passion around a product or service. Entrepreneurs who focus on individual customer desires will build a long-term social following. This following fuels the growth of passionate online and ‘offline’ customer communities.

4. Leverage the ecosystem. FIFA recognizes the vast community of people who are passionate about the very sport its organization represents. Similarly, major sponsors like Nike and Kia Motors view the World Cup as an opportunity to position their brand in meaningful way to soccer fans worldwide.

Entrepreneurs typically have a much smaller community but keep in mind that other stakeholders – think complementary businesses, media, analysts, customers from your competitor – exist in your startup’s ecosystem. Identify those within your community who share your vision. Develop mutually beneficial and creative partnerships. Expand your influence by supporting your industry’s ecosystem.

5. Expand your network. The World Cup is a global phenomenon linking a global community drawn from every nation and demographic. Entrepreneurs often find themselves surrounded by like-minded people. That often jeopardizes growth opportunities by leveraging a small eco-chamber. The best startups think outside of their direct surrounding, and understand how, where, when and why people value their company. While not always convenient, embrace an unfamiliar community and find a way to get true product feedback.

You may never make it to a World Cup game, let alone play for a professional soccer team, but the lessons that have made the event a global spectacle for nearly 90 years can help guide an entrepreneurs’ growth, influence and success.

 

Originally posted on Entrepreneur.com by Ryan Sweeney

5 Entrepreneurs Who Started With Nothing – and 3 Lessons to Learn

5 Entrepreneurs Who Started With Nothing – and 3 Lessons to Learn

It’s not uncommon to hear about entrepreneurs who used the wealth they made from a previous endeavor to build a thriving new startup, or about seasoned business owners who took over a decades-old franchise and transformed it into something new. These stories are inspiring in their own way; but to me, it’s even more inspiring to hear about people who started with nothing.
These are entrepreneurs who started their journey with no capital, no funding and sometimes no education or experience, yet despite the odds were still able to build massive successes.

How did these people accomplish such unlikely feats, and what can we, as entrepreneurs, learn from them?

1. John Paul DeJoria

John Paul DeJoria isn’t as much of a household name as Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, but he has accomplished feats of entrepreneurship and business management that rival theirs. Starting out as a newspaper courier, and working as a janitor and tow truck driver to make ends meet, DeJoria eventually started working at a hair care company, where he met Paul Mitchell.

With a loan of just $700, the two of them started a business that turned into the conglomerate now known as John Paul Mitchell Systems. Later, DeJoria co-founded Patron Spirits, and was a founding partner of the House of Blues chain. Today, he’s worth more than $3.1 billion.

2. Kevin Plank

Kevin Plank, the CEO of the fitness apparel company Under Armour, was pretty much broke when he started selling signature clothing under the Under Armour brand. He took all the cash he had saved, about $20,000, and racked up an additional $40,000 of credit card debt to fund the company.

Soon after, he made a landmark sale of $17,000 to Georgia Tech University, and in a wave of momentum, made sales to two dozen NFL teams. From there, he went on, in just a few years, to cultivate millions in sales and hire hundreds of employees. Today, Under Armour does nearly $2 billion in retail sales, and has 5,900 employees.

3. Jan Koum

Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp, was born in a small village near Kiev in Ukraine. Coming from poverty, Koum’s family emigrated to California, and Koum started learning about computers in his spare time. By the time he was 18, he had developed impressive skills, and in 1997, he was hired by Yahoo! as an infrastructure engineer.

He spent a decade in that industry before realizing the huge potential of the app industry in 2009 and starting WhatsApp Inc. By 2014, WhatsApp had become enormously popular. Facebook bought the app for a staggering $19 billion.

4. Sam Walton

It’s almost ironic that Walmart is frequently criticized for underpaying its employees and using cutthroat tactics to maximize profits. Sam Walton, Walmart’s founder, had almost nothing to his name himself when he started his first general store back in 1945.

He relied on a $25,000 loan from his father-in-law to fund that initial purchase, and was an instant success in the retail industry. The first official Walmart was opened in 1962, in Rogers, Ark.; and by 1976, Walmart was worth more than $176 million. At one point, Walton was considered the wealthiest man in the United States.

5. George Soros

Though you could describe him as an investor more than an entrepreneur, there are few better rags-to-riches stories than that of George Soros. When Soros was a teenager in Hungary in 1947, he fled Nazi persecution to live in England. Despite having little money to fund his efforts, he attended the London School of Economics, working his way through university to obtain his degree. He then moved to the United States in the 1950s, and became an investment manager for a number of major firms, eventually starting his own hedge fund and building his own company.

His most famous move was shorting the British pound in the early 1990s — which made him $1 billion in a single day.

Key lessons to learn

So what can we learn from these entrepreneurial stories?

Debt is a viable option. Debt is scary to take on, especially when your idea isn’t a sure bet, but almost everyone on this list got a loan at some point to establish early momentum. As long as you have a plan to pay it back, debt can be a valuable tool.

Invest in yourself. You need to invest in yourself before you invest in anything else, by focusing on improving your skills, education and experience. Without self-investment, you won’t be able to build a business, let alone sustain one.

Look to the future. These savvy entrepreneurs didn’t enter a market that already existed; they created new ones, or made bets on how current markets would evolve. Future-focused strategies always win out over present-focused ones.

Entrepreneurs can come from humble beginnings, so long as they’re willing to work hard, commit to their ideas and take the risks necessary to see those ideas become reality. Take inspiration from the massive successes who have come before you, and don’t let a lack of money or experience dissuade you from following your dreams.

 

Originally posted on Entrepreneur by Jayson DeMers

 

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