10 Startup Founders Tell Us: The Best Advice I’ve Ever Received
Starting a company and working on it till it becomes successful is no easy task. The journey to success is fraught with challenges and obstacles. Sometimes, we look at some startups that made it big, such as Facebook, PayPal, Twitter, Slack, and so on and assume that their success was automatic.
However, any founder who has built a great company will tell you that the journey to success is not straightforward.
They all had moments when things seemed to crumbling around them, and many of them almost gave up. Many will tell you that during these moments, they relied on the advice of someone they look up to and respect to keep them going.
As an entrepreneur, you are also going to come across such difficult moments where you need solid advice.
Sadly, while there are a lot of people who are willing to give you advice, a lot of it is usually not very useful.
During these difficult moments, you want real, solid advice that will actually help you overcome your challenges. This is why we have made a compilation of the best pieces of advice that 10 successful founders ever received.
From Virgin billionaire founder Richard Branson to the founders of companies like Airbnb, Mashable, and Freelancer, we look at the greatest piece of advice that has stuck with each of them and helped them get where they are today.
Take note of these pieces of advice and see how they apply to your situation and the lessons you can gain from them.
DON’T CHASE THE MONEY – DAYMOND JOHN, FUBU FOUNDER
Daymond John is the founder of hip hop clothing brand FUBU, in addition to being an author, a TV personality, an investor and a motivational speaker. He is also a ‘shark’ in the popular TV series Shark Tank.
Starting with a few sewing machines in his mother’s house and a dream to make clothes for the coolest hip hop rappers, Daymond John was able to build FUBU into a huge company worth over $7 billion. In the process, Daymond John became rich himself, with a current net worth of over $300 million.
Daymond John’s greatest piece of advice came from his mother. Ironically, this piece of advice came while Daymond was still a child, even before he went into business. Growing up, his mother used to say that “Money is a great slave but a horrible master.”
Unfortunately, it took Daymond some hard lessons before his mother’s advice sunk in. When Daymond first went into business, his drive was the desire to be rich. The first few businesses he started failed. Finally, when he started doing something he loved, it became the huge company that FUBU is today.
The advice from Daymond’s mother has been echoed by several other successful people. Instead of chasing the money, you should focus your efforts on chasing your dream. If your motivation is the money, you will only do the bare minimum that you need to get the money.
If you do something because you actually love it, on the other hand, you will be more invested in it.
You will do everything within your ability to make it work, and in the long run, you are more likely to succeed compared to someone who is just after the money.
In addition, a 2015 study found that people who are motivated by personal fulfillment and the desire to serve others are more fulfilled at work, do better work and are more likely to make more money than those who are only motivated by money.
YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE UNTIL YOU SLEEP WITH IT – GARY VAYNERCHUK, VAYNER MEDIA CO-FOUNDER AND CEO
Gary Vaynerchuk is a Belarusian American entrepreneur and is a co-founder and the acting CEO of Vayner Media.
In addition, he is also a 5 time New York Times bestselling author, a highly sought after public speaker, a renowned internet personality and an angel investor with early investments in companies like Uber, Tumblr, Venmo, Twitter and Facebook. Vaynerchuk considers himself a ‘purebred’ entrepreneur, having started his first business at the ripe age of 7 years.
In his early adulthood, Vaynerchuk’s father had a local liquor store, which Vaynerchuk transitioned to an e-commerce platform for alcohol, growing it from $3 million to $60 million in annual sales. The greatest piece of advice for Vaynerchuk came during his days in the wine business.
An old liquor salesman gave Vaynerchuk a piece of advice that sounds explicit but is laced with a lot of wisdom. The liquor salesman told Vaynerchuk that the only way to know what you are dealing with is to sleep with it.
The hidden message behind this piece of advice is that the only way to succeed in business is to take action. Very often, entrepreneurs spend a lot of time planning, thinking ahead and trying to anticipate obstacles that they might come across.
While planning ahead is a good thing, don’t waste a lot of time on it.
It is impossible to accurately predict how a business will turn out or to prepare for everything.
If you spend too much time planning and preparing, you might end up doing nothing. The best thing to do is to get on with it and deal with challenges as they come. Many successful businesses are built through trial and error rather than careful planning and preparation.
FAILURE IS A STEPPING STONE TO SUCCESS – ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTON POST AND THRIVE GLOBAL FOUNDER
Arianna Huffington is a Greek-born American author and international media mogul. Arianna is the founder of The Huffington Post. She built it into an award winning online news platform before selling it to AOL in 2011, while remaining as its editor in chief. In 2016, she left The Huffington Post and founded another startup company named Thrive Global, which has a focus on matters health and wellness.
Arianna’s best piece of advice comes from her mother. Growing up, her mother often told her not to think of failure as the opposite of success, but rather as a stepping stone to success.
This perception of failure is something that has guided Arianna throughout her career. Arianna is no stranger to failure.
When she was looking for a publisher for her first book, Arianna was rejected not once or twice, but thirty six times. In 2003, before starting the Huffington Post, she run in California’s gubernatorial race but only received less than 1% of the vote. She also has a failed marriage as part of her repertoire.
In the face of all this failures, only one thing has kept her going instead of giving up, and that is her mother’s words from her childhood. She treated her failures as stepping stones that drove her to the massive success she has achieved today.
This is very solid advice for every entrepreneur. Failure is a part of the entrepreneurship journey. Instead of calling it quits when you experience failure, learn from it and use it to propel yourself to even greater heights.
FOCUS ON ONE PERSON INSTEAD OF A CROWD – BRIAN CHESKY, AIRBNB CO-FOUNDER
Brian Joseph Chesky is an American internet entrepreneur and one of the co-founders of Airbnb, a popular online based hospitality service. Chesky is also the acting CEO of the company.
Since the launch of Airbnb in 2008, the company has experienced massive growth and is currently estimated to be worth at least $38 billion. Co-founder Brian Chesky has also gone from broke to billionaire status with a net worth of about $3.7 billion. Chesky has also been named among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015.
Chesky’s greatest piece of advice came when Airbnb was going through the Y Combinator program, where startups are invited to Silicon Valley for 3 months and guided on how best to grow their new company.
During Airbnb’s time in the Y Combinator program, Paul Graham, one of the co-founders of Y Combinator, told Chesky something that has guided the growth of Airbnb into the company it is today. Graham told Chesky that the key to creating a great product is to focus on one person and create a product that gives that one person the most amazing experience ever.
He explained that it is far much better to have a product that is loved by 100 people rather than one that 1 million people kind of love. Only those who love a product are capable of making it go viral.
This is something that every entrepreneur needs to keep in mind. Very often, in a bid to grow their companies, entrepreneurs create products that are targeted at everyone.
After all, the bigger your potential client base, the more your earning potential, right?
The truth is that it is impossible to please everyone. Instead of trying to target everyone and failing, you should focus on a niche client base and create a product that solves one of their biggest problems in the best possible way.
MAKE YOUR OWN MISTAKES – PETE CASHMORE, MASHABLE FOUNDER
You might not have heard of Pete Cashmore, but you have definitely heard of the popular media site he founded – Mashable.com. Pete founded started Mashable in his bedroom at the age of 19 and grew it into a Technorati Top 10 blog worldwide.
After starting Mashable in 2005, Pete Cashmore went on to be featured in Inc. Magazine’s “30 under 30” list in 2009, as well as making The Huffington Post’s “Top 10 Game Changers” and Forbes’ “Top 25 Web Celebs” for the same year. In 2012, he made Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. The World Economic Forum also named a Young Global Leader. While Pete eventually sold Mashable, he still remains its CEO.
Pete credits his success as a founder, entrepreneur and CEO to the different things he has learnt from different people and their perspectives, including people he has never met in person. The greatest piece of advice he has ever received is to make his own mistakes.
Very often, when people give advice, they tend to generalize what they have done. They assume that since something worked for them, it will work for everyone, regardless of the different conditions between different situations.
Before taking people’s advice, you need to understand how it applies to your situation, and the only way to learn that is to try things on your own, take you own risks and learn what works for you. Pete believes that entrepreneurs who do not take their own risks cannot innovate.
HAVE NO REGRETS – RICHARD BRANSON, VIRGIN GROUP FOUNDER
Sir Richard Branson is an English investor, business magnate, philanthropist and author. Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group, which has more than 400 companies under its control. Branson, who is currently worth about $5 billion, is well known for his adventurous spirit and his contagious smile and laughter.
For Richard Branson, the best advice he has ever received has nothing to do with hiring the perfect team, securing financial backing, or becoming a sales guru. Instead, it is about mindset.
The greatest piece of advice for Richard Branson came from his mother Eve Branson, who was a formidable force herself. While she taught him many things, one of them stands tall above the rest. She told young Branson that he should live life with no regrets. Instead of regretting about things, he was taught to channel his energy to moving on with other ventures.
This piece of advice stuck with Branson and has informed every decision the billionaire has ever made, both in business and in his personal life. To him, setbacks and failures are not bad experiences; they are just lessons on how to become better. He sees dwelling on failures as a waste of both time and energy. Instead of brooding about his failures, he puts that time and energy in new projects.
This is great advice for upcoming entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial journey is fraught with challenges and obstacles, and it is inevitable that you will experience some setbacks. Don’t waste your time on them. Explore the setback objectively, take whatever lessons you can from the experience and move on to the next thing.
FEED THE EAGLES AND STARVE THE TURKEYS – NILOFER MERCHANT, RUBICON CONSULTING FOUNDER
Nilofer Merchant is a TED main stage speaker, a bestselling author on collaborative work and innovation and the winner of Thinkers50’s 2013 “Future Thinker Award.” Merchant worked with a number of big technology companies, including Adobe, Apple, and Autodesk, before founding Rubicon Consulting, a technology consulting firm. She is the acting CEO of Rubicon Consulting.
The greatest piece of advice Merchant ever received came from one of her bosses in a job she held in her early 20s. At the time, she felt that she was overwhelmed by all the things she had to do, and she was already working as hard as she could to get them done.
Seeing that she could not work any harder by herself, she walked into her boss’s office to ask for more resources. Instead of giving her the resources she wanted, her boss sat her down and gave her advice that has stuck with her to this date – Feed the eagles and starve the horses.
This piece of advice is metaphorical. In life, there are only a few things that matter. These are the eagles. Problem is, they are not always obvious. Like actual eagles, you need to look up to find them. You need to find these eagles and feed them by channeling your energy into them. The turkeys, on the other hand, are the ton of other things that do not matter much.
They are always right in front of you, making noise, pecking around, and demanding your attention. Since they are actually calling out for your attention, it is easy to focus on them and forget about the eagles.
What you need to do is to ignore them and focus on feeding the eagles, which are the ones that actually matter.
This piece of advice is consistent with the 80/20 principle, which says that 80% of your results usually come from 20% of the effort. Find and focus on the 20% and you will be on your way to success.
TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY THAT COMES YOUR WAY – MATT BARRIE, FREELANCER.COM FOUNDER
Matt Barrie is an Australian tech entrepreneur and the founder and acting CEO of Freelancer.com, a global online marketplace for freelancing and crowdsourcing.
Before founding Freelancer.com, Matt also founded another company, Sensory Networks Inc., which sold high performance network security processors. Sensory Networks Inc. was acquired by Intel Corporation in 2013. Matt also founded another telecommunications hardware company before Sensory Networks. Matt Barrie is currently worth over $200 million.
The greatest piece of advice for Matt came when he was about sixteen years old. It came from an old guy who had come to sell a business to Matt’s parents. The guy told Matt that if someone ever asked him if he could do something and was willing to give him an opportunity, he should not hesitate to take it.
Even if he did not know how to do what was required, he could learn that after getting the job. This has been a guiding principle for Matt throughout his entire life as an entrepreneur. He seizes opportunities as they come and figures out what needs to be done along the way.
According to Matt, many capable people do not achieve what they dream of because they feel that they are not qualified enough or experienced enough. For instance, many people want to start a business but are afraid because they have no experience running a business.
This creates a chicken and egg problem.
A person feels they need experience in order to run a business, but they cannot gain experience unless they actually run a business. The solution here is to jump right into it and figure things out as you go.
KEEP THINGS SIMPLE – BILL GATES, MICROSOFT FOUNDER
Everyone knows Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and the world’s richest person for a long time before he was toppled from the position by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The greatest piece of advice Bill Gates has received was not given to him directly, but came through his own observation of fellow billionaire Warren Buffet.
According to Gates, Warren Buffet likes to keep things simple. He keeps his calendar simple. When it comes to investing in a business, he looks at a few basic numbers and facts. In essence, he develops a simple, predictive and reliable model as a basis for understanding things and then uses it to make his decisions.
The underlying message in this piece of advice is that the key to success is to learn to simplify things to the basics that actually count. Everything can be simplified down to a few basics.
If your goal is to lose weight, what counts is not the supplements, complex workout plans, or complicated diets. The key is to burn more calories than you consume. If you keep this in mind, you will lose weight, regardless of whatever strategy you use to achieve this. If your goal is to save money, it is not the budgeting apps and spreadsheets that count.
The key is simply to spend less than you make. The truth is that everything can be reduced to a few simple basics. Once you learn to figure out what actually matters and focus on it, you will be able to achieve the results you want every time.
BE RESOURCEFUL – JEFF BEZOS, AMAZON FOUNDER
Jeff Bezos is the founder of online retail giant Amazon and the world’s richest man, with a net worth of $112 billion.
Growing up, Jeff Bezos spent a lot of time in his grandfather’s ranch, and the greatest piece of advice he ever received came from his grandfather, who played a very important role in Jeff’s life.
His grandfather often used to tell young Jeff to “be resourceful. If there is a problem, there is a solution.”
This mantra has stuck with Jeff throughout his life and has contributed to making him the world’s richest problem. After he started Amazon, Jeff has faced multiple failures, yet he always found a way around these setbacks by trying and testing different approaches and strategies.
This is a great collection of great advice. Advice that has helped some of the world’s leading founders get where they are.
If you a budding entrepreneur yourself, this advice might be just what you need to help you make the right decisions for your business.
Of course, everything might not apply to you and your situation right now. The key is to pick what works best for you and start applying it to your situation.
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