For my upcoming book Start-Ups and Downs: The Secrets of Resilient Entrepreneurs,I interviewed 10 successful founders so I could get inside their heads and understand the strategies that drove their triumphs.
It didn’t matter whether I was talking to founders who worked in finance, health care, or beauty; or whether they were self-made or they were billionaires — these were the 3 biggest takeaways that I believe every entrepreneur should know:
1. You need to find your why.
Having a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning — especially when you don’t want to, is essential. It is an entrepreneur’s reason for being and why they give 110 percent to their businesses every day. Many have also established a cost associated with NOT achieving their mission. They believe certain doors will close or they won’t have access to certain opportunities if they don’t achieve their why. And the reason goes beyond their own personal upside. Achieving the result means it will help their broader family, their community, or the world at large.
A really good example of this came out of a conversation with Renaud LaPlanche, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Upgrade, and Founder of Lending Club. After he left Lending Club, here’s how he found the energy to keep moving forward — and his why:
What probably helped me [after I left Lending Club] the most was thinking about the impact we could have on people’s lives. [Upgrade] is a mission that is way bigger than me. What we are doing helps families and could impact generations to come. That’s a wonderful thing about financial services: When products are designed and delivered the right way, they can truly change people’s lives for the better. Getting access to affordable credit can profoundly transform a family’s situation.
2. Failure is never an option.
This credo is a trickier one since failure happens to many successful entrepreneurs. But the way successful entrepreneurs view failure differs from those who give up: They simply look at it as an outcome they don’t want to see more of. It’s black or white — and non-emotional. In other words, when something is a hit, it’s a signal to do more of the same, and when something is a miss, it’s a trigger to change the tactic and create, hopefully, a positive result. This philosophy is summarized well in Henry Ford’s quote: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Bloomingdale’s said no [to us] for two years. They kept telling me they didn’t carry water bottles, and I kept saying, “But these are hydration fashion accessories.” They eventually came around to see my side of things. During that time, I never felt dejected. I so believed in what this bottle represented and could do that I knew it was only a matter of time. Even when my accountant suggested that I get a “real” job, I didn’t feel rejected. I simply knew that I had a good idea and that I needed to talk to more potential customers to help get it off the ground. Failure was not an option for me.
3. Worry less about the tactics. Care more about your vision.
Entrepreneurs love to plan, but sometimes the actions they take don’t lead them to where they planned. This is when “going with the flow” takes over. Flow is a zen-like state where you have a set vision and direction, then let things run their own course — or, flow — from there. Entrepreneurs who hold this belief stay open to the possibilities of unexpected outcomes that can ultimately lead them to a better place. The most successful ones aren’t wedded to HOW things will happen (i.e. their tactics). They are wedded to WHY they want to achieve their vision.
I spoke with Nat Turner, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Flatiron Health about how he never lost sight of his vision — even when many of his early-day strategies didn’t work. In 2018, Flatiron was acquired by Roche, a pharmaceutical and diagnostics company, for $1.9 billion. I find his attitude inspiring as Nat isn’t phased by the word “No.”
The first twenty or so pitches were really tough. We were pitching a free tool that hospitals could use to receive analytics on their own data — for example, we can help hospitals identify the right patients for specific clinical trials across fifteen different types of cancers based on the data we’ve aggregated. To us it was a no-brainer, but hospitals were scared of what we were offering. The health-care industry doesn’t like taking risks, especially with a little start-up. But for me and my co-founder, there was really no turning on back. This was our third company, and we were used to taking the punches. There was not a single time that we wished we were working on something else or thought we should give up. It was about reorienting the feedback we were getting. What is the famous quote―Money can’t buy you love, happiness, or product market fit? Our product was not resonating with our customers, and we knew we needed to fix the fit in order to be successful. We didn’t read the rejection any other way.
The successful entrepreneurs I spoke with for my book that I’ll share more on later, view all three of these principles as proven facts, and they’re embedded in their psyches. Yet that made me wonder: If you haven’t had experiences that prove these principles to yourself, how do you get in their mind-set? The answer is simple: Take big, bold actions (run a marathon or start a side hustle) and set out to prove the principles to yourself as often as you can. If you can unlock these beliefs and internalize them as truths, then you can achieve anything.
Mona Bijoor is a founder, investor, advisor, and author. Currently, she is Partner at King Circle Capital LLC and founded JOOR.