In this exclusive interview series, we speak to some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs: Sir Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Group), Robin Li (Founder of Baidu), Sir James Dyson (Founder of Dyson), Professor Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Founder of Grameen Bank), Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (Founder of Biocon), N. R. Narayana Murthy (Founder of Infosys) Tim Draper (Founding Partner, Draper Associates and DFJ), Jamal Edwards MBE (Founder, SBTV), Nathan Myhrvold (Founder & CEO, Intellectual Ventures), Wendy Kopp (CEO & Co-Founder, Teach For All), Tory Burch (Chairman & CEO, Tory Burch), Steve Case (Co-Founder, America Online – AOL & Revolution), Jerry Yang (Co-Founder, Yahoo!), Tony O. Elumelu (Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp and founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation), Dave McClure (Founder, 500 Startups), David Cohen (Co-Founder, Techstars), Ricardo Salinas (Founder & Chairman, Grupo Salinas),Vladimir Potanin (Founder & President, Interros), Gary Vaynerchuk (Founder, VaynerMedia), Troy Carter (Founder & CEO, Atom Factory), Dr. Michael Otto (Chairman, Otto Group), Jack Welch (Former CEO of GE and Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute), Naveen Jain (Founder of InfoSpace, Intelius, Moon Express and Blue dot), Weili Dai (Co-Founder, Marvell Technology Group), Steve Ballmer (Co-Chair of Ballmer Group & Owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA Basketball Team), will.i.am (Entrepreneur, Entertainer and Innovator), Donna Karan (Founder of DKNY and Urban Zen), Laurence Graff OBE (Founder & Chairman, Graff Diamonds), John Caudwell (Entrepreneur & Philanthropist), Dr. Frederik Paulsen, JR (Chairman, Ferring Pharmaceuticals), Thor Björgólfsson (Founding Chairman, Novator) and Dennis Crowley (Co-Founder, Foursquare). We look at the characteristics of great entrepreneurs, how some of the world’s most successful companies have succeeded, and discuss wealth, philanthropy and the realities of business in a global economy.
“…Over 28% of all the ‘history’ made since the birth of Christ was made in the 20th century.” noted the Economist in June 2011, adding “… Measured in years lived, the present century, which is only ten years old, is already ‘longer’ than the whole of the 17th century. This century has made an even bigger contribution to economic history. Over 23% of all the goods and services made since 1AD were produced from 2001 to 2010…” Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt also notes that, “…every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.”
The evident growth in humankind led early economists such as Thomas Malthus to foresee a future of doom for our burgeoning civilisation. “Extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics… and gigantic inevitable famine…” were considered near-certain as a result of an increase in human density on our planet. The truth is that Malthus (and his counterparts) were (largely) wrong. While the astonishing growth of our species’ numbers over the past century has come at a heavy price (resulting in hunger, conflict and more)- it has also delivered incredible economic and social growth. As at July 2015, the combined market capitalisation of the 10 largest companies in the world was US$3.65 trillion- the equivalent of around 2.7x the size of the entire world economy in 1960 (and less than 5% of the world economy today).
“When conjectures are offered to explain historic slowdowns or great leaps in economic growth, there is the group of usual suspects that is regularly rounded up-prominent among them, the entrepreneur. Where growth has slowed, it is implied that a decline in entrepreneurship was partly to blame (perhaps because the culture’s ‘need for achievement’ has atrophied). At another time and place, it is said, the flowering of entrepreneurship accounts for unprecedented expansion.” (Baumol, 1990) There is historic precedent for this… “From the fall of Rome (circa 476 AD) to the eighteenth century, there was virtually no increase in per capita income in the West. However, with the advent of entrepreneurship, per capita income grew exponentially in the West by 20% in the 1700s, 200% in the 1800s, and 740% in the 1900s…” (Murphy, 2006).
Conservative estimates state that over 400 million people in 54 countries are actively engaged in entrepreneurship- (loosely defined as starting and running new businesses). This figure doesn’t include the (potentially) hundreds of millions more engaged in forms of pseudo-entrepreneurship in science, medicine and politics- their contributions no-less important to our society’s economic, social and intellectual growth.
So what is the role of entrepreneurship in society, economy and the story of our civilisation?
In this exclusive interview series, we speak to Sir Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Group), Robin Li (Founder of Baidu), Sir James Dyson (Founder of Dyson), Professor Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Founder of Grameen Bank), Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (Founder of Biocon), N. R. Narayana Murthy (Founder of Infosys), Tim Draper (Founding Partner, Draper Associates & DFJ), Jamal Edwards MBE (Founder, SBTV), Nathan Myhrvold (Founder & CEO, Intellectual Ventures), Wendy Kopp (CEO & Co-Founder, Teach for All), Tory Burch (Chairman & CEO, Tory Burch), Steve Case (Co-Founder, America Online – AOL & Revolution), Jerry Yang (Co-Founder, Yahoo!), Tony O. Elumelu (Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp and founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation), Dave McClure (Founder, 500 Startups), David Cohen (Co-Founder, Techstars), Ricardo Salinas (Founder & Chairman, Grupo Salinas) Vladimir Potanin (Founder & President, Interros), Gary Vaynerchuk (Founder, VaynerMedia), Troy Carter (Founder & CEO, Atom Factory), Dr. Michael Otto (Chairman, Otto Group), Jack Welch (Former CEO of GE and Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute), Naveen Jain (Founder of InfoSpace, Intelius, Moon Express and Blue dot), Weili Dai (Co-Founder, Marvell Technology Group), Steve Ballmer (Co-Chair of Ballmer Group & Owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA Basketball Team), will.i.am (Entrepreneur, Entertainer and Innovator), Donna Karan (Founder of DKNY and Urban Zen), Laurence Graff OBE (Founder & Chairman, Graff Diamonds), John Caudwell (Entrepreneur & Philanthropist), Dr. Frederik Paulsen, JR (Chairman, Ferring Pharmaceuticals), Thor Björgólfsson (Founding Chairman, Novator) and Dennis Crowley (Co-Founder, Foursquare). We look at the characteristics of great entrepreneurs, how some of the world’s most successful companies have succeeded, and discuss wealth, philanthropy and the realities of business in a global economy.
Sir Richard’s entrepreneurship story began at the age of just 16, with the launch of “Student” magazine in 1970. In just over 40 years, he has led Virgin Group to become one of the world’s most successful conglomerates, with 60+ businesses, employing more than 71,000 people in 35 countries. Virgin Group businesses collectively serve over 60 million customers each year- generating annual revenues in excess of $24 billion.
Virgin Group’s businesses span sectors including mobile telephony, travel and transportation, financial services, leisure, entertainment, health and wellness, and in 2004 Richard established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, which unites people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world. Most of his time is now spent building businesses that will make a positive difference in the world and working with Virgin Unite and organisations it has incubated, such as The Elders, The Carbon War Room, The B Team, Ocean Unite and Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. He also serves on the Global Commission on Drug Policy and supports ocean conservation with the Ocean Elders.
Robin Li is the Co-Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Baidu, Inc. Since founding the company in January 2000, Robin has led Baidu to be China’s largest search engine, with over 80% market share. Baidu is the largest Chinese search engine globally and the second largest independent search engine in the world. China is among the four countries globally—alongside the United States, Russia and South Korea—to possess its own core search engine technology.
In 2005, Baidu became a NASDAQ-listed public company and in 2007 was the first Chinese company to be included in the NASDAQ-100 Index. In 2007, The Financial Times listed Baidu as one of the Top 10 Chinese Global Brands, with Baidu being the youngest company as well as the only Internet company in the top ten.
As one of the pioneers and leading figures in China’s Internet industry, Robin’s achievements are widely recognized. In 2013, Robin became a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He currently acts as Vice Chairman of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and Vice Chairman of the Internet Society of China (ISC).
James Dyson is the Chairman and Chief Engineer of the Dyson Group, which he founded in 1993. He is the inventor of the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner, bladeless fans, high-speed hand dryers and Dyson digital motors. James’ focus is on product development, working closely with his 3,000 engineers and scientists. Dyson’s R&D centres in Malmesbury, Singapore and Malaysia have a technology pipeline stretching more than 25 years into the future. Dyson is investing £1.5billion in new technology over the next four years.
Dyson is currently researching and developing technologies in areas as diverse as robotics, batteries, energy storage, graphene, material sciences and fluid-dynamics, electronics, computing, nano-technology, connecting the home, and more. Much of this research is done in-house, however Dyson also funds numerous research projects at a range of British universities.
Dyson distributes its technology in 72 countries and has won the Queens Award both for Export and for Technology. Dyson was recently voted the number one brand in its field for performance, reliability and service by consumers in Germany, outstripping the other German companies.
James is Provost of the Royal College of Art in London and is Patron of the Design & Technology Association. He was made a CBE in 1996 and a Knight Bachelor in the 2007. In 2002, James founded The James Dyson Foundation which supports the teaching of design and engineering as well as medical research charities, and runs the annual James Dyson Award in 18 countries around the world – James and the foundation have now donated £50m to those causes.
Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus is the father of both social business and microcredit, the founder of Grameen Bank, and of more than 50 other companies in Bangladesh. For his constant innovation and enterprise, the Fortune Magazine named Professor Yunus in March 2012 as “one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.”
In 2006, Professor Yunus and Grameen Bank were jointly awarded Nobel Peace Prize.
Professor Muhammad Yunus is the recipient of 55 honorary degrees from universities across 20 countries. He has received 112 awards from 26 countries including state honours from 10 countries. He is one of only seven individuals to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom and the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Other notable awards include the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1984), World Food Prize (1998), The Prince of Asturias Award for Concord (1998), Sydney Peace Prize (1998) and the Seoul Peace Prize (2006). In Bangladesh he got President’s Award in 1978 for introducing an innovative organisation in agriculture. He was awarded the Independence Day Award in 1987, by the President of Bangladesh for the outstanding contribution in rural development. This is the highest civilian national award of Bangladesh.
Professor Yunus was chosen by Wharton School of Business as one of ‘The 25 Most influential Business Persons of the Past 25 Years’. AsiaWeek (Hong Kong) selected him as one of ‘Twenty Great Asians (1975-1995).” Ananda Bazaar Patrika (India) selected Professor Yunus as one of “Ten Great Bengalis of the Century (1900-1999).” In 2006, Time Magazine listed Professor Yunus under “60 years of Asian Heroes” as one the top 12 business leaders. In 2008, in an open online poll, Yunus was voted the 2nd topmost intellectual person in the world on the list of Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (United States). In 2010, The New Statesman (UK) listed him as one of “The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures”. Professor Yunus has been placed alongside Warren Buffett, Amadeo Giannini, Henry Kravis, J.P Morgan, and Mayer Amschel Rothschild as greatest business finance pioneers of all time. He has appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, Newsweek and Forbes Magazine.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, a pioneering biotech entrepreneur, is the Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, Asia’s leading bio-pharmaceuticals enterprise. Named among TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, she is recognized as a global thought leader for Biotechnology.
As a global influencer, she is ranked among Fierce Biotech’s list of the ‘World’s 25 Most Influential People in Biopharma,’ Forbes’ ‘100 Most Powerful Women’ and Fortune’s ‘Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Asia-Pacific.’ Recently, she was featured in ‘The Worldview 100‘ listing of the presigious US-based Scientific American magazine. She was also ranked Second among the 100 Most Influential People across the globe in the field of Medicine in the Global Medicine Maker Power List 2015 published by a top UK-based medical publication, The Medicine Maker. U.S.-based Chemical Heritage Foundation conferred her with the ‘2014 Othmer Gold Medal‘ and Germany-based Kiel Institute for the World Economy awarded her its coveted ‘2014 Global Economy Prize‘ for Business. Foreign Policy magazine has named her among the ‘100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2014‘.
Her contribution to the biotechnology in India has been recognized with the Padma Shri (1989) and the Padma Bhushan (2005), two of India’s very prestigious civilian honors. She also serves as a member of the Governing Body of the Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission. As founder member of Karnataka’s Vision Group on Biotechnology, she currently chairs this forum. Ms Mazumdar-Shaw is also a part of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) Board of Trustees and is also a Member of the USP Biologics Advisory Group.
She is an Independent Member of the Board of Infosys, a global leader in consulting, technology and outsourcing solutions. She also serves as Chairperson of the Board of Governors of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Ms Mazumdar-Shaw is also on the honorary board of advisors of The National Society of High School Scholars, US. She is a founder member of the Society for the formation of “Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine”. Moreover, she serves on the Global Advisory Committee for “Women and the Green Economy Campaign” (WAGE)™ initiative.
She has won several national and global awards, including Ernst & Young Best Entrepreneur: Healthcare & Life Sciences Award (2002), The Economic Times Business Woman of the Year Award (2004) and Nikkei Asia Prize for Regional Growth (2009).
Recently, Federation University Australia (FedUni) honoured her by dedicating a road at the University’s Mt Helen Campus to her as ‘Mazumdar Drive’. She has also been appointed as an Ambassador of the University for a three-year term.
Her philanthropic initiatives are directed at making a difference to the lives of the marginalized communities. Through Biocon Foundation’s primary healthcare centres, telemedicine initiatives, health awareness programs, public health and sanitation initiatives and preventive screenings for oral and cervical cancer, she is making an enduring impact on society. She has also established the 1,400-bed Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center in Bangalore to deliver affordable world-class cancer care services to patients irrespective of socio-economic status. More recently she has also established the Mazumdar Shaw Center for Translational Research, a non-profit research institute dedicated to developing scientific breakthroughs for treating a wide range of human diseases. Her philanthropic efforts have got her featured in the Forbes’ List of ‘Heroes of Philanthropy’.
She is also the Honorary Consul of Ireland in Bangalore.
In 1981, Narayana Murthy founded Infosys, a global software consulting company headquartered in Bangalore. He served as the CEO of Infosys during 1981 – 2002, as the Chairman and Chief Mentor during 1981 – 2011, and as the Chairman Emeritus during August 2011 – May 2013. Under his leadership, Infosys was listed on NASDAQ in 1999.
Mr. Murthy articulated, designed, and implemented the Global Delivery Model, which has become the foundation for the huge success of the IT services outsourcing industry in India. He has led key corporate governance initiatives in India. He is an IT advisor to several Asian countries.
He serves on the boards of Ford Foundation, United Nations Foundation, Rhodes Trust and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He has served as a member of the HSBC board and the Unilever board. He has served on the boards of Cornell University, Wharton School, and the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He has also served as the Chairman of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
Mr. Murthy was ranked among the top 10 of Financial Times’ list of ’Business Pioneers in Technology’, published in March 2015. In 2014, he was ranked 13th among CNBC’s 25 global business leaders who have made the maximum impact on society during the last 25 years. He was named among the ‘12 Greatest Entrepreneurs of Our Time’ by the Fortune magazine in 2012. The Economist ranked him among the 10 most admired global business leaders in 2005. He has been awarded the Legion d’honneur by the Government of France, the CBE by the British government and the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India. He is a foreign member of the US National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering. He is the recipient of the 2012 Hoover Medal. The Tech Museum, San Jose, conferred on him the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award in 2012. He received the 2007 Ernst Weber Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, USA (IEEE).
He is the first Indian winner of Ernst and Young’s World Entrepreneur of the Year award. He has also received the Max Schmidheiny Liberty prize. He has appeared in the rankings of businessmen and innovators published by BusinessWeek, Time, CNN, Fortune, Forbes, Financial Times and India Today. He is also a Trustee of the Infosys Science Foundation, which governs the Infosys Prize, an annual award to honor outstanding achievements of researchers and scientists across six categories.
Tim Draper is founding partner of leading venture capital firms Draper Associates and DFJ.
Tim’s original suggestion to use viral marketing in web-based email to geometrically spread an Internet product to its market was instrumental to the successes of Hotmail, YahooMail, and Gmail and has been adopted as a standard marketing technique by thousands of businesses.
As an advocate for entrepreneurs and free markets, Tim is regularly featured as a keynote speaker in entrepreneurial conferences throughout the world, has been recognized as a leader in his field through numerous awards and honors, and has frequent TV, radio, and headline appearances.
He was ranked 52 on the list of the 100 most influential Harvard Alumni, and seven on the Forbes Midas List. He was named Always-On #1 top venture capital deal maker. He was awarded the Commonwealth Club‘s Distinguished Citizen Award for achievements in green and sustainable energy.
To further encourage entrepreneurship, Tim started BizWorld.org, a non-profit for children to learn entrepreneurship, Draper University of Heroes, a school for entrepreneurs 18-28, and he leads SixCalifornias, an initiative to improve the governance of California.
Jamal Edwards MBE is the Founder of SBTV. Jamal grew up on a council estate in West London. At the age of 15 he picked up a camera and started filming local acts and friends in his area and uploading them to YouTube, creating his own channel in 2006 called SBTV. SBTV has become one of the most viewed channels on YouTube, with hundreds of millions of views and saw him crowned as one of the UK’s most successful young entrepreneurs.
Today, SBTV is a pioneering digital music discovery and entertainment platform, unearthing and championing the very best established and emerging artists in music today. SBTV is one of the leading online destinations to enjoy exclusive interviews, live performance videos and editorial content, from established artists and talent as well as the best emerging music talent online. Established in 2006, SBTV has filmed hundreds of exclusive sessions and was the first platform to champion many British acts who have gone on to greatness, including: Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Rita Ora and Emeli Sande. SBTV has filmed the first ever UK acoustic performances with many high profile international artists including: Tori Kelly, Ariana Grande, and Nick Jonas and has become one of the most popular global curated youth networks in the digital space with over 570k subscribers & over 300 Million video views on YouTube. Also SBTV was selected by a variety of top US artists including: Nicki Minaj, Drake, Bruno Mars, Wiz Khalifa, Janelle Monae for their first ever UK online exclusive interviews. SBTV are one of the leading youth focused digital brands in the UK and have developed several partnerships with a number of high profile brands including: STA Travel, Adidas, Ernst & Young, Lynx and Beats.
Dr. Nathan Myhrvold founded Intellectual Ventures (IV) in 2000 after retiring from his position as chief strategist and chief technology officer of Microsoft Corporation. During his 14-year tenure at Microsoft, Myhrvold helped spearhead many of the company’s most successful products and founded Microsoft Research.
Today, Myhrvold is focused on building a market for invention, where inventors realize the value of their ideas. Under his leadership, IV manages one of the largest and fastest growing intellectual property (IP) portfolios in the world, with more than 40,000 assets and over $6 billion in total committed capital. IV’s investors include many of the world’s most innovative companies and renowned academic and research institutions.
Myhrvold earned a postdoctoral fellow from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University while working with Professor Stephen Hawking on research in cosmology, quantum field theory in “curved spacetime” and quantum theories of gravitation. Prior to Cambridge, Myhrvold earned a doctorate in theoretical and mathematical physics and a master’s degree in mathematical economics from Princeton University. In 2005, in recognition of his distinguished career, Princeton awarded Myhrvold the James Madison Medal, the University’s highest honor for alumni. He also holds a master’s degree in geophysics and space physics and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of California at Los Angeles. Myhrvold is also an avid inventor himself and holds hundreds of issued patents.
Myhrvold is an accomplished author having co-authored and published the acclaimed five-volume 2,438-page cookbook Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking (2011), Modernist Cuisine at Home (2012), and The Photography of Modernist Cuisine (2013). Many of his academic essays are published in leading scientific journals including Science, Nature, Paleobiology, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and Physical Review. He has also authored numerous essays on the tech industry, bio-terrorism, and climate change for Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Time, and National Geographic Traveler among others.
Currently, Myhrvold serves as an affiliate research associate of paleontology at both the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, and at The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana where he funds and participates in paleontological research and yearly expeditions. Myhrvold is a member of United Way’s Million Dollar Roundtable and a regular contributor to local Seattle arts and education non-profits. In 2000, he partnered with Paul Allen and pledged $1 million to the SETI Foundation to fund the development phase of the world’s most powerful telescope – the Allen Telescope Array.
Wendy Kopp is CEO and Co-founder of Teach For All, a global network of independent organizations that are cultivating their nations’ promising future leaders to ensure their most marginalized children have the chance to fulfill their true potential.
Wendy founded Teach For America in 1989 to marshal the energy of her generation against educational inequity in the United States. Today, more than 10,000 Teach For America corps members—outstanding recent college graduates and professionals of all academic disciplines—are in the midst of two-year teaching commitments in 50 urban and rural regions, and Teach For America has proven to be an unparalleled source of long-term leadership for expanding opportunity for children. After leading Teach For America’s growth and development for 24 years, Wendy moved into the role of chair of the board in 2013.
Wendy led the development of Teach For All to be responsive to the initiative of inspiring social entrepreneurs around the world who were determined to adapt this approach in their own countries. Now in its eighth year, the Teach For All network is comprised of partner organizations in more than 35 countries around the world, including its founding partners Teach For America and the U.K.’s Teach First.
Wendy has been recognized as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards for public service. She is the author of A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All (2011) and One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way (2000). She holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, where she participated in the undergraduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Wendy resides in New York City with her husband Richard Barth and their four children.
Tory Burch is Chairman, CEO and Designer of Tory Burch, an American sportswear and lifestyle brand. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in art history, she moved to New York to pursue a career in the fashion industry. She worked in public relations and marketing for several American designers, including Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Narciso Rodriguez at Loewe.
She launched Tory Burch in 2004 with a small boutique on Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, and since then the brand has grown into a global business with more than 150 freestanding stores in cities from New York and Los Angeles to Shanghai, Milan and, Paris, as well as a presence in more than 3,000 department and specialty stores worldwide.
A dedicated philanthropist, Tory launched the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009. In addition, she serves on the boards of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Barnes Foundation and the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is also an inaugural member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship.
Steve Case is a Founder and Partner of Revolution Growth. Steve Case is one of America’s best-known and most accomplished entrepreneurs, and a pioneer in making the internet part of everyday life.
As Chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm he co-founded in 2005, Steve partners with visionary entrepreneurs to build significant ‘built to last’ new businesses. The mission is to establish Revolution as the premier firm outside of Silicon Valley.
Steve’s entrepreneurial career began in 1985 when he co-founded America Online (AOL). Under Steve’s leadership, AOL became the world’s largest and most valuable internet company, driving the worldwide adoption of a medium that has transformed business and society. AOL was the first internet company to go public and among the best performing stocks of the 1990s, delivering a 11,616% return to shareholders. At its peak, nearly half of internet users in the United States used AOL. In 2000, Steve negotiated the largest merger in business history, bringing together AOL and Time Warner in a transaction that gave AOL shareholders a majority stake in the combined company. To facilitate the merger, Steve agreed to step down as CEO when the merger closed.
Steve’s passion for helping entrepreneurs remains his driving force. He was the founding chair of the Startup America Partnership— an effort launched at the White House to accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation. In 2013, the Startup America Partnership joined forces with Startup Weekend to create UP Global, which Steve now chairs. He is also a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship and was a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness where he chaired the subcommittee on entrepreneurship.
Steve is also Chairman of the Case Foundation, which he established with his wife Jean in 1997. Together the Cases have invested in hundreds of organizations, initiatives and partnerships with a focus on leveraging the internet and entrepreneurial approaches to strengthen the social sector. In 2010, Steve and Jean joined The Giving Pledge and publicly reaffirmed their commitment to give away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes
Entrepreneur Jerry Yang co-founded Yahoo! Inc. in 1995 and served on the Board of Directors and as a key member of the executive management team until January 2012. While at Yahoo he led a number of initiatives, including two of the biggest investments in the internet: Yahoo Japan and Alibaba Group. Yang holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University. He is widely recognized as a visionary and pioneer in the internet technology sector, and was named one of the top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35 by the MIT Technology Review in 1999.
Mr. Yang served as a director of Yahoo! Japan Corporation (TSE:4689) and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. until January 2012; and a director of Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO) from July 2000 to November 2012.
Yang currently works with and invests in technology entrepreneurs through AME Cloud Ventures, his innovation investment firm. In September 2014, Mr. Yang re-joined the Alibaba board as its director. He joined Workday’s board of directors in 2013 and the Lenovo board in 2014. Mr. Yang is the vice-chair of Stanford University’s Board of Trustees, and director for Monterey Peninsula Foundation.
Yang and his wife, Akiko Yamazaki, are well known philanthropists who focus on higher education, conservation and the arts. Yang is currently on Stanford University’s Board of Trustees, where he is a Vice-Chair; and is on the board of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation.
Tony O. Elumelu is a visionary entrepreneur and a philanthropist. Born, raised and educated in Africa, Mr. Elumelu has been responsible for creating businesses across the continent, in sectors critical to Africa’s economic development.
In 2010, he founded Heirs Holdings, an African investment holding company, with investments in financial services, power generation, oil and gas, agribusiness, real estate and hospitality. In the same year, he established the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an Africa-based and African-funded philanthropy, dedicated to catalyzing entrepreneurship across Africa.
In his early career, Mr. Elumelu turned the financially distressed Standard Trust Bank (STB) into a top-five financial services player in Nigeria. In 2005, he led the largest merger in the banking sector in sub-Saharan Africa, between STB and United Bank for Africa (UBA). Today, UBA operates in 19 African countries, as well as New York, London and Paris.
Mr. Elumelu is the author and leading proponent of “Africapitalism,” an economic philosophy which advocates for the private sector’s commitment to Africa’s development through long-term investment in strategic sectors of the economy, that drive economic prosperity and social wealth.
In 2003, the federal government of Nigeria conferred the honour of Member of the Federal Republic on Mr. Elumelu. In 2012 he was awarded named a Commander of the Order of the Niger for his service in promoting private enterprise. In 2013, Mr. Elumelu received the Leadership Award in Business and Philanthropy from the Africa-America Institute Awards. He was also named African Business Icon at the 2013 African Business Awards.
Mr. Elumelu presently serves as a member of the Global Advisory Board of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4ALL) and USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa Partners Forum.
He sits on the Nigerian President’s Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council and serves as Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Global Food Security. He played a leading role in the formation of the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria and now serves as its vice chairman. He chairs the Ministerial Committee to establish world-class hospitals and diagnostic centres across Nigeria, at the invitation of the Federal Government.
Dave McClure is a venture capitalist and founding partner at 500 Startups, a global venture capital seed fund and startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley with ~$200M in assets under management. Dave and his team have invested in a wide variety of technology startups all over the world, currently over 1,400 companies since the fund’s inception in 2010. 500 Startups’ team of 100 people manage seed investments in 18 countries and speak over 20 languages. They run accelerator programs in San Francisco & Silicon Valley 4x per year emphasizing internet marketing and customer acquisition, design and user experience, and lean startup practices and metrics. The group also has a global Distro Dojo program which focuses on growth-hacking post-seed companies. 500 Startups’ investment team and mentor network has operational experience at companies such as PayPal, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and Apple. Dave has been geeking out in Silicon Valley for twenty-five years as a developer, entrepreneur, startup advisor & investor, blogger, and internet marketing nerd.
Dave is a frequent speaker at technology & entrepreneurship conferences and has invested in hundreds of companies around the world including: Credit Karma (valued >$1B in 2014), Twilio (raised >$100M as of 2013), MakerBot (acq $400M Stratasys), Wildfire Interactive (acq $350M Google), Viki (acq $200M Rakuten), Mashery (acq by Intel ~$200M), SendGrid (raised >$45M as of 2014), Mint.com (acq $170M Intuit), SlideShare (acq $119M LinkedIn), among others.
From 2008 thru 2010, Dave managed the FF Angel seed investment program forFounders Fund, and ran the 2009 fbFund incubator program on behalf of Facebook, Accel Partners, & Founders Fund. From 2006 thru 2008 Dave was an advisor & consultant to several startups and helped teach the nation’s first-ever class on Facebook and social networking platforms at Stanford University in 2007. From 2005 thru 2006 Dave ran marketing for job search engine Simply Hired. From 2001 thru 2004, Dave was Director of Marketing at PayPal(acquired by eBay in 2002), where he started the PayPal Developer Network program. Prior to PayPal, Dave was a database consultant & programmer for several companies, including Microsoft and Intel. In 1994 he founded Aslan Computing, an internet & e-commerce consulting group later acquired by Servinet / Panurgy in 1998.
Before coming to Silicon Valley, Dave barely graduated from the Johns Hopkins University with a BS Engineering in Mathematical Sciences and a minor in frisbee, billiards, & foosball. His interests include microfinance and economic innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital, ultimate frisbee, cartoons and animation, and an ever-growing collection of funny-looking hats.
David Cohen is a co-founder and Managing Partner of Techstars.
Previously, David was a founder of several software and web technology companies. He was the founder and CTO of Pinpoint Technologies which was acquired by ZOLL Medical Corporation (NASDAQ:ZOLL) in 1999. You can read about it in No Vision, All Drive [Amazon]. David was also the founder and CEO of earFeeder.com, a music service which was sold to SonicSwap.com in 2006. He also had what he likes to think of as a “graceful failure” in between.
David is a active startup advocate, advisor, board member, and technology advisor who comments on these topics on his blog at DavidGCohen.com. He is also very active at the University of Colorado, serving as a member of the Board of Advisors of the Computer Science Department, the Entrepreneurial Advisory Board at Silicon Flatirons. David also runs the Colorado chapter of the Open Angel Forum.
David’s hobbies are technology, software/web startups, business history, and tennis. He is married to the coolest girl he’s ever met and has three amazing kids who always seem to be teaching him something new.
Ricardo B. Salinas is one of Latin America’s leading entrepreneurs. He is convinced of Mexico’s potential and its ability to determine its own destiny, spurred by the strength of its most valuable resource, the talent of its people.
Distinguished by his business success and capacity for innovation, Salinas is determined to change the status quo for a brighter future; Impossible is a not a word in his dictionary.
Grupo Salinas employs over 80,000 people in eight countries and has operations in telecommunications, television, retail, banking, insurance and pension fund management, among other industries.
Ricardo Salinas supports over forty social initiatives throughout the Americas, mainly through Fundación Azteca, Fundación Azteca America, Fomento Cultural Grupo Salinas, Caminos de la Libertad and Kybernus.
Ricardo Salinas’s pioneering vision has received the recognition of top business and academic organizations throughout the world. He has addressed Mexico Business Summit; The World Economic Forum, The Economist Roundtable on Mexico, the Institute of the Americas, UCLA, TED, the Aspen Institute, University of Michigan, Georgetown University, the American Chamber of Commerce and the Harvard Business School, as well Mexican universities such as ITAM and the Tec de Monterrey, among many others.
He often discusses issues related to globalization, education, entrepreneurship, Mexico and opportunities at the base of the pyramid. In 2015, Ricardo B. Salinas was awarded on honorary doctorate by the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara.
Vladimir Potanin is the founder and president of Interros.
From August 14, 1996 to March 17, 1997 he served as the first deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation in charge of economic issues. During his time in office, Mr. Potanin headed twenty or so federal, governmental, and inter-agency commissions. While working in government, Mr. Potanin was also Russia’s Governor at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).
In May 1997, Mr. Potanin reprised his role as president of UNEXIM Bank. After the restructuring of the UNEXIM-MFK-Renaissance Group, he became President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Interros on May 26, 1998. Mr. Potanin has served as the CEO and Chairman of the Management Board of MMC Norilsk Nickel since December 17, 2012. In June 2015, Mr. Potanin was nominated President and Chairman of the Management Board of MMC Norilsk Nickel.
In addition to his achievements as a business leader, Mr. Potanin sits on several governmental councils, as well as on the boards of non-profit and employers’ organizations, including the Government Council on Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship, the board of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), the Ministry of Defense’s Public Council, the Scientific Advisory Council of the Office of the Prosecutor-General, the supervisory council of the Organizing Committee of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, the board of trustees of the non-profit charitable organization the Russian Olympians Foundation, and the board of trustees of the Russian Geographic Society. He also chairs the National Council on Corporate Governance and the supervisory council of the Russian International Olympic University.
Mr. Potanin also has a long track record of philanthropic work. In 1999 he founded the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization whose mandate is to implement significant long-term educational and cultural projects in Russia. In 2010 he announced his decision to donate the majority of his wealth to philanthropic causes. Three years later, Mr. Potanin signed the Giving Pledge, an international philanthropic initiative. Mr. Potanin has also been a member of the board of trustees of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation since December 2001. In April 2003, Mr. Potanin was elected chairman of the board of trustees of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He has also donated $5 million to the museum’s endowment fund. Since May 2006, he has sat on the board of trustees of his alma mater, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), and has donated around $6.5 million to the MGIMO endowment fund.
Mr. Potanin has been the recipient of numerous medals and awards from the Russian government, the Orthodox Church, and from foreign governments, including the “850th Anniversary of Moscow” and “300th Anniversary of St. Petersburg” state commemorative medals; the Order of St. Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir, 2nd and 3rd class; the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh, 2nd and 3rd class; the Order of the Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow, 1st and 2nd class; the Patriarchal Award of St. Barbara the Great-Martyr, 1st class; and the Order of St. Seraphim of Sarov, 1st class (March 2012).
In September 2002, Mr. Potanin received the Badge of Honor for Philanthropy and Charity from the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. He was awarded the 2003 Prize of the International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations. In January 2007, Mr. Potanin was honored by the French Ministry of Culture and Communications with the title of Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters. In August 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin conferred upon him the Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 4th class, for actively promoting Sochi’s bid to host the XXII Olympic Winter Games in 2014. In December 2009, Vladimir Potanin received the Order of St. Anna, 2nd class for service to his country and the Russian Orthodox Church. In September 2010, President of Cyprus Demetris Christofias awarded Mr. Potanin the State Diploma and the Golden Olive Branch in gratitude for his profound contribution to the development of cultural links and fostering friendly relations between their two countries. In November 2012 the Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus Chrysostomos II awarded Mr. Potanin the Order of St. Paul the Apostle for his social and humanitarian activities in support of the church.
Dr. Michael Otto, born 1943, is Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Hamburg-based retail and services group, Otto (GmbH & Co KG).
Between 1981 and 2007, he served as Chairman & CEO of the Otto Group. Under his leadership, the company developed into the largest mail order group in the world and the only global player in this market. Today the Otto Group consists of 123 major companies in more than 20 countries in Europe, America and Asia. In e-commerce the Otto Group is the world’s No. 1 fashion and lifestyle company in B2C.
In March 2014 he transferred the majority of his shareholdings in Otto (GmbH & Co KG) to the Michael Otto Foundation, a non-profit foundation under German civil law, to ensure that the international retail and service group remains a family company headquartered in Hamburg for future generations. The dividends from the Otto Group are to be used to further the Foundation’s stated purpose of supporting social, environmental, cultural and charitable goals.
Dr Michael Otto is a genuine family business entrepreneur with great commitment and a clear sense of responsibility for the consequences of his own efforts. His view is that the economy must serve the greater good, not the other way round. For this reason he declared that protecting the environment and acting in a socially responsible way in business was already an integral part of his corporate strategy in the 1980s.
Sustainable goods and services are what distinguish the Group companies’ offer. 100 per cent of the Group’s own-brand textile range carries the ‘Skin-friendly, tested for harmful substances’ quality seal. By 2020 the Otto Group aims to use only sustainably cultivated cotton for its textile assortment marketed under its own as well as licenced brands. Under its Climate Strategy the Group also intends to halve its CO2 emissions compared to the 2006 benchmark figure by 2020.
Michael Otto is a co-founder and initiator of numerous well-known and ground-breaking initiatives for German industry. Within the Foreign Trade Association of German Retailers in 2001, he encouraged the working out of a solution for the industry in which member companies agreed to commit their suppliers to compliance with minimum standards, and to train them to do this. Since the end of 2004 this model has been carried out under the auspices of the FTA as the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI). In 2000, together with Hapag-Lloyd AG, he initiated the employment initiative from which the Hamburg Basic Secondary School Model developed in 2001; this facilitates the seamless transfer of pupils leaving secondary school into an unsubsidised vocational training scheme.
Through his commitment, the initiative ‘2° – German Business Leaders for Climate Protection’ emerged in 2007; it has now developed into an affiliation of ten leading representatives of the German economy who actively support the German government in the development and implementation of globally effective and market-based climate policy on a national and international level.
Dr Michael Otto carries the German Grand Merit Cross with Star.
Jack Welch is one of the world’s most respected and celebrated CEOs, known for his unmatched track record of success, enormous love of people, fierce passion for winning, and unbridled desire to change the world for the better using his unique management practices.
Working closely with an outstanding faculty, Jack Welch is engaged in every aspect of the Jack Welch Management Institute. As Executive Chairman, he appears in regular videos about current business events, hosts live video conferences, interacts with students via email, and is deeply involved in the development of the program’s curriculum.
Born to a working class family in Salem, Massachusetts, Jack attended the University of Massachusetts, and received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Illinois. He joined GE at age 24, worked his way up through many divisions, and was named its CEO in 1981 at the age of 45. In his 21 years as CEO, Jack transformed GE into the world’s most admired and successful company with his innovative management techniques. Revenues grew five-fold, from $25 billion to $130 billion, income grew ten-fold, from $1.5 billion to $15 billion, and the company’s market capitalization had a 30-fold increase of more than $400 billion. His achievements are considered epic, and, as a result, thousands of companies around the world have adopted the Welch Way.
After retiring from GE in 2001, Jack Welch has only become more active in business. He has written three best-selling business books, Jack: Straight from the Gut, Winning and The Real-Life MBA. He actively participates in managing numerous companies as part of a private equity group, and for four years wrote an immensely popular weekly column for Businessweek magazine. He is a fixture on TV as a popular business commentator.
Jack Welch has always been defined by his zealous love of teaching and commitment to building leaders. At GE, he created the world’s best corporate training center and regularly taught there himself. More recently, he taught a popular course as a visiting professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and he regularly teaches seminars to CEOs and senior executives around the world.
Naveen Jain is an entrepreneur and philanthropist driven to solve the world’s biggest challenges through innovation. A man who knows no limits, Naveen pushes big dreams into action, spurring massive cultural and technological change. His audacious vision and magnetic personality continually inspires others to follow what feels impossible.
The founder of Moon Express, World Innovation Institute, iNome, TalentWise, Intelius, and Infospace, Naveen sees beyond the current business and technological landscape, creating companies that make a true impact.
Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Silicon India’s “Most Admired Serial Entrepreneur,” and the receiver of “Albert Einstein Technology Medal” for his pioneers in technology, he has been repeatedly honored for his entrepreneurial successes. Red Herring also recognized him as one of the “Top 20 Serial Entrepreneurs” and with the “Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Naveen Jain’s next endeavor is to travel to the moon, using lunar resources for innovation here on earth.
Whether it’s business or life, Naveen is guided by one firm belief – Our only limit is our imagination.
One of the world’s leading marketing experts, Gary Vaynerchuk has built his career by being exactly where consumer attention is going next.
Just out of college, Gary grew his family wine business from a $3M to a $60M business in just five years. Now, he runs VaynerMedia, one of the world’s hottest digital agencies. Along the way, Gary became a prolific angel investor and venture capitalist, investing in companies including Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Uber and Venmo and co-founding the VaynerRSE fund.
In addition to running digital agency VaynerMedia, Gary also serves as CEO of holding company VaynerX, which houses VaynerMedia and The Gallery, a new publishing company Gary started after acquiring leading women’s lifestyle property PureWow in January 2017, with his business partners at RSE Ventures. Gary also serves as a partner in athlete representation agency VaynerSports and restaurant reservations app Resy.
With more than 3.5 million fans on social media, Gary shares his ongoing journey as an entrepreneur in his daily vlog, #DailyVee. He also hosts The #AskGaryVee Show, on which he answers questions about digital media, entrepreneurship, leadership and more, based on a lifetime of building successful, multi-million dollar companies. The show is also available as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.
Gary serves as a board/advisory member of organizations such as the Ad Council and Pencils of Promise, and is a longtime Well Member of Charity:Water. Gary also frequently keynotes at conferences such as Le Web, ANA Masters of Marketing, Web Summit and more.
Steve Ballmer is co-chair of the Ballmer Group and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA basketball team. Ballmer retired as Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft in 2014 after leading the company for nearly 14 years. He remains a significant investor.
The Ballmer Group’s philanthropic arm focuses on organizations dedicated to bettering outcomes for children in need and helping reduce the cycle of intergenerational poverty in the United States. They advance these efforts through grant making, investing in system reform, and collaborating with public and private sector partners. Steve also leads a project seeking to improve transparency in government, including disclosing taxes and borrowings raised, money allocated and spent, and outcomes achieved, much as a corporations do through their 10-K reports.
Steve became Microsoft’s CEO in 2000, having served for 20 years in roles as president, senior vice president of sales and support, senior vice president of systems software and vice president of marketing. He was the company’s first business manager. During his tenure at Microsoft, the company pioneered personal computing and democratized enterprise computing, growing from a small start-up to a company that today employs more than 110,000 people. During his tenure Microsoft grew to almost $80 billion in revenue and was the third most profitable company in the United States.
He grew up near Detroit where his father worked as a manager at Ford Motor Company. Ballmer earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics from Harvard University. He worked for two years at Procter & Gamble Company as an assistant product manager and attended Stanford University Graduate School of Business before joining Microsoft. He lives with his wife, Connie, and children in Washington.
will.i.am, a multi-faceted entertainer and creative innovator, is a seven-time Grammy Award winner. Known for his work with The Black Eyed Peas, who have sold 35+ million albums and 132+ million singles worldwide, he also works in the role of producer with some of the industry’s biggest names including Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Sergio Mendes, David Guetta and film composer Hans Zimmer.
In collaboration with Jimmy Fallon, host of “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”, they created the hit music video “Ew!”, a favorite on YouTube, iTunes and Billboard Hot 100 charts. In 2014, will.i.am collaborated with artist Cody Wise on the international hit single, “It’s My Birthday.” Previously will.i.am released #willpower, a solo album featuring a bold fusion of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic/dance music and included collaborations with many A-list guest artists such as Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Nicole Scherzinger and Miley Cyrus. #willpower includes the multi-platinum single, “Scream & Shout”, “thatPOWER” featuring Justin Bieber, and “Fall Down” featuring Miley Cyrus.
will.i.am is the first recording artist to send a song to Mars in collaboration with NASA’s Curiosity Mars Space Lab. Space and music industry firsts were achieved on August 28, 2012 when “Reach For The Stars (Mars Edition)” was played back from Mars during an i.am.angel Foundation youth education event hosted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
His songs and imagery have entertained and inspired millions, and the power of his words resonated deeply in his song “Yes We Can” that mobilized an entire generation to action during the 2008 presidential campaign. Demonstrating that music, brands and causes can be intertwined to entertain and inform, “Yes We Can” garnered an Emmy Award for “Best New Approaches in Daytime Entertainment” as well as a CLIO award in the Interactive category.
In addition to his music career, will.i.am is very active in front of, and behind the camera. ITV (UK) recently announced that will.i.am will return in his starring role as a Coach on “The Voice” season six/UK edition. Previously will.i.am starred as a Coach on the reality TV hit show “The Voice” UK for five consecutive seasons that aired on BBC One from 2012 – 2016. In 2014, he concurrently starred as a Coach on “The Voice” Australia on Nine Australia. His music career and philanthropic activities have been profiled in television documentary specials: “American Genius” on Nat Geo (Summer 2015), “Joanna Lumley Meets will.i.am” that first aired on BBC One in 2014, and was also featured in “www.cnbcmeets.cnbc.com…will.i.am”. During Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee year, will.i.am was a featured performer on “Concert for the Queen: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration With Katie Couric.”
He executive produced an educational TV special, “i.am.mars: Reach For The Stars”, a behind-the-scene look at the artistic and scientific elements involved in sending a song to Mars aired on Discovery’s SCIENCE Channel. In 2011, will.i.am executive produced and starred in his first prime time TV special “i.am FIRST: Science is Rock and Roll” to get young people excited about math and science education, as well as technology and science-related careers.
will.i.am’s film credits include starring roles in “Rio”, “Rio 2”, “Madagascar 2: Escape To Africa”, and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
will.i.am is a founding equity stakeholder in Beats Electronics (purchased by Apple in 2014), the creators of Beats by Dre™ headphones. Leveraging his experience in the consumer electronics industry, will.i.am then developed and introduced a new wearable computing device, the dial (formerly PULS), the first smart watch/smart band with an onboard, untethered mobile phone capability. He is the Founder & Chief Executive Officer of i.am+.
In the fashion and accessories field, will.i.am is a partner and Creative Director in ill.i Optics that offers an innovative series of unisex glasses and optical styles. The current season features modern optical fashions with iconic style, hip hop influence and a progressive edge.
In collaboration with The Coca-Cola Company, will.i.am launched the EKOCYCLE brand that focused on the importance of recycling and to turn waste into a valued commodity. Launched in 2012 in the U.S., and in 2015 in the UK at Harrods, EKOCYCLE offers consumers an array of stylish options when shopping for co-branded fashion apparel, accessories, luggage, sporting goods and home furnishings that incorporate recycled plastic bottles (rPET). Brand collaborators have included: Adidas, Beats Electronics, H Brothers, Levi’s, MCM, NBA, New Era and W Hotels.
As a musician, producer, director and advocate for education, he is an enthusiastic user of technologies in both his professional and personal lives. In recognition of his ability to harness technology to enhance entertainment, creativity and communication, he served as Chief Creative Officer at 3D Systems Inc. from 2014 – 2015. He previously served as Director of Creative Innovation at Intel Corporation from 2011 – 2013.
With a commitment to inspire kids to stay in school and go to college to become the leaders of tomorrow, will.i.am advocates regarding the importance and power of a good education through the i.am angel Foundation. The foundation funds several programs including: 1) i.am College Track, an after-school STEM-focused tutoring program; 2) the i.am scholarship that provides future leaders and innovators with comprehensive financial assistance to complete post-secondary education; and 3) the i.am.STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), an elementary and middle school initiative to provide underserved students with learning and interaction opportunities beyond the classroom.
will.i.am also supports STEM/STEAM skills building activities for young people in the U.S. through his volunteer work with several organizations including FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). As a White House Office of Public Engagement volunteer, he participated in the first White House Maker Faire in 2014. At the Faire, will.i.am, 3D Systems and EKOCYCLE introduced the EKOCYCLE ™ Cube 3D Printer that uses filament made in part from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles..
As part of will.i.am’s commitment to philanthropy and to fund foundation programs, he hosts the annual TRANS4M Benefit during Grammy Week. TRANS4M 2016 (February 11) honored Norman Lear, and featured a special guest performance by Erykah Badu. TRANS4M 2015 featured an intimate dinner and guest performance by Moby at The Future, will.i.am’s creative compound in Hollywood. TRANS4M 2014 included a benefit concert in Los Angeles, and a special keynote at the Midem Conference in Cannes. “TRANS4M 2013: TRANS4Ming America” Conference featured keynote speaker President Bill Clinton. The evening benefit concert was headlined by Alicia Keys and will.i.am.
He is the recipient of seven Grammy Awards, a Latin Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, two CLIO Awards, two NAACP Image Awards, a Root.com 100 Award, a VH1 Do Something Award, the BMI President’s Award, a Webby Award, and was named the 2015 BritWeek UK Trade & Investment Entrepreneur of the Year.
Renowned music manager Troy Carter is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Atom Factory, a pioneering entertainment and music management company. Carter has established the careers of numerous recording artists, including multi-platinum Grammy-Award winner Lady Gaga. Carter began his career in Philadelphia working for Will Smith and James Lassiter’s Overbrook Entertainment, and joined Bad Boy Entertainment in 1995 where he worked with groundbreaking artists such as Notorious B.I.G. In 1999, Carter formed the boutique talent management company, Erving Wonder. The brand quickly became one of the preeminent artist management firms and was acquired by the Sanctuary Group in 2004. After founding Atom Factory in 2010, Troy has continued his disruptive approach with the creation of various entities. In 2011, he co-founded The Backplane, a silicon valley based startup that redefines social media by allowing celebrities and brands to connect with fans, foster community, and cultivate brand loyalty. The following year, he created A \ IDEA, a product development and branding agency, as well as AF Square, an angel fund and technology consultancy.
Fashion icon and humanitarian Donna Karan believes through creativity, collaboration, connection and community you can change the world. This conviction lies at the heart of Urban Zen, established by Karan in 2007. The foundation is dedicated to three initiatives: preservation of culture (past), and bringing mind, body and spirit to healthcare (present) and education (future.) The Urban Zen Center in New York is the Foundation’s home, a place and a space where like-minded individuals come together for forums, educational lectures and fundraisers.
The groundbreaking Urban Zen Integrative Therapy (UZIT) Program integrates eastern healing modalities with western science, with over 700 certified therapists of varying levels working throughout the country. In 2010, Urban Zen launched Hope, Help & Relief Haiti in collaboration with leaders in music, fashion, film, finance and art. Karan works with The Clinton Global Initiative to develop and support sustainable opportunities in Haiti by bringing artisan products to a global market. To further advance that goal, in 2015, Karan collaborated with her alma mater, Parsons School of Design, to open the Haitian vocational education center called D.O.T. (Design Organization Training).
Urban Zen is, in part, supported by the Urban Zen brand and stores, a harmony of philanthropy and commerce, an idea Karan cultivated through her leadership on Seventh on Sale, the CFDA AIDS benefit, Kids for Kids carnival for Pediatric AIDS, and Super Saturday, an annual Hamptons tag sale, Karan founded with Liz Tilberis to benefit Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Urban Zen is where you will find artisan objects of desire, as well as the Karan-designed Urban Zen label of clothing and exclusive handmade Balinese furniture.
Karan’s fashion fame is legendary. She was mentored by the designer Anne Klein, whose line Karan designed for ten years after Klein’s death in 1974. In 1985, Karan founded Donna Karan New York with her late husband Stephan Weiss, where she revolutionized the way women dressed with her luxurious Seven Easy Pieces, an interchangeable wardrobe that took women day into night with ease and sophistication. Four years later came DKNY, the street chic sportswear line that has become a name synonymous with New York City all over the world.
A world traveler, a lifelong yogi, as well as mother and grandmother, Karan considers Urban Zen the natural extension of her desire to find the missing link in the areas she cares most about. It is also the realization of Karan’s dream not just to dress people, but to address them as well. Karan candidly shares her personal and professional story in her 2015 autobiography, My Journey (Ballantine/Random House.)
Weili Dai is considered a technology visionary; the only woman co-founder of a global semiconductor company. Ms. Dai’s business acumen, strategic thinking, product leadership, endless passion and personal network have contributed greatly to Marvell’s success. Her close relationship with customers and the foundation of the trust shared with them has given her a strong reputation for professionalism and integrity throughout the technology industry. Ms. Dai has served a pivotal role in creating some of the Company’s most important strategic partnerships and under her leadership Marvell’s technology became an integral component of many of the world’s most important products in enterprise, communications, mobile computing, consumer and emerging markets. She has also become a driving force in expanding access to technology in the developing world and an ambassador of opportunity between the US and China, particularly in the arenas of education and green technology. Ms. Dai has become a powerful advocate for the better use of technology to improve the human condition.
For her contributions to technology and society, Newsweek named Ms. Dai one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World” and was recently profiled by CNN International for the Leading Women Series: Leading the Female Tech Charge, Leading Women Principles Fair and Care,Educating for Future Success, and Leading Women Inspire Others. Additionally, Forbes Magazine lists Ms. Dai as one of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women“.
The Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA) recently recognized Ms. Dai along with her husband Sehat Sutardja, CEO of Marvell, with the prestigious 2013 Dr. Morris Chang Exemplary Leadership Award. Ms. Dai and Dr. Sutardja were selected because of their exceptional success in creating Marvell, their individual contributions to today’s modern semiconductor age, as well as the talents and expertise they’ve continuously leveraged to address and overcome pressing global issues like education and smart energy.
Ms. Dai is an active philanthropist. She is a member of the executive committee for TechNet and Bay Area Council and sits on the board of the Global Semiconductor Alliance (GSA) and the California Chamber of Commerce. She is also a board director of the disaster relief organization, Give2Asia, and was named to the prestigious Committee of 100, an organization representing the most-influential Chinese Americans. In recognition of their generosity, Sutardja Dai Hall at her alma mater UC Berkeley was named for Ms. Dai along with her husband Sehat Sutardja, CEO of Marvell, and Pantas Sutardja, co-founder of Marvell. Sutardja Dai Hall is home to the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). Celebrated as the glue behind her company, family and community, Ms. Dai is the proud mother of two sons who are Electrical Engineering graduate students at UC Berkeley; Christopher and Nicholas are currently Ph.D candidates.
Ms. Dai was selected as the first woman commencement speaker at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Engineering graduation ceremony on May 12, 2012.
Laurence Graff built his business (Graff Diamonds) from nothing, after dropping out of school at age 14 and scrubbing toilets as a jeweller’s apprentice in London’s Hatton Garden. Now he operates at the top of the diamond jewelry market. Clients have included Elizabeth Taylor, the Sultan of Brunei, Oprah Winfrey and Larry Ellison. In 2008 he achieved full vertical integration when he bought a stake in publicly traded diamond miner Gem Diamonds. His son Francois serves as CEO of Graff Diamonds International and Graff is chairman. His assets include a polished diamond trading venture in Switzerland, real estate in London’s tony Mayfair district, and a stake in a South African diamond wholesaler. He splits his time between homes in Gstaad, London, Cap Ferrat, St. Tropez, New York City and his 150-foot Feadship yacht. He also owns Delaire Graff Estate, a vineyard and winery with a boutique hotel and restaurant in Stellenbosch, the Napa Valley of South Africa. His modern and contemporary art collection is worth more than $600 million and he collects vintage cars, including period Ferraris, Aston Martins and Mercedes. His company continues to expand with more than 50 stores worldwide.
John Caudwell is a successful entrepreneur and a philanthropist.
As an entrepreneur, John built an immensely successful mobile telecoms company, which, over the course of around 20 years, he grew to be one of the most successful businesses in Britain. The visible legacy is the high street retailer Phones 4u, which was the face of a business which extended into airtime, distribution, technical support, insurance, and fixed-wire telephony.
By the time he sold Caudwell Group in 2006, the business was selling 26 phones a minute. It employed 10,000 people in the UK and abroad – though primarily in the UK, and with a headquarters in Stoke-on-Trent. It was turning over £2.25 billion. He sold the business for £1.5 billion in 2006.
A less visible aspect of John’s life is his charitable and philanthropic drive. John founded what is now one of Europe’s most efficient children’s support charities – Caudwell Children – an organisation which, through energy, efficiency and creativity converts every £1 donated to it into more than £2 of benefit for desperately ill or disabled children and their families.
John’s philanthropic commitments are to make previously invisible plights or challenges highly visible. He has contributed millions of pounds to support and help bring to the fore causes as varied as the work of the Elton John Aids Foundation, The Prince’s Regeneration Trust and London’s Bomber Command Memorial.
Dr Frederik Paulsen is an established businessman, academic, philanthropist and explorer. Based in Switzerland, Dr Paulsen’s business interests focus mainly on the Ferring Group, founded by his father, and also extend into other pharmaceutical and life science interests, real estate, publishing and beverages.
As one of the few people to have stood on all eight of the Earth’s poles, Dr Paulsen has a deep historical and scientific interest in polar exploration and in 2015 was a founding member of the Swiss Polar Institute. His worldwide philanthropic interests range from the islands of South Georgia, to Russia, Western Europe, the US and to the Kingdom of Bhutan, in the areas of culture, science and education. He is the recipient of numerous national honours, most recently in February 2016, he was awarded the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Frederik Dag Arfst Paulsen was born on 30 October, 1950 in Stockholm, Sweden. Still a Swedish national, Dr Paulsen now lives in Lausanne, Switzerland. He speaks English, Swedish, German and French. Dr Paulsen studied chemistry at the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, and Business Administration at Lund University, Sweden.
Thor Bjorgolfsson is a self-styled “adventure capitalist”, who became Iceland’s first billionaire. Having been ranked as the 249th-richest person in the world by Forbes magazine in 2007, his world came crashing down as the global financial crisis tore through Iceland.
Thor made his first fortune in the wild east of post-Soviet Russia with Bravo Brewery, selling it to Heineken in 2002. Over the next years he multiplied his fortune by investing in telecoms (mostly in Eastern Europe), building up Actavis (a generic drugs company), and becoming the biggest investor, (along with his father) in one of Iceland’s largest banks, Landsbanki.
In the financial meltdown and the collapse of Landsbanki, Thor lost 99% of his wealth; in 2010 he appeared on the front-page of Iceland’s biggest newspaper apologising for his role in the crisis. Facing crippling debts, he settled with his creditors and slowly re-built his business empire. By 2014, through the various investments of his London-based private equity fund Novator Partners LLP, Thor had become a billionaire again.
Thor continues to be an active investor in the emerging economies of Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, with particular interest in telecommunications companies. He is Chairman of Novator, sits on several boards, and maintains a shareholding in companies including Actavis, Play a Polish telecoms firm, and CCP an Icelandic computer games company.
Thor’s autobiography, “Billions to Bust—and Back: How I Made, Lost and Rebuilt a Fortune, And What I Learned on the Way”, was published in 2014.
Dennis Crowley is the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Foursquare, the location technology company that powers products used by more than 50 million people every month across 100 countries. Previously, he founded Dodgeball, one of the first location-based mobile social services (acquired by Google in 2005) and help to build early location-based games PacManhattan (2004) and ConQwest (2004). Dennis is also the Chairman of the Kingston Stockade Football Club, a semi-professional soccer team out of Hudson Valley, NY that competes in the 4th division of the US Soccer Pyramid.
He has been named one of Fortune’s “40 Under 40” (2010, 2011), a member of Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment” (2011, 2012) and has won the “Fast Money” bonus round on the TV game show Family Feud (2009). He is currently an Adjunct Professor at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP).
Dennis holds a Master’s degree from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and a Bachelor’s degree from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
Q: What does ‘entrepreneurship’ mean to you?
[Sir Richard Branson] Entrepreneurship is about taking risks, pushing boundaries, and not being afraid to fail.
I tend to go with my gut feeling and by personal experience- if I relied on accountants to make decisions, I most certainly would have never gone into the airline business, most certainly would not have gone into the space business, and I certainly wouldn’t have gone into most of the businesses that I’m in. In hindsight, it seems to have worked pretty well to my advantage!
[Robin Li] I have a strong desire to do what I like to do. I think that happens to be a necessary quality for entrepreneurship. For me, entrepreneurship is about doing what I can to positively impact people’s lives through technology. I come from a technology background, so naturally I feel that I can make the most meaningful impact through tech, but depending on their background and their abilities, others might choose other approaches. I also believe that whether it’s innate, or it’s an something that wells up later in life, the urge to entrepreneurship only bears fruit when you plant the seeds at the intersection of passion and ability—the overlap between the things that you love, and the things that you’re really good at.
Entrepreneurship means a constant willingness to keep learning. It’s about maintaining that start-up spirit—where you’re forever young, and forever in crisis. It’s about always having your mind on the business: Lying in bed and constantly asking yourself, “What should I do?”
[Sir James Dyson] Being an entrepreneur, an inventor, is about having ideas and having the doggedness to see them through. As an inventor your ideas should be based on creating a solution to a problem – a solution which focuses on function over form.
When I started to develop the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner, I knew my idea was solving a fundamental problem. Unsurprisingly other major vacuum cleaner manufacturers did not agree. But I persevered, against the odds, developing the technology and manufacturing it under my own name. This is a trait all entrepreneurs need – the ability to remain committed to your idea and the drive to see it through to fruition. Perhaps it stems from a desire to be competitive. I have always enjoyed long distance running, reaching the pain barrier and driving through it.
I have always been fascinated with how things work and how I can make them better. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t building something. Solving problems has been my life’s work, from my first job working with my mentor Jeremy Fry to founding Dyson. This spirit is something that I look for in every new starter at Dyson. People who want to solve problems and aren’t afraid to take risks and try new ways of doing something.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] An entrepreneur is an initiator, a planner, a result producer, a risk taker, an organizer. He feels confident about his success. In conventional business an entrepreneur wants to make personal profit. In the conventional sense of business, profit measures his success. In social business, he wants to solve a human problem in a financially sustainable way, without taking personal profit out of it. He gets his investment money back when the business is successful, but doesn’t take any dividend after that point. Profit stays with the company to grow.
I believe all human beings are entrepreneurs at the core. It is in his DNA. I always felt I can do something to solve people’s problems. Even if it is solving the problem of one person. It always excites me to let my small steps grow, and then while one is growing, I get thrilled taking the first small step for the next venture.
While entrepreneurship is in every human being, economic theories recommended a very absurd prescription. They visioned a world where people should be working in companies, factories, fields, and offices, for salary. They downgraded human beings enormously. As a result a world emerged where people forgot their natural quality of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship was buried deep inside of people’s consciousness. They are made to believe their life depends on getting a job. Without job, you are a failure.
[Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw] Entrepreneurship is really about being self-employed, creating your own path, your own employment journey. It begins with an idea that you want to commercialise; and it’s about realising that it’s going to be a pretty challenging process.
Entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily come to everyone as a thought, but you can seed it in people’s minds, and it becomes something that people can get very excited about! It’s not about being born an entrepreneur… I never thought I would run a business! I always call myself an accidental entrepreneur, I was actually passionate about pursuing a career in brewing! I trained as a brew-master, came back to India to pursue a career in brewing and it’s only because I couldn’t get myself the career I wanted in brewing, because I was a Woman, that I turned to entrepreneurship. I’m not sure I would have thought of entrepreneurship had I been absorbed by the brewing industry. Circumstances often become the reason why people become entrepreneurs.
Nowadays, people may think of entrepreneurship from an early age; but it’s not something you’re born with… not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur from when they’re born! It’s a set of circumstances that mould you into an entrepreneur. There are stories of many people who have dropped out of the education system, and then think, “now what can we do?”
There are some traits you need to be an entrepreneur for sure, and that sets you apart. You need to take risks, take challenges, be willing to stick it out, be willing to understand failure. These are the traits of entrepreneurs, but the process of becoming an entrepreneur is often about circumstances.
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] Entrepreneurship is primarily about a person using their imagination, dreams, daring, sacrifice and passion to create jobs for society, wealth for oneself (and his or her colleagues) and prosperity for the nation.
Entrepreneurship is about transforming the world.
[Tim Draper] Entrepreneurship drives change and change allows us to progress as society. In my career, I have learned that anything is possible if a single driven entrepreneur has a vision and the drive to make it a reality. I have enjoyed an amazing career in venture capital with Draper Associates/DFJ and entrepreneurs have really made amazing things happen from free communication worldwide (Hotmail and Skype) to electric cars (Tesla), to digitized music and design (Digidesign and Parametric) to a Chinese search tool (Baidu) to a two drop, fifty result blood test (Theranos). I can’t even imagine the world without these things today.
[Jamal Edwards] Entrepreneurship is about innovation. If there’s something out there, how do you make it better? Or how do you create your own business. An entrepreneur is someone who keeps on trying and isn’t bogged down if they fail.
I watched a lady talk about nurtured versus natured entrepreneurs. You can be an entrepreneur in many forms. When I used to work at Top Man (I worked there for 4 years) I was always looking at new ways to get people to sign-up to store-cards and whatnot. I was an entrepreneur in my job, even though I was employed by someone else! Everyone said to me before that entrepreneurs are not employees, but employers…. But it’s not about that, it’s about how you conduct yourself in business, whatever your business is.
When I left Top Man, I became a natured entrepreneur. I set up my own business, which I run now, SBTV.
[Nathan Myhrvold] Entrepreneurs are people who are not satisfied with the existing order of things and take it upon themselves to create something new. Typically, we think of this in a business context, of people who start new companies, but the core of entrepreneurship is affecting change by creating something new. There are entrepreneurs in a generalized sense in all sorts of different fields, but there are people who really make a difference by creating a brand new idea and typically an organization around that idea that can put it to effect.
[Wendy Kopp] I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur, but I had a passion for an idea that didn’t exist and I had the naiveté and the confidence that I could make it happen. I discovered that I really enjoy the entrepreneurial journey and all the learning, energy, and resourcefulness it requires.
[Tory Burch] Entrepreneurship is about recognizing a void in the market and having the ability to build a business around it. I didn’t realize I was an entrepreneur until I had the concept for our company and started to develop it, but in retrospect I see that I was entrepreneurial in everything I did in my career leading up to that point. It is also about knowing your strengths and weaknesses and surrounding yourself with a stellar team.
[Steve Case] At a broad level, entrepreneurship is about having a positive impact on the world. Entrepreneurs are a key avenue to ushering in change, innovation and impact- they challenge the status-quo, figure out better ways to doing things (whether that’s a product or service), build teams around those ideas and really have positive impact.
Entrepreneurship is- of course- about businesses, but at its core are innovation and people.
[Jerry Yang] For me entrepreneurship means finding a common, strong mission to build something that would have “impact”, or “change the world”. While the goal of building a great product or company is very important, the journey of getting there is what I treasure the most. The most enjoyable part of my entrepreneurial journey is going through the ups and downs of building a team. There is nothing like having built a team that shares the same strong passion and beliefs, and mostly sharing that journey of success and failure together. For me, there is some natural “risk-taking” that I was born with, but so much of being an entrepreneur is also learned – through hard work and the team you are surrounded by.
[Tony O. Elumelu] For me, personally, being an entrepreneur is an innate talent, as well as a learned one. My mother owned restaurants and was a major distributor in the consumer value chain. So, growing up, I was able to see firsthand the far-reaching value that entrepreneurship creates. Now that I am a seasoned professional, entrepreneurship has come to mean many things to me: as a businessperson, entrepreneurship has enabled me to create wealth, for myself, my investors, my colleagues and stakeholders. Entrepreneurship has also created an avenue for me to impact humanity positively, by creating and supporting more entrepreneurs, through the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Entrepreneurship has empowered me to raise the standard of living for entire communities, particularly on my continent – Africa.
[Dave McClure] An entrepreneur is someone who’s hustling to creating a new business, solve problems, create jobs and create economic benefits for society.
[David Cohen] Entrepreneurship is highly synonymous with creativity and relates to ideas such as making a positive change in the world and, of course, wealth. I don’t mean wealth in the ‘get rich’ sense, but rather well-being.
[Ricardo Salinas] The problem of business is the business of solving problems. However, this is not the only contribution of entrepreneurship. My friend David Konzevik often says that “an entrepreneur is an economic agent willing to take uninsurable risks.” In a world of ever increasing risks, entrepreneurs are now more important than ever. This is especially true in countries such as Mexico where there is more uncertainty, especially today. Entrepreneurs do more with less, develop ideas that improve the well-being of people around the world, generate wealth, create jobs and boost living conditions.
[Vladimir Potanin] Before I started my business, I worked for the government for ten years. My father also worked for the government – it was a dynasty of sorts. To be fair, let me say that the USSR’s Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations was the most market-oriented of all of the Soviet government institutions because it was responsible for trade with foreign countries. We led commercial negotiations, drafted contracts, and concluded deals. Working there gave me a certain foundation. Still, I consider the day in 1990 when I left the Ministry – when I made that final decision to go into business on my own – my shining moment. I decided to believe in myself, in my own abilities. Few had it in them to do what I did: I had to overcome the gravitational pull, figuratively speaking.
Today, business is a part of my life. There is a good rule to follow: do not change your own moral precepts, do not do anything that you wouldn’t do under regular circumstances. Some may think that in business you have to follow different rules – that it is OK in business to act differently from how you would act in daily life. My experiences show that this is not the case.
In terms of my business profile, I have always worked in private equity. I don’t do well with greenfield projects; I have less of a feel for them. But I do have business intuition for projects that involve restructuring existing companies to make them more effective, more interesting. It is easier for me to bring new ideas and formulate new approaches in a venture that previously functioned differently.
[Dr. Michael Otto] To me personally, entrepreneurship means to be as well creative as analytical. It means also the highest degree of professional freedom, combined with a very high awareness of one’s responsibility for one’s own actions and a high degree of personal risk. Throughout my whole life I have dedicated myself to identifying market opportunities early, taking these opportunities and implementing them in a profitable way. This still fires my enthusiasm today!
[Troy Carter] Entrepreneurship is a way of life.
For me, entrepreneurship has always been about being a builder. Whether it’s about undiscovered artists or working with companies pre-launch, the build process is what attracts me.
Look at the way our communities and countries have been built; a lot of it is just a bunch of entrepreneurs who have had great ideas.
Entrepreneurship is- I think- part of the core of who I am.
[Jack Welch] If you are an entrepreneur, you have a certain DNA, a certain spirit. As an entrepreneur, if you have an idea, you’ll go to the ends of the earth to make it succeed. You’ll find every day is a new journey, you’re up, you’re down, there’s a surprise every minute.
I don’t think entrepreneurship is a profession like Doctor or Lawyer. I meet so many people on my travels and when I ask them what they want to be, they say, ‘entrepreneur.’ Wait a minute, it’s not a profession… Entrepreneurship is something in your DNA, if you have an idea and the passion to make it win. You’re an entrepreneur…. Not everyone has that DNA, and that’s OK!
[Naveen Jain] Most people think of entrepreneurs as someone who starts a company, but to me? Entrepreneurship is really about problem solving.
People can (roughly) be divided into three categories. The first category are people who can tell you all the problems in the world! ‘here is a pothole someone should fix,’ ‘here is a path someone should take!,’ ‘why isn’t someone doing something about this?’ – the second group of people are those who invent, innovate and find solutions to these problems. The third group, entrepreneurs, are those people who don’t talk about the problem or solution but go out and solve it.
You can be an entrepreneur in a company, in a family or in your own venture. The bottom line? If you can solve a problem – you’re an entrepreneur.
[Weili Dai] As entrepreneurs must have business in your DNA in a way, so how do I see Entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs must thrive, entrepreneurs must believe in themselves, they have to be confident and they also have a good purpose. What do I mean by purpose? Well, Entrepreneurs must have vision and determination and to change the world for the better.
[Steve Ballmer] There are two kinds of entrepreneurship people talk about – starting something new, like a new company, or doing something new from inside something established. To me it comes down to the same thing regardless of setting — big company, small company, not for profit, for profit, you will see a pattern that will let you believe you are seeing something others aren’t seeing, and you will summon the energy, brain power, and commitment to bring in others and make it into something. It is taking risk to do that, which is part of entrepreneurship, and there are plenty of ways of doing that without starting your own company.
[Will.I.Am] Entrepreneurship is the relentless drive to carry-on, no matter what. Entrepreneurship is tolerance, focus and dedication. Entrepreneurship is this ‘true north’ belief that whatever this ‘thing’ is that you want to bring to culture, that you will see it through… and that you are the one here to usher it into existence.
For me, entrepreneurship is about the people that I surround myself.
At iam plus, the company I founded, we have offices in Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, Bangalore (India), Singapore and now Shenzhen (China). There’s around 150 of us, and we’re growing. We’re a cross-disciplinary think-tank company and have everything from AI developers, OS developers, hardware developers and content-makers.
That keeps me on my toes, keeps me thinking- and I can help to edit, fine tune and work on getting those things we work on to be adopted.
[Donna Karan] I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. It just came naturally to me, and I never gave it a label as being an entrepreneur. When I was 15, I rearranged the sales floor in the boutique I was working in and was the best salesperson in the store. At 25, when my boss Anne Klein died, I took over designing and changed the look of the collection to make it younger and sexier, and also changed how it was shown and sold in the showroom – not to mention just having had a baby while all this was happening. Ten years later, I set out to create a small company to make clothes for me and my friends, a Seven Easy Pieces system of dressing, which turned into Donna Karan New York and then Donna Karan International. And just a few years after that, I wanted a pair of jeans to flatter a woman’s body and to dress my teenaged daughter. That desire turned into DKNY, a global company that introduced fast fashion to the world. Now I’m focusing on Urban Zen, a marriage of commerce and philosophy where I can address as well as dress the consumer. In each and every case I took action based on a personal desire. I wasn’t thinking about success or being ‘big’ or creating a huge business. I was thinking about answering a need, a void, creating something that wasn’t there before.
[Laurence Graff] I observed entrepreneurial spirit from a very early age living in London’s East End. It was during the war; I observed business men and women seizing opportunity and making the best of a very difficult time. It taught me to always keep my eyes and ears open, to always see the light in every situation.
[John Caudwell] In line with most highly-tuned talents, I absolutely believe that entrepreneurship is a genetic gift that you’re born with. What you do with that gift depends on your upbringing, opportunities and inspirations; you either make them massively better or neglect them.
If you don’t have those genetic talents from birth, it’s difficult to be really, really, successful. For anybody to get to the top of anything- whether that’s a 100-metre sprint or business, you have to be genetically gifted and then work like fury to achieve. That combination of genetics and sheer hard work is the ‘secret’ of getting to the top.
Let me be clear however, I don’t want anyone to be misled into thinking that without that genetic gift they will not be successful! That’s clearly wrong. You may be born without any gift at all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work very, very hard and get to the top. That genetic-gift factor is the difference between being good, and being a world champion. You’re never going to be a world champion runner, cyclist or entrepreneur without it.
[Frederik Paulsen] Today, entrepreneurship is fashionable, it’s something you can develop in your character and strengthen. I’m not so sure… I believe that entrepreneurship is something you’re born with, or not.
I’ve met many highly intelligent, and incredibly bright people who have not been able to develop their ideas into sensible businesses.
Entrepreneurship is not related to intelligence, it’s something you have or don’t have.
Entrepreneurs are part of the broad continuum of people who want to break out of the ‘ordinary’ and challenge the perceived ‘truths’ in society. They are more provocative, they believe passionately in their own ideas.
[Thor Björgólfsson] I’m from a small seafaring country where people go out and make a living as fishermen; going out and taking risks to bring home an income is part of our DNA. We live by what we catch!
Iceland has a strong work ethic. I got my first job at the age of 12 running errands and delivering papers, I always had a job or two alongside being at school. In Iceland, the culture is such that you start making your way in life at a very early age.
As I approached my 20’s, I realised that instead of working for a salary- it’s better to work for something where you get a percentage of the outcome, or where there’s some risk involved.
[Dennis Crowley] I don’t really like the term entrepreneur because I think to some it implies that you start businesses for the sake of starting businesses.
My view is this. If there’s something you want to see in the world that doesn’t exist, go build that thing. If that means you have to build a company? so be it.
I give a lot of talks, and always get introduced on stage as being an entrepreneur. One of the first slides I usually show is a quote from Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, that says “Entrepreneur is just French for ‘has ideas, does them’.” It’s actually not French for that, but I like Alexis’ interpretation.
Q: What does success mean to you?
[Donna Karan] To me, success is balancing your personal life and your work life. It’s also being content and satisfied with what you accomplished so you can let it go and move forward. I’m not good at standing still, so success is about taking that next step and challenge, whatever it may be.
[Laurence Graff] I haven’t remained still since I started in business, I am always moving forward, always looking ahead. I have always said ‘the sky is the limit’ and have lived by that motto every day. I believe a great part of my success has been a result of ardent curiosity and an appetite to learn. At first I didn’t even know that I was hungry for knowledge, but as it came I wanted to know a little bit more. I began to travel extensively early on in my career, and with every trip I learned something new.
Q: What does it take to be an entrepreneur?
[Gary Vaynerchuk] To be an entrepreneur, you need a love for process and to be comfortable with adversity.
If you love process and you’re comfortable with adversity, and if you love the journey over the fruits and riches of that journey- then you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship is on a pedestal; everyone wants to be one. Here’s the truth, it sucks. Entrepreneurship is hard and almost everyone loses.
You genuinely have to like getting beat-up. You genuinely have to like conflict. You genuinely have to have an enormous amount of patience. This is what it takes to be an entrepreneur and not just play at it.
Q: What are your views on startup culture?
[Gary Vaynerchuk] it’s fun to be an entrepreneur right now; you raise a lot of money, and you burn it- that’s why startups have time to go to 17 conferences and to host 44 networking dinners. These are things I still don’t do even though people tell me I’ve ‘made it.’
I’ll do these things once in a while, networking is powerful. It’s a piece of the equation, but a 1-4% piece of the equation not a 50% piece.
We have a lot of 23-27 year olds, raising a lot of money, and running around saying ‘I’m the CEO of this, it’s really cool!’ they’re not working on their product or business, they’re playing at being entrepreneurs.
[Dennis Crowley] If you’ve seen the HBO show Silicon Valley, you’ll see it’s a caricature of the tech scene in the valley. It’s funny because it’s true… but that’s not how it is for the broad majority of entrepreneurs. With Kingston Stockade FC (soccer club) for example, it’s entrepreneurship; but nothing like what you see on Silicon Valley.
I meet startups all the time, and while there’s a startup culture associated with people saying, ‘Hey! Let’s build this hip thing with apps’ that’s totally different that the reality which is people saying, ‘Hey! I have this idea for this product or technology that could make mobile phones more interesting… that could improve cities… or transportation… or health… or medicine.’ I meet with a lot of those folks too, and I feel they are far from what TV can stereotype as tech entrepreneurs.
Q: What is the role of the founder in a business?
[Donna Karan] The founder is the innovator, the one who sets the wheels in motion. Once it’s up and running, the founder’s job is to empower and inspire others with the message, to nurture and make believers out of everyone who comes close, internally and externally. Later on, a founder needs to be open to evolution and growth. Dispensing of the ego and knowing when to let go. You give the birth, raise the child and then set them free and let them find their own way. That’s what I did last year with Donna Karan New York and DKNY. Now I’m raising my youngest child, Urban Zen, which is in an exciting stage of development and growth, both as a foundation and as a brand.
Q: Why should entrepreneurs be open?
[Sir Richard Branson] Virgin has launched many different businesses over the years, including record shops, radio stations, planes, trains and gyms. Fortunately, many of these endeavours have been successful.
Virgin Atlantic started as our first leased jumbo becoming the UK’s second largest airline. Others didn’t quite go to plan…Virgin Brides for instance was not a successful attempt at disrupting the Wedding industry! Nevertheless, it’s important to be open to ideas. When I was starting out with Virgin Atlantic, my mentor Freddie Laker gave me some incredibly useful advice. He told me: “You are going to have to get out there and sell yourself. Make a fool of yourself – whatever it takes. Make sure you appear on the front page and not the back pages.”
All entrepreneurs make mistakes, especially when starting out – it’s important to go through that learning process and to have fun along the way – whether you fail or succeed!
Q: What is the relationship of entrepreneurship to the corporate world?
[Jack Welch] Entrepreneurship within a corporation is quite different to the world of start-ups. I was an entrepreneur within the GE Corporation… I started the plastics business there, I was the first employee. Let me be clear, I wasn’t out there with my own credit card trying to survive, my wife wasn’t out in the garage working to keep our house going. I had a bank supporting me. Being a corporate entrepreneur is a less pressurised existence than being a start-up on your own.
In today’s world you can find funding at the drop of a hat, and so that key difference between the corporate setting and the ‘rest of the world’ is evaporating.
Q: What is the role of entrepreneurs in an economy and society?
[Sir Richard Branson] It’s my strong belief that those with the power to help should be encouraged to do exactly that: It’s important for entrepreneurs to nurture talent, to provide advice and to provide investment where required. Increasingly we are hearing more about how big business needs to play its role in society for the greater good. We all have a role to play and it makes business sense. In fact, consumers demand that business be responsible.
[Robin Li] Entrepreneurs have been absolutely essential in the transformation of the world we live in. By creating new businesses and new markets, they’re real change agents in history. This is something that’s been happening for many hundreds of years. As an entrepreneur you have a certain perspective and real motivation to see what’s in store for the future. And in trying to anticipate the future, entrepreneurs are chief agents in bringing the future about. It’s really been the role of the entrepreneur to take the measure of what people will want in the future, and to change the way people think and behave. They are and will continue to be a vital force in defining the world of the future.
That’s a lot of responsibility, and entrepreneurs need to demonstrate a consciousness of their importance and the potential they have to do both good and evil. They have to have a greater sense of social responsibility, especially in times of crisis, whether we’re talking about economic, environmental, or social crisis. Entrepreneurs should be focusing their efforts on creating a more equitable, just, and sustainable future.
[Sir James Dyson] Transport, natural disasters, the distribution of resources, globalisation – engineers and inventors have the traits and skillset to solve the problems the world faces today. And therefore have the potential to impact the world and economy. The economy can be boosted by exporting tangible technology that is in global demand. This is the hands of engineers.
We now sell Dyson machines in 73 countries around the world and that means we have a responsibility to be ambassadors for Great Britain. I have always believed that British industry can create world leading technology that benefits our exports, our economy and our wider society.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] Entrepreneurs are innovators. One thing common in them that see opportunities. When they see an opportunity they grab it. These ‘opportunities’ are seen by various types of entrepreneurs in various ways. Personal profit-seeking entrepreneurs see it as an opportunity to make profit for themselves. Some among them could not care less what negative impact their business would produce on the society (alcohol producers, cigarette makers, and many other producers who produce obvious or cleverly hidden negative impacts). Some do care about negative impacts, and want to avoid such businesses or avoid negative impacts. Some want to make money while providing a product or service which is useful to the society, and the planet.
In a redesigned concept of profit-seeking businesses, the businesses would be transformed with a broader set of objectives, personal profit would be given the same priority as given to people’s sustainability and planet safety. Then entrepreneurs as a group can contribute in creating an economically, socially, and environmentally balanced and sustainable world.
For social business entrepreneurs, this is already the core of their business. They are totally dedicated to people and the planet. Their business has no place for the personal profit. In this business there is no room for conflict between selfishness and selflessness, because the business is entirely based on selflessness. Social business is the surest path to achieving all round sustainability at the fasted speed.
Social business entrepreneurs see the opportunity of solving problems of people which are now left to the governments to solve, or never considered to be solvable by anybody (unemployment, for example).
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] Entrepreneurs have multiple contributions to society.
Firstly, the power of an entrepreneur’s ideas add value to their society. Their ideas may reduce the cost of something, reduce the cycle time of tasks, improve productivity, improve quality of life, and bring new and easier ways of seeking pleasure through leisure products like books, music and videos.
Secondly, entrepreneurs create jobs. They use their ideas to create better and more highly paid jobs for their people. Therefore, they create prosperity for society.
When you enhance a society’s prosperity you don’t just create jobs in your own company, industry or sector. You also create job opportunities in the secondary and tertiary sectors. I do not know of any society that has become more prosperous without the power of entrepreneurship.
Thirdly, entrepreneurs serve as role models for society through their ability to dream, show courage, take risks, and transform the world around them.
[Wendy Kopp] We need entrepreneurship to pioneer new solutions that can change the trajectory of the world, and to tackle our most daunting social challenges, such as crippling poverty, extreme inequity, environmental destruction, and extremism. We need entrepreneurs to invent new ideas and will them into existence, and just as importantly, we need society to support these entrepreneurial ideas to succeed.
[Tony O. Elumelu] I believe that entrepreneurs, like other private sector operators, have an obligation to channel their acumen toward enhancing their social environments, as much as their financial statements. I run an Africapitalist organization, which means that my businesses create value for shareholders and society alike. For example, our Transcorp Power company is one of our nation’s top power generators—in 2013, we inherited a plant that generated less than 150 megawatts of electricity and now we contribute 750 megawatts to Nigeria’s grid, more than 15% of the country’s output. With increased power output, businesses, schools, hospitals and even private households are better able to save on running costs, freeing up capital for critical expenditures. We also run an agribusiness, Teragro, which is Nigeria’s first local producer of juice concentrate. Until Teragro began processing these concentrates, working directly with local farmers and giving them increased access to the wealth they help to create, Nigeria imported 100% of the concentrate used to manufacture juices that are consumed locally. Thus, our activities contribute to the companies’ bottom line, while creating jobs, improving quality of life and retaining more local value within the country.
It is inarguable that entrepreneurs play a key role in addressing social and global issues, particularly poverty. Personally, I am pleased to see that global leaders now agree that entrepreneurship, not charity, is better able to create progressive, sustainable development that benefits the poor. This is why the United Nations has included the promotion of development-oriented policies that support entrepreneurship in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In many developing countries where competing priorities and limited resources can overwhelm government systems, the private sector is uniquely positioned to mobilize the capital assets that can realize lasting, positive social transformation. The relationship between corporation and community is symbiotic: by contributing to raising the standards of living around them, these entrepreneurs are also positioning their businesses to profit from increased disposable incomes, a healthier, better-educated pool of potential employees, and numerous other benefits.
[Ricardo Salinas] A country without a healthy entrepreneurial culture can never be great. Entrepreneurs produce wealth, drive social change, generate jobs, and create and distribute goods and services that address all sorts of needs for people. In addition, an increasing number of entrepreneurs are taking their social responsibility very seriously. If governments were the key for development in the 19th century, entrepreneurs are the cornerstone of the 21st century economy. Private enterprise has shown to be much more effective, agile and efficient than government in an increasing array of human activities. Creating products and services that are needed by all levels of society is a way to decrease poverty. The most expensive good or service is the one that is unavailable, and this is especially true at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). On the other hand, if you keep attacking entrepreneurs and the wealth that they generate, you are doomed to failure.
[Vladimir Potanin] A businessperson who does not want to be considered a pariah in his own country, who does not want to be disliked, should behave in a way that is socially acceptable. He should help others, provide decent working conditions and decent pay, take care of the environment, care about the social issues. To enjoy respect, a businessperson should personally be involved in philanthropy, or engaged in projects that are important for the country and for society. The main idea here is that a business person should be working for society, not just paying society off.
[Laurence Graff] Giving back is something I feel is the duty of every entrepreneur. If you can improve a child’s life by giving them the provision for education that they may not have otherwise received, then it is something everyone should do. I founded the FACET foundation in 2008 to support young people in South Africa, close to the areas that we find our beautiful stones. We operate three charity initiatives with carefully selected partners and each has benefitted the communities that they operate in a great deal.
Q: How can entrepreneurs take their whole organization ‘with them’ on the journey?
[Sir Richard Branson] I stand by what I have said before – there is no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated yourself. People are fundamental in driving the success of a business. You should treat your employees like the smart and capable adults they are. Give them the choice to make informed decisions and you will cultivate an environment in which everyone can flourish.
Q: How do you stay motivated, innovative and stay creative?
[Sir Richard Branson] I love to challenge myself so creativity comes with that. I also think it’s important to keep your body active as well as your mind, so I believe challenges in the physical sense are just as important.
The Big Change team have worked incredibly hard on our third STRIVE challenge this year. It has been a gruelling but wonderful experience doing this alongside my children, Holly and Sam and an amazing group of people all dedicated to this worthy cause. This experience was not shy of some falls along the way, as my accident during training showed! But my attitude has always been, if you fall flat on your face, at least you’re moving forward. All you have to do is get back up and try again!
[Laurence Graff[Diamonds are a miracle of nature, they are millions of years old, they survived a hazardous journey to the earth’s surface and the discovery of them is an exciting moment. To see the rough diamond and then watch it come to life on the polisher’s wheel with incredible fire and scintillation is incredibly inspiring. I stare into the depths of a diamond and I am lost for a moment in its beauty. I am constantly in awe and inspired by this and feel honoured to work with these magnificent stones each day.
[Frederik Paulsen] I wanted to prove to my parents that I could take this company they had started, and develop it into something incredible; that was my real driver.
Just before my father passed away, the company had grown considerably. He said to me, ‘I have six children, and who would have believed that you, Frederik, out of all my children would have been the one that succeeded!’ I’m not sure that was a compliment!
[Dennis Crowley] Different things energise different people. I get energised from building things that people like – such as when we launch a new feature in Swarm or the Foursquare City Guide app. That makes me feel great and makes me want to keep building. When we built a soccer team and a thousand people showed up to watch them play? That also makes me feel great and energizes me to make that product and experience better for fans.
I’ve met people who are totally motivated by being in the press, or motivated by money, and so many things… but for me, it’s about making sure people enjoy the things we’re building. That’s what keeps me motivated.
Q: Are entrepreneurs born or made?
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] Entrepreneurship is not something you are born with, it’s about dreaming, daring, sacrifice and passion. These are attributes that one can pick up, if one is in the right environment, and with the right opportunities and encouragement.
The truth is that anybody can be an entrepreneur.
Q: What is your view on risk as an entrepreneur?
[Thor Björgólfsson] Are you the guy who wants to know what he gets at the end of the month? Or are you the guy who says I’ll take my chances and will do very well or very badly. If you can make that distinction in your own mind, the rest is up to you. That’s where entrepreneurship comes from; it means you can live with risk.
Risk appetite is crucial for entrepreneurs.
Take a look at todays’ venture capital world, people try and build in some element of risk by tying founder’s own outcomes to the performance of the company, but the bottom line is the entrepreneur needs to understand what their own perspective is.
If you can’t handle the risk and you’re stressed out all the time, all you’ll do is focus on getting to the finishing line. If you can handle the risk, you are free of worry and can immerse yourself… diving headfirst into your venture. That’s where the winners come out.
Q: How can being self-aware help entrepreneurs?
[Gary Vaynerchuk] I’ve always been pretty self-aware, and that really helped me succeed in my early days.
Being self-aware means talking to yourself quite a bit, and being honest with yourself.
As I put myself ‘out there.’ I’ve had to be more sensitive and more self-aware because of the negatives that come with it- vanity, ego, and all those things.
Because I’m self-aware of how people may perceive me, and because I try and be in tune with some of those vain, simplistic, and raw needs… I’m pushing even harder on my ‘noble’ characteristics to balance the vanity, selfishness and lowest common denominator characteristics.
For me acknowledging the fact that I love when people take a selfie with me, I realise I have a sense of responsibility to give even more back to my community to have that luxury.
Q: What are the key drivers for an entrepreneur?
[Sir Richard Branson] It’s a combination of passion, vision, creativity and a sense of adventure.
I have said on many occasions the reason to start a new business should not be about making money! You need to have a passion for the project and want to make a difference.
At Virgin we enter into new markets to stir up the competition and offer a choice and transparency to the consumer.
[Robin Li] I don’t think that those who set out to create companies with nothing in mind other than making money are apt to succeed. That’s not going to get you out of bed, eager to get to work. It has to come from a higher place. In my case, I knew that I had the ability, through these technologies that I understood well and could confidently implement, to make a real difference in the access ordinary people had to information. And I knew that connecting people to information in the easiest, most convenient way would make a tremendous difference in the world. It wasn’t an abstract desire to create. And money is just an afterthought. What drove me to it was this desire to make a difference in an area that badly needed it, and my recognition that I was the right person to step on and take on that challenge.
[Sir James Dyson] Frustration – from vacuum cleaners that don’t work properly, to bulky, inefficient motors, I am forever being frustrated by products that don’t do the job and so I develop technology that works better. At Dyson we have spent over £40 million to create the Dyson Digital Motor because we knew we could do better than what was currently on offer. This is what excites me, seeing an idea develop from a sketch to a fully functioning machine. This attitude is at the heart of Dyson’s 2,000 engineers and scientists. It drives the company forward.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] I use the word ‘entrepreneurship’ in the context of personal-profit driven business only. For social business I’ll use ‘social business entrepreneurship’. Both are entrepreneurship, but of different kinds, leading to different results. For clarity I am using two qualifying words for one.
The difference between the two types entrepreneurship is very significant. One is selfish entrepreneurship, another is selfless entrepreneurship. It is the selfless entrepreneurship which will lead world to social, economic, and environmental sustainability, and create a new civilization of balance between present residents of the world and all future generations.
[Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw] There are different types of entrepreneurs. There are entrepreneurs who will do it at any cost, they are so passionate about their ideas and bringing things to market, that they’re willing to stick it out at all odds. I consider myself in that class, I went through a huge number of challenges, and stuck it out.
Today’s entrepreneurs, I feel, are less risk-takers. The main approach they take is to secure funding, without giving-up the comfort… through smart funding. I was willing to make sacrifices, I was willing to rough it out and struggle. In those days the concept of venture funding didn’t exist! I had to rough it out to get to success… but today, young entrepreneurs are driven by the excitement of creating a company of their own. It’s driven by an opportunistic fad.
In Bangalore, which is becoming the start-up capital of the world, you are seeing a huge number of tech start-ups. I know that only a few of them will be really successful, and many will fall by the wayside, but these guys are not taking huge risks because they know that if their businesses fail, they can just take up employment. They’re just saying, “hey, this is so cool… let’s give up our jobs and try it out!”. These companies get funded by VCs, who are driven by ideas, and so the entrepreneurs are not leaving their comfort zones.
Entrepreneurs who leave their comfort zones are the ones who will make it big, those are the entrepreneurs who really believe in their idea.
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] At the highest level, entrepreneurs are driven by a passion to make a difference to society. After this, there is the desire- shared by all entrepreneurs- to create wealth for themselves, their colleagues and family.
Ultimately, entrepreneurship boils down to the desire to become more relevant to society. It is the desire to make the environment better for people; that is how you get recognised, respected, and how- ultimately- you have the opportunity to make money.
The drive of entrepreneurship is about earning the respect of society by becoming relevant to that society.
[Tim Draper] I believe it is the mission that drives the best entrepreneurs. In my experience, entrepreneurs driven by money will give up when the money dries up, and the entrepreneurs who are driven by leading people usually run out of money because they overhire.
[Wendy Kopp] In my case, it’s an obsession with how different the world would be if many more of society’s most capable, committed, promising future leaders channelled their energy towards ensuring that the world’s most marginalized children have the chance to fulfil their potential. This idea has proven much more challenging than I initially dreamed it could be, but at the same time my conviction in its importance has grown a lot stronger as I’ve learned more about the extent and nature of the problem of educational inequity and how we can solve it.
[Steve Case] The drive to make a difference is important for entrepreneurs, there is a certain passion that comes around an idea that you- or a team- has which says, “hey! This is a better product, or a better service, or a better way of doing things… we want to make it available to everybody!”
The act of taking an idea and making it available to everybody, with scale and impact is a huge motivator for entrepreneurs.
In my own journey, 30 years ago when we started AOL- only 3% of people were online. We thought the world would be better if everyone was online, and we set-out to do that. It took a decade before we got traction, but we were driven by the idea that living in a more digital and interconnected world would be a good thing for society. Our motivation was partly about building our business, but partly about building this new medium- the internet.
That same kind of drive we had, is what we see in entrepreneurs we get involved with. It’s not just about building a business, it’s also about having a real impact in the world.
[Jerry Yang] What drive entrepreneurs vary; but most good entrepreneurs feel and see a need for change (and a need to innovate/disrupt) out of necessity. Often the way to do something “better” is so compelling to them, even if the rest of the world may not see it yet. Many entrepreneurs are also perfectionists – they strive for excellence and have a higher standard of achievement than the rest of the world.
[Tony O. Elumelu] Ask any entrepreneur and most, if not all, will tell you that they are driven by passion. This passion could be for a single, innovative idea, or it could be a passion to do something that changes the world. But without passion, it would be impossible to stay the course of this most challenging of vocations, and rewards at the end of the journey make all the struggle worthwhile.
[Dave McClure] Every entrepreneur is motivated by different things… It could be a passion to get a business off the ground, it could be solving a problem- it could be a one-person company where someone is running their own business, a food-truck for example- or it could be someone changing the world with a new technology, or a new way of doing things.
Small business and entrepreneurship is a driver for job creation and economic benefit. Tech entrepreneurship also gives people the ability to scale a lot faster, and larger than traditional businesses have in the past- and that’s very exciting.
[David Cohen] I’ve worked with a lot of great companies, and many that didn’t turn-out so well. One thing I can tell you is that what drives entrepreneurs, what they look like and what makes them tick is all over the map.
When you talk about the general patterns of some of the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve been around, the common thread is that they have a vision of the future of the world. They see the world a certain way, and they want it to be that way.
I was an early investor in the first-round of Uber, and when I first met Ryan Graves (employee #1 at Uber), he had a very clear vision of what was wrong with transportation and how they wanted to change the way people wanted to move around cities. You got this feeling that he wasn’t going to stop until the world worked like that!
As I think about other great entrepreneurs I’ve been around, they have a clear shared-vision that they can communicate, that they are very motivated to make happen.
[Ricardo Salinas] There is something special in every true entrepreneur, and it is not the pursuit of money for its own sake. There is an internal fire that burns inside and drives them to lead a more difficult and uncertain life than the rest. There is also the assurance that you have a new process to resolve an existing problem or a new product that can change lives. An entrepreneur is by definition a nonconformist, always in need to change things. When you tap into this vein with the right energy and team, it will more often than not lead to financial gain.
[Vladimir Potanin] To an entrepreneur it is important to see the results of your efforts – not just in the bottom line, but in how a company has been transformed. This is an important psychological factor.
[Dr. Michael Otto] In Europe, entrepreneurs are less driven by getting rich. The emphasis is on the desire to put an idea into practice. Successful company founders quickly come to terms with setbacks and failures, and see these more as incentives to keep going.
In my own case, as I joined a company that had already been established, I was particularly driven to further expand the company from a nationally important mail order company to an international company group. Besides diversification and internationalisation, most importantly we took the first steps towards the digital transformation back in the 1990s.
[Naveen Jain] If I care enough about something, as opposed to writing a cheque and letting someone else do it, or bitching about the problem, I say… ‘you know what? If I care enough about something? I’m going to go out and do it…’ that means I’m giving one of the most valuable things I have… my time. In life, you can always make more money and get more of everything- but one thing you can never get back is the time you give.
People measure success in different ways, but whether you look at Bill Gates or Mother Teresa… the thing they have in common is their ability to go out and make a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Success is not about how much money you have in the bank, but rather – how many lives have you been able to impact positively.
As humans, we are giving. Compassion and empathy are hard-wired into who we are – but for many people, they think that writing a cheque and calling it philanthropy satisfies that part of us. To me, philanthropy is not about giving money, it’s about solving problem. The bigger the problem, the bigger the impact you can have.
You may become rich, engage in philanthropy and help a million people but the only way you can help a billion people is by building a profitable business. Making money has almost become a taboo! People say, “oh my god! You’re making money?” and I say, “you know what? I’m so proud that my business makes money… it’s the only way I can scale and make a huge impact…”
People get so cagey; they may want to provide fresh water to billions of people but choose to make it non-profit because of the taboo of making money doing it. You know what? If you can’t make a profit, you can’t help a billion people – so go make a profit!
If you care about providing fresh water, affordably, to billions of people, and let’s assume that you are able to do that, and in the process you made a billion dollar profit… are people going to come to you and say, “how dare you help a billion people?!” no…. they’re probably going to say, “you know what, we’re really proud of you and we wish you could have made an even bigger profit!” why? You solved a problem.
This whole concept of a social entrepreneur has done a disservice to society. To me, the term ‘social entrepreneur’ is akin to a consolation prize, it’s like saying ‘hey, you could have been a good entrepreneur so let’s give you a consolation prize…’
Entrepreneurship is social, we are all social entrepreneurs!
[Will.I.Am] I’ve never said, ‘yeah man, we’re gonna’ be rich!’ – money has never been the ‘carrot’ for me. How do you keep driving forward and doing things? That’s what motivates me… I’m like, ‘man, what’s next? What can we do next?’
I live in four little boxes… Music, Philanthropy, Entrepreneurship and Television.
Music… What always frustrated the hell out of the Black Eyed Peas about me was that we would be at the Super bowl, or would have just finished a 3-night stadium tour, playing 80,000 seats or 120,000 people, and I would say, ‘right guys, what’s next?’ and everybody would be like, ‘ahh, c’mon man, why not just relax?’ but I’d be like, ‘c’mon, we could do this, we could do that!’ My mind just never stopped thinking about what we could be doing next.
Philanthropy… We have college track, a robotics programme, a computer science programme, and I keep thinking about what next? What else can we put in to take this forward? I’m always searching for what we can do next to build.
Entrepreneurship… I’m always in meetings going, ‘hey, we can do this! or we can do that!’ or ‘we need to get to meet this person,’ or ‘let’s go hunt down that person, or that company.’ There is a tenacity, an energy to how I approach it. I want to hurry-up and complete ‘this’ so we can move onto the next thing we should be working on! Even when we get to market, I’m always thinking of how we can get to market in a big way, what partners do we need? What partners are we missing? Or do we even need partners? I’m like, ‘let’s go to Israel and find AI people, let’s go to the Philippines and find developers.’
Television… I didn’t even think I wanted to do TV. I got a call from the BBC who were like, ‘you’d be great on television…’ I did TV for 4 years through the BBC and then decided I wanted to develop my own shows. I pitched a show to a couple of networks and didn’t get any traction, that happens… your first time at something you’ll get slammed… that hurt. I’m a big fan of Apple, I love Apple. In the world of music, Apple would be Michael Jackson. I did music, never thought I would work with Michael Jackson; but he’s my hero, my inspiration, and the same applies to Apple. I found out about Apple TV, and decided to pitch them an idea instead of going to traditional networks. The first piece of content they’re commissioning on Apple TV is my show ‘Planet of the Apps.’
You have to keep reaching, keep thinking about what the next-level is.
If we climbed Mount Everest together…. And we were all at the top, tired, with blisters, dehydrated… I’m the guy who’s like, ‘Yo! Let’s build a freakin’ rocket launcher here so we can go to the Moon! We’re close enough!’
[Donna Karan] I’m driven to do what I haven’t done. I love a creative challenge, to learn a new craft, a new business, a new way of doing things. The inspiration is always there. Right now, I’m looking out the window at a tree that has white leaves and wondering what I can do with it. Creatively, nature always inspires me. But on a practical level, it’s about filling the void, coming up with something that answers the frustration of what’s missing, what would make life easier. For example, I’m obsessed with creating an urban hotel and wellness center. I want all my medical and spa needs in one place so I don’t have to run around the city. That’s the kind of thing I want to address while still dressing people. I want to help my customer inside and out.
Q: What are the characteristics of a great entrepreneur?
[Robin Li] I think that only a very small handful of entrepreneurs are “born” with all the requisite abilities they need to succeed. Most of us have many skills that we’ve needed to learn along the way. In an incredibly dynamic industry like the Internet, you’re faced with the constant possibility that you, the disruptor, will quickly become the disrupted. You have to be ready to embrace change, and to be ready for it not just in terms of your business, but psychologically ready for the kind of change—excited by, and attracted to, change itself. I think an entrepreneur needs to have finely tuned sensitivity to what change is coming. You have to have almost a precognition of what’s around the next bend. But you need to balance this with an ability to shut out noise, to avoid distraction and to stay focused on what you’re doing. It’s not easy in such amid the great clamor and the rapid change.
Great entrepreneurs thrive and feel truly alive when they’re in the heat of competition. They have an intense desire to do everything they do to the best of their ability. They are not afraid of losing. They take risks, but informed, calculated risks, neither heedless nor needless.
[Sir James Dyson] Inventors shouldn’t be afraid to take risks. They should embrace failure and learn from their mistakes. I created 5,127 prototypes of the first Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner and only the last one was right! Not being afraid to fail is something I think all successful entrepreneurs have in common. When it comes to leadership I always wanted to have a team that shared my drive, but also could disagree with me. That was the case when I started with just 5 people and it is still the case for the 5,000 people we now have at Dyson. At Dyson we continue to challenge convention and lead the way in disruptive technology. Take our Dyson Tap for example. It combines our Airblade technology, which completely dries hands in just 12 seconds, with a tap to create a compact solution for washrooms around the world.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] A great entrepreneur is some one who makes this world better, sustainable, addresses problems of people and planet, inspires other people to follow his path. He is remembered for what he has done for the world, not what he has done for himself. Success of an enterprise should not be measured by the stock market success. It is a narrowly defined indicator. If we continue to take this indicator as the measure of success, economic and other sustainability we’ll go out of the window; we’ll be put on the path of ultimate disaster. To avoid that we’ll have to redefine business and the concept of business success. Under the redefined concept, our business success will be a measure of bringing balance in the three P’s , Profit, People, and Planet. While we’ll consider the benefits to the people, we’ll have to make sure not only we consider the people today, but also consider the interest of the people who will be here in this planet over many future millenniums. Our successors should be grateful to us remembering that we left them a good and safe planet and healthy structure of a balanced society.
[Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw] Entrepreneurship is about very innovative ideas, it’s not about copying another successful business. When I think of true entrepreneurship, I think of pioneering spirit. It’s where you basically say, “hey, I want to do something different, something new, something others have not thought of…” It could be a new idea, a new way of doing things, or a combination of many things. Anyone who imitates or cut-and-pastes a business model is a businessman and not an entrepreneur.
For example, Uber in my view is an entrepreneurial company and the follow-ons are imitators. Uber has de-risked the entire industry; their followers are not taking the same risk. Uber went in first, de-risked the format, made it succeed and showed the business model could work. The others are imitators, not entrepreneurs…
When I look at something that has nobody has thought of, there’s a wow factor! When I started Biocon in India, in 1978 when nobody had thought of biotechnology, that was the wow factor. Every time I thought of new technologies or products, I got that same feeling- and that’s when I knew I had discovered something that nobody else had. Picking out opportunities ahead of others is always something that is very exciting, and some of these will always have that wow factor. I have looked at picking out new technologies that have led me to become a leader; we have path-breaking ideas that give me that wow-factor. We are trying to develop the world’s first oral insulin, the world’s first anti CB6 antibody which is now being commercialised in India, platform technologies for cancer and many other conditions.
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] The first attribute of an entrepreneur is courage…
Great entrepreneurs have courage to dream the impossible, to walk the un-trodden paths, to go against the vast majority of nay-sayers and to make huge sacrifices in the hope that tomorrow will bring better days.
The second attribute of an entrepreneur is optimism and hope. When you want to take risks and when you want to walk down the road less travelled or un-travelled, you have to be positive and optimistic.
Great entrepreneurs are people with tremendous passion. Without passion you cannot go on a journey that requires such huge personal sacrifices, looks bleak, risky and impossible in the beginning. Great entrepreneurs are people who act according to the adage, “A plausible impossibility is better than a convincing possibility!“ They could easily take-up a 9 – 5 job anytime with good pay and lead a comfortable life. But, instead, they say “This looks impossible, but it is plausible and I want to lead this task!” Such a dynamic mind-set only comes out of passion, optimism, hope and courage.
Great entrepreneurs are essentially leaders. Why? Because, leadership is about raising the aspirations of people, and empowering them to convert what seems impossible to the realm of possibility; making it a better world for everyone. Robert Kennedy, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, once said “Most people see things as they are and wonder why, I dream of things that never were and say why not…” That is the essence of entrepreneurship and leadership.
Entrepreneurs are very open-minded. They have to be! Unless you are open to new ideas and open to face the risks from these ideas, you cannot transform the world.
[Tim Draper] A great entrepreneur has his or her mission written all over him or her. When asked about anything, the only answer is something that leads to the business. It bursts out of the entrepreneur’s chest when asked about what he or she does.
A great business is something else. A great business has an enormous market, and a focused approach to build a wedge into that enormous market. A great business connects with the end user, and has margins that increase over time because the product is mission critical to the user.
[Jamal Edwards] Great entrepreneurs never give up.
When I see Complex Media just raised 21 million dollars, it gives me hope and shows that the scene is attractive and active. If I’m consistent and keep coming up with new ideas, there’s no reason why SBTV can’t be reaching out to those levels.
Great entrepreneurs also surround themselves with a great team. You need to have people around you that have the same vision as you. You can have a big team, but everyone has to be on the same level, with the same vision.
When I’m fortunate to come across people like Sir Richard Branson, it inspires me to be around them and learn from them, to see their vibe, and connect to what they’re doing.
We always say SBTV means ‘Steadily Building the Vision.’
[Wendy Kopp] I have the great fortune to to work with social entrepreneurs who are pursuing this idea in countries all around the world. In my work with these outstanding entrepreneurs, I’ve seen first-hand that individuals of all different personality types, profiles, experiences can be successful. What they all have in common is underlying passion, extraordinary perseverance, the ability to find creative solutions in the face of obstacles, and a real commitment to continuous learning and improvement.
[Tory Burch] It comes down to passion. People need to believe in your vision and have confidence in your ability to see it through. There are many great ideas that never materialize. You also have to be willing to embrace risk—calculated risks, because not every risk is worth taking. A great business is always innovating. An entrepreneurial environment is ever-changing and not everyone is suited to this. It’s about being flexible and staying calm enough to take it in stride.
[Steve Case] Passion matters… It’s rarely a straight-line to success, usually it’s a roller-coaster.
Entrepreneurship is a team-sport! The entrepreneur is important, but the team around the entrepreneur are critical- they are the ones who will take that idea, and execute against it.
Perseverance is critical too. Whether it’s the internet or other things, evolutions happen in evolutionary ways, and so taking that long-term view is important.
Passion, People and Perseverance… the Three P’s, are the characteristics of great entrepreneurs.
[Jerry Yang] Most successful entrepreneurs share the traits of perseverance, confidence, and tremendous self-awareness. All great entrepreneurs can see the next big things clearly, and can be quite contrarian. On the whole entrepreneurs are extremely focused on the details. Most importantly, a successful entrepreneur knows his/her own weaknesses, and surrounds themselves with people that make them better.
[Tony O. Elumelu] Great men, regardless of their chosen profession, have shared characteristics: discipline, zeal, competitiveness. They are driven to succeed, and often this requires a brazenness or boldness that most will identify as risk-taking behaviour, but is often calculated. Great entrepreneurs do things differently. They exhibit traits that set them apart from the general population and, though not all were born leaders, I believe their achievements make them leaders among their peers.
[Ricardo Salinas] An entrepreneur is willing to weigh and take risks and assume a long term outlook. He or she is furiously independent, displays a high level of energy, and is always looking for ways to improve other people’s lives—the result of these driving characteristics is what creates wealth for society.
[Vladimir Potanin] In the top ranks of any kind of human activity, only those who have a strong will and who are goal-oriented will survive and take leadership positions.
Keeping your word and fully delivering on your obligations are held in very high regard in the business world. The ability to take on responsibility not just for yourself, but for others; to be accountable for the consequences of your decisions and actions.
A person who chooses business as his profession takes on certain risks, so psychologically one needs to be very resilient in the face of challenges. Statistically, fewer than ten percent of people have the psychological make-up to behave this way. Many prefer to have less in life but with greater certainty. Another important point: a business person is just like a surgeon, who cannot work without inflicting pain. Not everyone is capable of it, and few are inclined to do it.
Finally, a business person should have a certain gift for doing business. There are no good musicians who do not have a good ear, no artists without a great imagination, no writers without an excellent command of the language. The same goes for our trade. It is not enough to know how to use a calculator or build sound financial models. You need to have vision. You should look at a business process as if it were a living thing; you need to sense its music. You know, a good chess player does not need to spend a great deal of time calculating – sometimes one look at the chessboard is enough to know if a combination is good or bad. The emotional and creative fire probably isn’t as strong in business, but it is definitely present.
[Will.I.Am] Great entrepreneurs have networks, they have the ability to bring the people together that will help them see their idea through and make it real.
There’s some people that are really gifted at their craft, for example the best guitarist in the world, or the best pianist in the world, or the best singer in the world, or the best graphic designer, the fastest runner…. Just because you’re the best at those things doesn’t mean you know how to bring people together so that everyone else sees that.
Usain Bolt is not just fast. He’s also a great networker. If he wasn’t? he would have stayed where he lived, and would have just been a fast-guy from where he lived! There was something that took him out of his little-square and got him to network, to bring people around him so he could create bigger circles. It’s the same with singing or engineering.
Then there’s people who network like really, really, really, really amazingly. My mentor is Jimmy Iovine; he started off as a producer, became an executive, and was one of the founders of Interscope– which he sold twice- and then he co-founded Beats. Now he works at Apple.
A networker is like a chameleon; you think they’re one thing but they can take any shape- any form.
[Laurence Graff] A great entrepreneur always acts with full intention and without limitation, always striving for the best in everything they do. From an early age I knew I had to rely on myself, look after myself, to not be afraid of anything. It gave me huge confidence and unshakable belief. It is that belief that overcomes obstacles and paves the way to success.
[John Caudwell] The best founders and leaders have extremely sharp commercial senses and abilities, and an absolute drive to produce value, minimise cost and maximise profits. This has to be done however with absolute integrity, morality, honesty and truthfulness.
Without truthfulness I would never have been able to grow anything of any significance, I would have been ‘found out.’ Having truthfulness and ethics within a business creates trust among employees at all levels and is critical. Being realistic, you will always recruit people who turn out to be dishonest- it doesn’t matter how hard you try to avoid it- and you need to remove them very quickly, and also encourage a culture of honesty.
Just as a very small example… none of my employees were ever allowed to take a present at Christmas from any suppliers or customers, nor were they allowed to give any. If people were given presents, we’d gather them altogether and auction them off for our charity! Instead of creating favour as a result of gifts, we created something good.
I had to lead this from the top. I led the company with an approach of complete honesty. That didn’t mean I told people everything; in a lot of cases, I kept a lot of information to myself and managed things on a need-to-know basis, but when I did tell people things, it was always based on the truth. If I couldn’t tell them the truth, I told them I couldn’t tell them and they had to trust me….
So many people make false claims. They promise jam tomorrow, and while a very small number deliver huge rewards, the vast majority fail.
Q: What characterises a great leader?
[Dr. Michael Otto] From my own experience I can say that thoroughly entrepreneurial characters generally have a visionary element to them. By this, I don’t necessarily mean that they were the first to have a business idea, but the way in which they brought their idea to fruition makes them successful pioneers. Additionally I believe that a great leader is also characterised by his commitment to society and environment.
[Jack Welch] I believe that establishing a culture of truth and trust is absolutely critical, and that takes effort and energy every day. You have to ceaselessly reach for truth and trust every day, and you have to be relentless in your pursuit of trust, and show your people that you have their back. That doesn’t mean you are weak, it means you have their back.
Great leaders understand that there are three key measurements to success in a business.
- Employee engagement
- Customer satisfaction
- Cash flow
Employee engagement means you have to get under the skin of every employee, becoming a chief meaning officer, giving your team purpose, getting everyone on the same page. You have to make sure your entire team knows where they’re going, how they’re going to get there, and what’s in it for them. This last question, what’s in it for them? is often left off.
As for customer satisfaction, everyone must understand in their bones that only satisfied customers create growth and long-term business success.
If you get the first two right, the third, cash flow, will come naturally. If you take these three key simple measurements, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow, and orient your strategy around that, you’ll have a winning leadership approach.
As a great leader, you can’t just have initiatives every other day. If you say something is important, you have to mean it. You have to put time, investment, rewards, and resources behind it.
In our school (JWMI) we currently have 1,200 students online with an average age of 38, all of whom work within companies. Our business is to give them the tools to grow vertically in their companies. Many traditional MBA programmes are in essence, a graceful way to change jobs. Our mission is to teach students how to be great leaders.
[Steve Ballmer] The most important thing a leader has to have is an idea on where they want to go and the ability to bring people with them. Most discussion about leadership is about styles and characteristics, but the most important thing is having a clear sense — and a right sense — of where you want to go. Dangerous leaders can be charismatic and effective at mobilizing people, but take them down a wrong path.
So the questions for strong leaders who are trying to do the right thing are: Do you know where you want to go? Are you right?
Number two, you need to have the tools that allow you to build followership. You need to clearly communicate the why, to explain and to show people how they participate, what their role is in making whatever it is you’re trying to do happen.
Q: How do great leaders act as motivators and keystones in their organisations?
[Steve Ballmer] There are many different leadership styles, and something different works for every leader. Preaching about one style or another is probably not all that effective. In smaller organizations you approach motivating people differently than in large ones, and it’s a different thing to be a direct leader of individual employees than to be a leaders of leaders. When Microsoft was small, you could walk into every office…when you have 100,000 people, that’s obviously really different. The techniques of my successor are different than mine, and part of that’s the time, but part is just different muscles and different ways to be – there’s not a right or wrong.
Q: What are the differences in leading a high growth young business versus a public company?
[Steve Balmer] In a smaller company you are working hard just to get to critical mass – getting there is hard. You don’t have a feedback loop that’s already telling you what’s going well and what’s not. Over the time I was at Microsoft, it went from basically a start up, getting an idea and a plan coherent enough to get lift off, and then once you have lift off revving the engine and revving up the hamster wheel.
In a bigger company you get good at spinning the wheel, but when you decide to do something new, that takes one of two forms. The first is a linear extension of what you’ve done before, the other looks more like something new for which you need to be build new capabilities you don’t yet have. In that second case, you need to do what I call getting in the weight room, build new muscles so you may be ready to pounce, see opportunities that are not yet in front of you, build skills in new areas.
Small companies will get an idea and try to scale up. Big companies have to decide when to extend, when to extend and scale, and when to do something new. They need to build capabilities in terms of insight and execution to do the new thing.
Q: What enables a startup to become a scale-up?
[Dennis Crowley] It’s a mix of product-market-fit, size of the opportunity, and whether there’s a great behind it. That said, some ideas are just really good ideas. Airbnb is a good idea, Uber is good idea, Snapchat just takes off… people love it.
With Foursquare, our original app was a good idea but it wasn’t a hundred million users good idea. The data behind the app, and what we do with the data? That’s our good idea. That’s our hundred million dollars in revenue idea. When people think of Foursquare, they think of our two apps (Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm) – but the apps are only a small part of the reason we’re performing really well as a company. The bigger story is what we can do with the data the apps generate, and the technology we’ve built to enable that. That is the reason we’ve been able to scale.
I made a check-in service called Dodgeball before Foursquare, it was moderately successful and we sold it to Google. When we started Foursquare, we knew we needed more people to use it- so we put game dynamics into it. That was a calculated decision to make it more approachable and accessible and interesting, and that’s what made it mainstream. We knew early on, however, that the big play was in the data and what you could do with the data.
Q: What are the challenges of building a high-growth business?
[John Caudwell] The challenges of a high-growth business are utterly endless.
To grow, a business needs to be filled with the very best people- but for young businesses in their infancy or startup phase, attracting these people can be extremely hard. The people you attract to your business are part of its evolution; as you become more successful, you are able to get better people, which in turn makes you more successful, and so on.
For some businesses, those that have a very unique selling proposition, like a Dyson vacuum cleaner, the commercial aspect of running the business is made a lot easier by having a desirable proposition right from the start.
If you don’t have a desirable product, and you’re a ‘me too’ player like we were, your differentiator comes down to the skill of your people to operate with honesty, integrity, with high levels of service, while achieving the best value possible. To achieve the very best price, while remaining profitable and giving people great value does, in itself, present challenges. You have to negotiate the best deals you can with manufacturers… you have to have very slick internal operations to keep your cost of sales and operation down… but you have to still pay your people really motivational salaries and bonuses! This last piece is important. You cannot run a business without great people, who are incentivised to be great; and so, you must protect them, and pay them appropriately.
There were times when we were recruiting thousands of people in a year, and the stress and pressure that places on everything and everyone is immense. Growth puts your management systems, operational systems and accommodation under pressure. How do you start a business with one or two people like I did and grow to a hundred? One of the many challenges, for example, is accommodation. Where is it going to come from? And then when you go from a hundred to a thousand, where do you put all those people!? Then there are all the other challenges like management systems, HR, IT systems, culture, cash flow and so many more. These are all huge dilemmas for growing businesses. Just keeping the infrastructure of your business scaling and running efficiently is a formidable challenge.
I scaled the business from just me, to 10,000 people some 20 years later. Scaling and keeping control of that business was practically impossible- I failed many times, but managed to succeed overall through sheer determination, hard-work and having very, very good people.
As my business was growing, I looked at the failures more than the successes (which are easy to take for granted). As a business owner, I was probably criticised for being somewhat failure-focussed. I used to say to all my people that yes- we can celebrate our successes, and we have to succeed, but the failures are what will sink the business or hold it back. You have to take a balanced view, appreciate that you’re doing well and growing, but also appreciate that there will be failures and problems in the business, and until those are put right- you cannot celebrate too much!
Q: What are the biggest areas of impact to invest?
[Naveen Jain] When choosing the areas I want to invest, I start with one basic question which is, ‘what are the biggest problems facing humanity?’ I then look at the technological innovations that are at my disposal. Why? It’s the convergence of technologies at any given time that allow individuals to achieve the things which simply were not possible before.
As more and more people buy smartphones for example, you can imagine the number of sensors on these devices is increasing. They’re becoming smaller, more complex and cheaper too. At the same time, you’re starting to see the bandwidth of connectivity to these devices increasing. Thirdly, they computing power on these devices is approaching a marginal cost of zero as you have massive computing power in the cloud, on demand. When you have massive bandwidth, massive computing power and complex sensors, you can start to do things that were never possible before. Your smartphone can be used to diagnose diseases for example – every disease has a pattern, and if you can use your smartphone’s sensors to measure inputs (ultrasound, temperature, pressure, blood, and so on) and put that data in the cloud to be analysed – you are able to find patterns and diagnose diseases like never before.
My new venture ‘Blue Dot,’ takes advantage of the inventions and innovations that are sitting in our research labs- places like NASA, our Universities and National Research Labs. We’re putting these innovations together to solve problems in all spaces. For example, why is it that we cannot easily tell whether someone has a bacterial or viral infection, this should be a trivially easy thing for us to do! Every single time you’re sick, you need to know whether it’s bacterial or viral so you know whether to take antibiotics. If we don’t get this simple question right, we’re going to end up with another massive problem – we’re going to end up back in the pre-medicine era, where people will die of common infections because our antibiotics aren’t working.
Space is also hugely exciting at the moment. Think about it.., only three superpowers have ever landed on the Moon. The United States, Russia and maybe China (I say maybe because they crashed, rather than landed). Now? A small group of individuals are doing things that previously could only have been achieved by superpowers. My venture Moon-Express is planning to land on the Moon next year, and just think about that – it means a small group of people have suddenly become the fourth superpower. Not the UK, Germany, France or a Fortune 500 company… but a small committed group of people. The cost? Under 10 million dollars.
Elon Musk has brought the cost of putting a rocket in orbit from hundreds of millions of dollars down to around $60 million. That’s not good enough… just look at entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson, with LauncherOne, Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin or New Zealand based Rocket Lab who are building 3D printing Titanium rockets which can put an object in orbit for under $5 million. We’re getting to a stage where the marginal cost of putting an object in space is just the fuel; and that means it’s now not unrealistic to get to a stage where you could get to space for under $1 million, or even Mars for under $1 million.
The biggest cost of leaving Earth is the weight of the fuel. Think about this in terms of cars… you don’t buy a car with all the fuel you will ever need for your journey, you fill it up from time to time as you go places. What if we can create fuel-depots in Earth orbit, on the Moon and elsewhere. We could create fuel from the water on the Moon, or the gases in space and suddenly you don’t have to carry as much fuel and so the cost of getting into orbit gets even lower.
Q: What can entrepreneurs learn from nature?
[Sir Richard Branson] I have always had a love of nature. When I was younger I spent lots of time running around outside, climbing trees and getting into adventures. My early experiences with nature really helped shape my personality and thirst for exploration. I have a very busy mind and being outdoors and surrounded by nature gives me time to think, put things into perspective and it encourages me creatively.
Q: What has been the role of adventure and exploration in your life?
[Frederik Paulsen] I grew up in a Nordic country and my grandmother (who was Norwegian) got me fascinated by her travels and trips. When I was at a stage in my life where I had the time, I started travelling to the North- initially to the Faro Islands, and then onwards to Iceland and Greenland. During one of my trips to France, I met someone who was organising trips to the North Pole, and after that- there was no looking back.
Q: How do you stay productive and manage your mental-health and wellbeing as an entrepreneur?
[Sir Richard Branson] Similarly to how I stay motivated, staying active is something that I champion as giving me energy to keep me productive. Setting goals is also something I find helpful. I don’t know how many red notebooks I have gone through over the years! I always have one with me to journal my thoughts and set goals as soon as they come to me. By writing things down, I find them easier to process into action.
The key to productivity and mental health of course is to enjoy what you do and remember why you do it. A work-life balance is so important and balancing doing and being has been a lifelong lesson for me, but something I finally feel comfortable with. Alongside the meetings, appointments and emails, find time to be inspired, take in the beauty of the world and laugh with your loved ones.
[Donna Karan] Wellness is the secret to not getting sick – to prevent disease before it has an opportunity to set in. We’ve become a nation of disease-care instead of human care. Why let it even get negative if you can avoid it? My basic philosophy has always been to accentuate the positive and delete the negative. On a personal basis, that means integrating yoga, meditation, massage into my daily life. Recognizing that nutrition and food matter. That if you treat your mind, body and spirit well, you have a better chance at reaching your potential, however you define and dream it.
[Thor Björgólfsson] One or two of my friends have described my key trait as being able to function well with uncertainty on every level. Many people can find uncertainty in just one area of their lives as a problem, but for me – I thrive in that world, even when many areas of my life are uncertain.
Entrepreneurs learn to switch-off to a degree, but that stress has to go somewhere. There are many times you wake-up in the middle of the night with thoughts running around, and you need to be able to manage that.
I go to the gym regularly, and try to do as much socialising and motor cycle riding as I can, anything to take my mind off things.
My mind is such that I can’t switch off. I’ve tried meditation, I can’t do it!.
When I’m skiing as fast as I can down a mountain, I can’t be talking or thinking about anything else. When I’m on a motorcycle whizzing down the highway, I can’t talk to the guy next to me, talk on the phone or worry about work, I have to focus on the road. In these situations I get that kinda’ ‘zen like’ sense of peace and clarity.
I’ve always been quite good at taking breaks regularly and doing one of these activities which puts my brain in neutral for a while before I get back into full-on life. Doctors may recommend doing this for 20 minutes a day, but I can’t do that! Every 15 days I’ll do 5 days, something like that!
Q: What is the role of resilience to leadership?
[Jack Welch] Your character is built by set-backs, and how well you ‘get back on the horse,’ is a critical element to where you go, and how far you go. You can’t be punched in the nose and then lie on the floor.
We talk about resilience all the time, in my own life I’ve had a factory blow up, I’ve had bad acquisitions, and lots of set-backs. I’ve learned from each of these experiences.
It’s important to talk about your own set-backs and challenges so that people know that they’re not the first one to get punched in the nose or to fall off the horse.
You have to be resilient to succeed in business. You have to, face yourself in the mirror in the morning and get ready to face the day ahead.
You have to be resilient about your own strategy and stance too… as a leader, you have to make unpopular decisions sometimes, but as long as you’re open and transparent, explaining your reasons that’s fine; that’s just business. Our employee satisfaction was so high was that nobody ever got surprised. If a manager surprised an employee, the manager had to bear the consequences. In a company, people have to know where they stand. Too many people live their lives in a company in the dark about where they’re going and how well (or not) they’re doing. It’s tragic.
Q: What are the sources of entrepreneurial ideas?
[Sir Richard Branson] There are many things that can inspire an entrepreneurial idea – for example if you receive poor customer service you may be inspired to create a better product or experience.
Listen to friends and family – they often have great ideas and can offer invaluable advice.
I always carry a small notebook to jot down thoughts, ideas and conversations I have with people when travelling or working. The idea to start an airline came when I was stranded in the Caribbean and decided to charter a flight out – I sold seats to the other stranded passengers to pay for the charter.
Have an open mind as you never know when an opportunity or idea might present itself.
In the next 10 years, we will all head into unknown territory as we face a vast increase in our demand for energy, yet remain worryingly over-dependent on oil. If entrepreneurs go into the field of renewable energy for the right reasons, along the way they are likely to create some very exciting new technologies and successful new businesses.
[Robin Li] Opportunities generally arise from landscape change. But entrepreneurial ideas can come from anywhere. They can come from recognizing where the pain points, the bottlenecks, and the inefficiencies are. They can come from late-night conversations with friends, or from random eureka moments. But for me and for Baidu, one source of entrepreneurial ideas has been the need to serve the underserved population. Serving the underserved is a real impetus for innovation. Making technology accessible to people who aren’t inherently tech-savvy, and who might be far from fluent with technologies that educated and wealthy urbanites now take for granted, isn’t about making simplified, dumbed-down versions. It actually poses technology challenges. A great example of this is speech input for mobile phones. Speaking is the most intuitive interface of all, but there’s a real challenge in being able to capture words accurately—and an even greater challenge in actually understanding the meaning of those words, and their intention. I think that in today’s world, looking to serving the needs of the next billion Internet users—or even the next three billion—will generate many of the greatest entrepreneurial ideas.
[Tim Draper] Ideas come from so many places. Some entrepreneurs generate their ideas when they are pursuing something entirely different. The Hotmail team was going to be a listing service for the internet before they decided to do web based email and viral marketing came from me! The Skype team started out at Kazaa doing file sharing with music before they decided to go after global telecommunications. Some entrepreneurs just get frustrated with the company that they are working for because they believe the company should be going in another direction. Some entrepreneurs are really good engineers pursuing a fun hobby. I know that was true with Yahoo.
[Vladimir Potanin] A sign of the times is that markets, investors, and consumers value only extreme success (Apple, Microsoft, Facebook….) Winner takes all. The very second you no longer amaze the world, it all tumbles down. It is quite probable that in the future this will contribute to volatility.
In private equity, we mostly rely on companies that generate revenue. Aside from that, in some cases we have invested based on the project’s own cashflow potential to break even.
We have a good team at Interros coming up with different scenarios for concluding interesting deals. As an example – the acquisition of a pharmaceutical company. It is a promising industry, and it is a business that creates something useful, namely medicines and vaccines.
I like to work on business ventures that bring something useful to people. At the same time, we look for high-margin industries.
Q: Why is disruption important?
[David Cohen] We’re early in a trend which is the megatrend of the impact of the internet and information world. We’re not that far into it, and that one technology has been the trigger for an incredible amount of disruption.
the availability of information and the capability of communication it has provided has enabled 20 years of massive disruption. You need look no further than the Fortune 500 companies…. It’s 50% different than 30 years ago. Very large companies have died and been replaced by innovators; that used to take a lot longer…. Companies used to survive 100, 200 years or more…. That’s harder now without continuing to disrupt yourself and challenge your business model. The internet has enabled all that, and we’re still seeing the amplified effects of that.
Talk to any consumer that feels ripped off by any process, and that area of our lives will change and be disrupted. The easy one I can point to is the real-estate industry. Here in the US, you pay a flat rate of 6% as the seller, to sell your home, whether it takes 30 seconds or 4 years! That will change… That will become based on merit, effort and technology will help tremendously. I don’t expect that industry will work the same in a decade… in the same way that cities that are snarled by traffic are being disrupted by Uber.
Anywhere we feel frustration, constriction or see unfair markets – we are likely to see significant change.
Q: What do you feel are the characteristics of a successful enterprise?
[Sir Richard Branson] I believe that success in business can be measured by if you enjoy what you are doing; create something that stands out; create something that everyone is really proud of.
A great company needs to have an excellent product or service at its core; needs strong management to execute the plan and a good brand to give it the edge over its competitors. It also needs excellent people who really believe in what they’re doing. People are at the heart of all Virgin businesses. Often entrepreneurs can create a good product and a brand but need to bring in management to help expand and create a truly great company.
[Robin Li] From my own experience, I think success comes from focus and persistence—in my case focus on and persistence in technology. I’ve really done one thing for well over 20 years now. I’ve always believed that hard work and the ability to stick to it can overcome almost any differences in natural intellect among people. Success comes not from IQ but from values, passions, willingness to learn, motivation to improve, and dedication.
Focus is not at all easy. There are countless temptations along the way, and often an entrepreneur will waver and be tempted to pivot to another opportunity. For Baidu, in our crucial years, we resisted the siren song of things like wireless value-added services and games, which many of our Chinese peers were seduced by. It may have meant good short-term revenues, but it took them off mission while we continued to stay very focused on search.
Every company is going to experience the ups and downs, and be plagued by all manner of troubles and problems. But if you hew to your ideals and believe in your future, that can go a long way toward getting you through the difficult stretches.
I would also add that a strong core company culture is really important. It’s the glue that can really hold a company together. For us, that core culture has always been about “simplicity and reliability.” Simplicity means that we encourage a real directness and candor in speech. We don’t use any honorific titles, and we keep the organization very flat. There’s an abhorrence of any office politics. Reliability means that every Baidu employee brings a spirit of professionalism and we expect and deliver nothing short of excellence.
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] The first attribute of a great business is longevity; that is why I have tremendous respect for companies that have been in business for a long time such as IBM, GE, Unilever and Philips.
Commercial longevity is about successfully navigating through peaks and troughs. It’s about going through difficult periods, learning to take the inevitable disappointments and continually improve. Longevity is about dusting your knees when you fall down and continuing your journey. It is also the ability to make a difference to society on a sustained basis.
Great businesses also share the ability to earn the goodwill of society which, after all, is the most important stakeholder in any corporation. Why? Because, society contributes customers, investors, employees, bureaucrats, and politicians…. Society creates the culture in which a corporation operates, and without the goodwill of society, you will not have goodwill from your customers, employees, investors, bureaucrats and politicians! Great businesses always try very hard, through all parts of their operations, to earn more sustainable goodwill from wider society.
Many great corporations also follow what we, at Infosys, call the PSPD Model.
P stands for ‘Predictability of Revenue’.
Great companies have smart revenue and expense forecasting algorithms, which obtain data from the trenches, apply good mathematics, statistics, and, therefore, make realistic forecasts for the next quarter.
S stands for ‘Sustainability’.
Once you have made forecasts, your sales people will have go into the field, convince their prospects, and make the sale! Once the sale is made, your manufacturing people will have to manufacture the required products with the right quality, on time, and within budget. Once the manufacturing people produce what is required, and have delivered it successfully to the customer, the finance people will have to raise invoices on time and collect money on time. Great corporations try to create as much annuity business as possible. If you have annuity business, your selling becomes easier. Your sales effort for a given revenue becomes less.
P stands for ‘Profitability’.
Great corporations make money hand over fist. Why? Because, they focus on providing value to the customer. Their main concern is not the end sale-price, but the value they bring to their customer. They worry about value-leverage… That is, the ratio of value delivered to the price charged. Price is what you pay and value is what you get. A great corporation is always concerned with providing better and better value for a given price. For example, corporation A may say, ‘you pay me $1 I’ll give you $2 of value’. A smarter corporation, B, would say, ‘You give me $1.20, and I’ll give you $3 of value in return’. The value-leverage in the first case is 2, and in the second case 2.5. The second corporation has 20% higher price, and, therefore, is more profitable. But, they deliver 50% more value to their customer. So, it is a win-win. As long as corporations focus on value-leverage, they will be more and more profitable.
D stands for ‘De-risking’.
A great corporation identifies the risks to their business in every dimension of its operation. Some of these risks will be micro and some will be macro. Such corporations take timely action to reduce those risks. At Infosys, we have identified a large number of of risk parameters. We review some of them weekly, some monthly, and some quarterly. We take timely action to mitigate such risks.
Great corporations create a sense of ownership, pride, passion and commitment in the minds of every employee. Our objective at Infosys is to ensure that our employees who leave our offices mentally and physically tired at 6pm, return the following-morning, physically and mentally energised to add even more value to our customers. Great corporations create pride of ownership in the minds of their customers. For example, when you carry an iPhone 6, you are very proud to show off the fact that you own it. Why? Because, Apple has created a sense of pride of ownership in your mind through their focus on innovation, quality and value for money. Great corporations create this sense of ownership, pride and passion in every stake-holder.
[Tony O. Elumelu] I run my businesses according to the principles of Africapitalism, which calls for businesses to commit to development through investing in long-term ventures that increase economic prosperity as well as social wealth. This means that a successful business is one that creates value for its stakeholders but also makes a long-term, sustainable contribution to the communities that it supports and that support it.
[Dave McClure] One of the challenges we face as venture-capitalists, is that it’s not always obvious at the beginning which entrepreneurs will be successful and which ones aren’t. Many venture capitalists will tell you they knew who would succeed from the beginning, but in our experience we’ve probably been equally wrong in both directions. Companies we thought would be amazing, end up failing – and the ones we didn’t think would do so well, end up being huge successes.
It is never instantly obvious who will fail and who will succeed, it can sometimes be two years or more whether a business will be hugely successful- and companies go through a number of changes and stages.
In the first three years, a company may be focussed on creating a product, and learning about it’s market and customers. As the company grows, they then have to learn how to scale through their customers, and longer-term they need to understand their financial structures, and how you take a business from tens of people to hundreds, or thousands of people- potentially globally. A company may not always have the same person leading, and it’s not uncommon for the CEO to be different to the person who founded the company, so the person isn’t always as critical as people think.
The most successful companies we’ve back stood that test of changes- from creating a product, proving the market, and scaling.
[David Cohen] I like to understand what is driving an entrepreneur, what’s their true motivation? If they’re doing it for money, it usually doesn’t work… Are they doing it because of a direct connection to the problem? A direct reason to be passionate? That’s what I’m looking for. I’m also looking for incredible talent and street-smarts. This isn’t necessarily their education, but their hustle, and their willingness to run-through brick-walls.
There is no crystal-ball about what will work. If we look at Uber, there are lots of stories about investors that knew it was going to work, but it was just one of 700 companies where I liked the business and liked the founders, and where I invested. It paid for the others many times over, but that’s what you have to do… You have to try a lot of stuff that you believe in- but even when you get them? It’s probably still not going to work…
[Ricardo Salinas] There are many factors, but let me share a summary of my ten commandments for entrepreneurs: (1) Understand what the business is about; (2) Never forget that the central purpose of any business is to produce more and better products or services… always at the lowest possible cost, thus winning the client’s preference; (3) Live and breathe an atmosphere of extreme economic prudence. Resources should never go to waste; (4) Don’t allow good growth opportunities to pass you by. But be very careful with the pitfall of over-expansion; and make sure you have the right team to tackle new ventures; (5) As a businessman, the responsibility for the business is yours, not your subordinates. When you delegate responsibility, you should maintain close and constant supervision; (6) Always be on the lookout for ways to improve the business and production processes, save costs and boost sales; (7) Be willing to take risks, whenever the risk is justified and the venture presents a reasonable likelihood of being profitable; (8) A businessman should constantly seek new horizons and unattended niches; (9) Always support your products and services with a very broad guarantee of satisfaction for the client, and in the event of doubt, decide in favor of the customer; (9) If you are successful and become very rich, consider putting the wealth at the service of others and continue working; (10) Remember your responsibilities toward your employees, partners, shareholders, the public and the environment.
[Vladimir Potanin] A business is successful when I can say to myself: I have done all I can here. There is nothing else I can bring to this venture, this project is done and should be sold off. Let me compare it to a book: the idea materializes, the book is written, all that’s left is to publish the manuscript. In other words, to exit the project, either by taking the company to the equity market through an IPO, or by selling it to an investor in the industry who will be able to bring something of his own to the project.
The ability to define the appropriate moment to exit a project is one of the most important contributors to success.
[Dr. Michael Otto] I can’t offer you a comprehensive answer to that. Of course it is very important to have the right people on board and a good business case. Essentially I believe that only those companies which are aware of their responsibility towards the environment, their employees and business partners will achieve long-term economic success. Business should serve the good of mankind – not the other way round. I am enthusiastic about companies that clearly structure their business activities in line with these principles. Which sector they are active in and how much profit they make at the end of the day are of secondary importance to me. They need to add value for all stakeholders.
[Laurence Graff] For me, a great business is about emotion. Its about the belief in a product and the desire to be part of a brand. There is an extreme beauty to a diamond. They give people incredible pleasure and mark life’s most wonderful moments. The emotion that these stones bring is infused throughout everything we do.
Q: Why are entrepreneurs fascinated by space exploration?
[Naveen Jain] The first trillionaires are going to be created through space exploration. Imagine the mineral wealth on planet Earth, and then realise that Earth is just a tiny blue dot in our whole galaxy… which is just one galaxy in a universe, which could be part of many universes. Everything we think is rare on Earth, is abundant in space.
If you go back several-centuries, travel was only for the rich. Now? Flying anywhere on Earth is accessible. In the future, people could take weekend trips to the Moon! Guess what? Finally we could go on Honeymoon. There’s a reason it’s not called Honey-paris… it’s Honeymoon!.
Humanity has a love-affair with the Moon, we’ve been making art about it since the dawn of mankind… Today, if you love someone you give them a diamond. It’s not because diamonds are scarce… in the past month alone, they’ve found thousand-carat diamonds… but de Beers– through brilliant marketing- have made diamonds rare. Now, what do entrepreneurs do when faced with monopolies? They go fight them head-on! What if we change the paradigm…? What if we make diamonds a commodity…? What if we bring back rocks from the Moon and say, “you know what? It’s easy to give a diamond, but if you really love someone, give them the Moon…” People will start saying, “hey, I’m not going to marry you for a diamond, don’t you love me?!”
Landing on the Moon is not just about the act of landing on another celestial body, it’s about showing other entrepreneurs what’s possible.
If you go back in time, people thought it was impossible to run a mile in under 4 minutes. And you know what? It was impossible, until it wasn’t. Roger Bannister showed you could run a mile in under 4 minutes, and 13 people did that the following year. Once you show people something can be done, the only thing that limits them from then on is their imagination.
Take a look at the iPhone for example. When it first came out, people thought you could never have a phone without a keyboard, it was a ludicrous idea… and now look where we are. When Apple first launched App Store, they didn’t expect a use-case to be people throwing birds at pigs… but then Angry Birds came along.
What people do when you give them capability is beyond imagination. Our job is to show what is possible, inspire people, and inspire entrepreneurs to build applications on top of that.
Space and the internet have a lot in parallel. If you go back and look at the early-internet, there were three sets of companies created. Firstly, there were companies who laid-down the fibre and built the connectivity. Secondly there were people who provided the last-mile solutions, more commonly known as Internet Service Providers. Thirdly, there were companies who built applications on top of this infrastructure. Space is identical! Rockets are the fibre, they are the commodity – the ‘dumb pipe.’ The last-mile solution is the hardware… the lander on the Moon or Mars, the hardware that connects to the thing that needs to be done… The third thing will be the application – that could be an orbital fuel-depot, it could be a talent contest broadcast from moon, it could be a company that puts your child’s footprints on the moon as a memento. We couldn’t have imagined Google or Facebook existing when the internet first began, but just look where we are now.
Q: Why are non-experts such great innovators?
[Naveen Jain] The reason societies don’t progress fast enough is because people don’t dream big, and are afraid to fail. People are afraid to fail because they’re scared of their lack of knowledge.
In my world, not knowing something makes someone the most dangerous person when it comes to disruption.
Every company I have ever started has been in an industry that I knew nothing about. For example, people ask me how I can possibly get into the healthcare market when I know nothing about it! To me? That’s why I am the most dangerous person that industry ever faced. I don’t know what’s possible and what’s not and so I can approach problems from every angle.
Our brains are great pattern-matchers. The minute you become an expert, your brain starts to identify patterns and solutions based on what you know and maybe if you’re smart enough you can incrementally improve by 5%, 10%. You can never make it 10 times better. That kind of giant-leap comes from thinking in abstract terms, and those are the solutions which are often laughed-at, then dismissed, and then seem obvious.
Q: What are the unique characteristics of a family business?
[Dr. Michael Otto] Family businesses differ from publicly listed companies in that the latter prioritise generating shareholder value, while the former usually build a long-term, value-orientated business strategy and a highly individual company culture. An advantage the ability to make decisions fast. As a family entrepreneur I am strongly committed to values such as integrity, credibility and reliability, commitment to society, environmental protection and fairness – not only towards our customers but also towards our business partners and employees. These values characterise our company. Besides this, in the Otto Group we value top-management continuity very highly – either by a member of the family or a by a good management.
[Laurence Graff] Inspiring the next generation and beyond is a responsibility I have taken very seriously. Seeing my family’s eyes light up on seeing a magnificent jewellery creation or rare diamond is very exciting. You cannot force that deep passion, it is a special moment when you first see it in someone close to you, it brings you together and you realise then how strong a family business can be.
Q: What are the unique challenges of a global business portfolio?
[Dr. Michael Otto] We are represented in three completely different business sectors – Retail, Logistics and Financial Services – which means that fundamental, cross-sector challenges mandate the internationalisation and digital transformation of our businesses, along with their very different demands. Besides this, our company culture is characterised by the high degree of independence and self-responsibility that our individual subsidiaries enjoy. Twinning our companies’ flexibility and independence with the maximum leverage of synergies is an integral part of our corporate strategy.
Q: How do you choose the right ecosystems for high-growth entrepreneurship?
[Dave McClure] An entrepreneurial ecosystem typically has a lot of educated people who are willing to take some risks, with the academic, corporate and government infrastructure you need to take those ideas forward.
The two most important things to stimulate entrepreneurship are a peer-based environment where there are other examples of entrepreneurship, and access to capital.
Silicon Valley has experienced an incredible level of success over the past 50-60 years. There has been a strong tradition of entrepreneurship, a willingness to try things and fail, and generations of entrepreneurs who understand that supporting the generation after them is important. The valley has also had incredible access to capital to support that risk-taking…
An equity culture is also important, and this is something I’ve gone through in my own journey. I was a small-entrepreneur, and had a small-exit- less than $1 million, but it gave me an idea of what was going on in the market. When I worked at PayPal, I wasn’t the first employee… I was probably number 250… but as a result of their IPO, I made around $1 million. Half of that went on taxes, but I put the other half towards investing in other companies and start-ups.
In a lot of cultures and geographies around the world, spreading equity amongst anyone other than founders is a little less-frequent and less-common, but it makes a lot of small-millionaires rather than a few big-millionaires, and that’s what stimulates a culture of re-investment. It can quickly create a big audience of people who support entrepreneurs with their attitude and their dollars.
In Silicon Valley, we have the luxury that expertise and dollars come from the same pocket. That’s simply not the case in many parts of the world… and people often need to get the investment, advice and experience from different pockets…
[David Cohen] The drivers of startup communities and ecosystems have been well documented.
- The ability to regularly attract new talent.
- The ability to be inclusive as a community.
- The mentorship orientation of the community.
- Having meaningful focal points like accelerators to engage with, and to engage the community.
- The right regulatory environment for early stage investors and funds.
I have to say, one of the secret-weapons of the best entrepreneurial ecosystems is a sustained culture of mentorship and giving first, and giving back to the community.
Q: What are the characteristics of successful invention and innovation?
[Nathan Myhrvold] In its earliest stages, the single biggest thing that determines whether an idea succeeds or fails is if it has the support of a passionate advocate who champions the idea and helps make it happen.
Many fantastic ideas languish for years because the idea didn’t have an advocate. Conversely, many sub-standard ideas have received a large amount of attention precisely because someone forced us to.
A new idea, particularly around a new technology, is usually going to be quite primitive in its first form compared to what it later looks like. Look at the first cars or the first airplanes— the speed of the first flight at Kitty Hawk was about seven MPH. One man traveled less than a mile and made history. Almost 60 years to the day, the first flight of the Boeing 747 carried 300 people at 500 MPH for 14 hours. It would have been impossible for the crowd at Kitty Hawk watching this rickety plane to imagine that within a single human lifespan, flight would be changed entirely. But in fact that’s what happened.
Many great inventions satisfy a long-felt need or problem, but that’s not always the case. Often an idea will find its fullest expression long after the original iteration, and perhaps not for the same reasons. When computers were first invented there were many prognostications that the world only needed five or ten of them because it was so radical and so new an item, people couldn’t conceive of why they would need to use one.
Although some ideas and some inventions solve huge problems of the moment, some of the most important ones solve problems that we didn’t know were problems before they were solved. With Edison’s invention of the light bulb, the initial application of electricity was as a replacement for gas lighting in cities. Today electricity isn’t just a lighting system, but at that time there was no way to envision televisions, stereos, washing machines, computers, and all the other applications it’s used for now.
These intangible qualities are precisely why entrepreneurs and inventors absolutely need passionate advocates. They are able to look beyond abstract ideas or early prototypes to see what an idea could become. They envision the world needs something that the rest of the world may not realize it needed before.
Q: What is the role of innovation and design in entrepreneurship?
[Sir James Dyson] Innovation should drive an organisation. Dyson is always looking to invent new and exciting technologies. Take our latest V6 cordless range. It’s light and easy to use but still has the same suction power as a full size machine, thanks to the Dyson digital motor.
I have always believed in engineering technology from the inside out. We don’t style something to please the eye. Every piece of technology at Dyson must be functional first and foremost. Our new Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner is a case in point. I wanted to create a robot that was an efficient vacuum cleaner, not something that was a gimmick that just bounced off walls and cleaned randomly. It has taken 15 years of development, but at Dyson we don’t launch technology that doesn’t work. Rather, we wait until it is perfect. People naturally gravitate toward beautiful objects; it’s human nature. But you quickly lose interest in something that merely looks the part. If a machine speaks to everyday frustration and works well people will embrace its shape, design and function. Design that prioritises style over substance risks disappointment.
Q: What are the greatest sources of ideas and inspiration for innovation and invention?
[Nathan Myhrvold] People have wondered for thousands of years where human creativity comes from. Is it based on prior knowledge? Is it based on the experience? Where does it come? There is no single answer.
Yes, prior experience helps, but for many inventions someone had an idea that occurred spontaneously, pretty much out of the blue. Technical knowledge is certainly important for technological inventions, yet many important innovations, like the oil well, came from the imaginations of people who you never would have expected the ideas to come from.
In my case, I have invented things that draw upon every aspect of my background and training, but I’ve also assisted in inventing things that up front I would have told you I didn’t know anything about. I had knowledge of something that seemed irrelevant at first, but in fact, turned out to be quite germane in the context of a discussion with people who knew more about it than I did.
To me, being curious is second nature, like breathing. I’ve always wondered about the world, about what makes it tick, and about how I can understand it better. When there’s something I don’t understand or want to solve, I dig in.
Q: How do ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’ relate to entrepreneurship?
[Jerry Yang] Entrepreneurship especially in technology is based on innovation to create new market opportunities, and disruption to disintermediate existing markets. Within the last 20 years, we’ve seen information technology disrupt consumer and businesses in very dramatic fashion. First it was the web disrupting the information industry. Then commerce and logistics were disrupted. Then the social revolution changed the way we communicate. More recently, the mobile and cloud revolution is bringing on the age of big-data, which will continue to disrupt just about every industry – from manufacturing, healthcare, to agriculture.
Q: How do you identify talent?
[Troy Carter] Everybody has some sort of talent… and while some people may do things at a higher level than others…. Everybody in the world has some fundamental qualities and talents they can bring to the table. When you’re identifying talent in music or other industries- one of the most important things to identify is which of those individuals is able to marry talent with extraordinary drive.
Q: How do you turn talent into cultural phenomena?
[Troy Carter] The artist must be willing to put in huge amounts of work. Being a superstar involves a lot of sacrifice, hard-work, long-hours and getting doors slammed in your face. You have to have the personality type and the wherewithal to make it through those tough times. If you get past that- the next step is to develop bespoke strategies based around that person’s specific goals and the market they want to go after.
I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach for talent, you have to approach every individual and opportunity from a bespoke perspective.
Q: How do you disrupt culture?
[Troy Carter] I’m always searching for that black-swan, what is that project, or who is that artist that feels specials, and feels counter-culture. Who is that artist that feels interesting and has a bold, unapologetic point of view? That’s what pulls me in- and you know what, if you find that and put the right strategy around it? You can disrupt culture.
Q: When did you decide to develop your personal brand as an entrepreneur?
[Gary Vaynerchuk] Good attention is very valuable.
People don’t like the term ‘personal brand,’ and when I wrote the book Crush It I talked a lot about this subject and people sniggered and said it was about vanity, ego and those things.
In 2017 unlike 2007 when I was yelling about this stuff, people now understand that personal brands are leverage. When you have people’s attention, and especially if they think you have value, you can do amazing things.
When I launched Vayner Sports to my community- I didn’t want anything from them! But the fact that I announced it, and the fact that I had a community meant that there was a lot of activation. Because of the relationship I have with my community, they didn’t come and pitch me. Yes, thousands asked for jobs, but a lot of them said, ‘hey, meet this coach, meet this agent’ they provided value to me.
Having attention as an entrepreneur is the ultimate business development tool, and business development is the backbone of any great business- it’s important.
At a young age, I knew that being ‘out there’ was important, but first I thought I had to pay my dues and build a business to have something to stand on. When I felt I was ahead of a lot of people- I thought it would be good to have the legacy and narrative to provide value back to the community.
It’s amazing to meet people who have power and great businesses who say they’ve built that on the back of being inspired by my insights. I brought these people value at the highest level early in their careers and we’re now doing business together.
I help people to win, can you imagine how good that feels? This is true 1+1=3 – very few people have the talent, patience, humility, gratitude and empathy to allow them to be the best version of an entrepreneur. This is my narrative, my legacy and something I’m getting better at every day.
I’m a purebred entrepreneur. I think there’s a lot of fake entrepreneurship around right now because people think it’s cool.
Q: How do you create a personal brand as an entrepreneur?
[Gary Vaynerchuk] In a world where everyone gets to play in social media, we’re about to realise that the vast majority of people aren’t’ good enough.
We’ve never had to quantify this before because there were people in-place to filter the people America got to see, and most were qualified to some level. We only ever saw a curated 0.00001% of the entrepreneurial population in TV on the radio and in magazines- why? Because humans curated the other 99.999% out of the conversation.
Now we have an ecosystem where everyone gets out there and says they’re great. The vast majority are not going to be great at what they pontificate to be great at, and we’re going to watch them fail right in front of our eyes.
Q: What is the role of brand in entrepreneurship?
[Tory Burch] Having a strong brand identity is essential. With the evolving retail landscape and the impact of technology, the customer is becoming more and more savvy. They want brands they can trust, brands with a sense of integrity and individuality that they associate with quality, craftsmanship and authenticity.
[Will.I.Am] ‘Brand,’ is what journalists and industry-people say… we say culture movement. As artists we say culture! Movement! And analysts say brand. I don’t know what a brand is, but I know what a freakin’ movement is….
Now, I’m not in any-way comparing myself to him… but if you want to know what a culture-movement is, remember that Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t stand up and say, ‘here’s our brand!’ – he created a movement.
[Donna Karan] It all goes back to the customer. Does the brand answer a void in her life? Is it new and innovative? Necessary and desirable? It has to be original – you can’t copy anyone else. A brand has to be authentic and be born of a personal passion. If you, its creator, doesn’t want the product, no one else will. If you want it, chances are it will be wanted around the world. Desires are universal and speak in every language.
[Laurence Graff] A great brand is always built from deep passion. For me, this passion is the diamonds that are central to everything we do. It inspires all our designs and their natural incredible beauty is the driving force behind everything we do. We have searched for the best diamonds for many years and continue to work with the very best examples in the world. I believe that if you have the best craftsmen and the best designers and the best stones you can create something magnificent.
[Dennis Crowley] When we started Foursquare, we started it with a purpose and mission. We were building the things we wanted to see in the world. That became our story. That became our brand.
We because we have a good story, and because we’re good storytellers, we’ve been fortunate to have found people that wanted to help us continue to build or story and continue to tell our story..
Foursquare definitely has a brand. Sometimes this helps us (because everyone knows it) and sometimes it hurts us (because everyone thinks it’s a check-in app). These days I think we are getting closer to understanding that the Foursquare brands stands for “Location Intelligence” — insights you can extract from location data.
With Kingston Stockade FC though, I don’t think we’ve properly defined the brand yet. For sure it has an identity, but what does it stand for? I want it to stand for being community-driven soccer and for being a part of a movement that’s trying to be a thorn in the side of closed-system soccer. I’d like to get a thousand other “stockades” together and do something really big and meaningful and try to reinvent the closed soccer system. In my head, that’s how I see it – but I don’t think we’ve told that story yet.
Q: How do you translate a brand and company culture globally?
[Laurence Graff] Being a family business allows us to retain strong values and consistent point of view at the heart of the company. Everyone who joins the business is introduced to our brand DNA and experiences first hand how that spirit infuses through the business, right from the centre. It is important to localize our activities so that we can serve our clients in every culture across the world, but the origin and central direction remains the same.
Q: Why invest in sports teams?
[Steve Ballmer] I bought the Clipper s because I expected owning them to be fun and it sure has been. I feel I paid a number that made it a good investment. I paid probably 10% over the second bidder, which is generally what it takes to get the deal done. As an investment, these sports franchises tend to appreciate faster than the S&P index. The people who are going to buy a team are generally people who own stock, and own a stock or stocks that are doing very well, so the value of teams tend to rise with wealth creation.
They are better investments than most of the things on the stock market these days. They can make a bit of profit, make a bit of money, you don’t get financial dividends but do get asset appreciation. So it makes sense as an investment, but that’s not why I bought it. I bought it because I love basketball and thought: wouldn’t it be cool to own the LA Clippers? And it is a great team, and a great experience. I don’t plan to ever sell my team.
Q: What is the role of brand in the success of a sports organisation?
[Steve Ballmer] You have to consider all three of those brands – the city, the team, the individual players. Certainly basketball is a game in which star players are really important, not only because they win championships, but because their brands can be as powerful as many of the teams. Think Kobe. Think LeBron. Those brands are very powerful. Team brands can also be powerful. The Clippers are powerful, the Lakers, the Celtics… San Antonio is becoming more powerful. Cities do help form part of the brand. LA, NY, Miami. The brands of those cities are certainly important to the brand of the teams.
Q: How have you applied your learnings in leadership and corporate-life to the sports world?
[Steve Ballmer] To the best of my ability I have relied on knowing when to delegate and when to get involved. I have found a cadence of leadership that makes sense on both the business side and the basketball side of the team. On the business side, I am involved, and talk about principals of where we are going, I stay connected on things that are new. On the basketball side,l I love basketball but I am no couch, and no assessor of talent…that’s not my role. When it comes to talking about how we invest in ways that are consistent with collective bargaining, with supporting our team, or with a big trade or recruit, I am part of those discussions. I pay attention to salary cap because I participate well in numbers discussion, and allocation of scarce resources is an interesting math problem.
Q: How do you attract and retain talent?
[Jack Welch] Once you have a culture which is an open meritocracy, and once people know that and you start winning, everybody wants to be on your team.
It’s a lot easier to attract great talent to a team that’s going like hell than to attract people to a turnaround, that requires a lot more courage.
The idea of success feeding success is so true in business.
Everyone has to participate in the fruits of a company’s success. We [at GE] had 65,000 people with stock-options, that was 20% of our total workforce. The more people feel ownership, and feel part of the game, the more the company will continue winning.
I believe desperately that you reward people two ways in a business. As individuals, and as a company. In a multi-business company, you have to reward the individual performance of the unit, but you have to also reward the whole. You need to create an environment where people work together between businesses, help each other, transfer ideas fast. If you’re not getting to 1+1=3 by generating ideas that drive growth, you may as well not be in a multi-business.
Our talent at GE was a key reason for our success. We really had great talent, just look at where our people are now. They’re leading the Boeing’s of the world, the Home Depot’s of the world, the Honeywell’s and so many more of the world’s most successful companies.
[Weili Dai] When me and my husband created Marvell, we were thinking of names and came across the noun, ‘marvel’ it sounded a bit like Intel, and also represented what we wanted a company to be… marvellous.
We wanted to build a company with the fundamentals of a family business, and with the mission to treat it’s family and friends right. We believe our people are precious, and that everyone can play a role in the success of their peers.
[Donna Karan] It’s not easy. I find there are two ways. The first is you get them young while they’re in school and you help develop them. I can’t tell you how many of my design associates I mentored and hired right out of Parsons School of Design. The other way is to see something in someone that they don’t even see themselves. Resumes are not the way to find people. It’s a connection and an instinct you have to listen to. I don’t micro-manage, I give them enough rope to hang themselves. If I trust you, I’ll let you find your way, because that could lead to something I hadn’t thought of. Lastly, I don’t work with anyone I don’t like. That goes back to following your instincts.
Q: How did you develop your first key sale?
[Weili Dai] I am a software geek, my husband is hardware geek, and we started our company with the belief that the DNA of entrepreneurs could help us develop better technology that could make a real impact.
Here’s the thing, we had no experience, no connections, and so I picked-up a Yellow Pages (411) and started ringing all the storage technology companies in Silicon Valley- Quantum, Samsung, Seagate and many more.
When I called Seagate (at their Scotts Valley headquarters) I initially got through to reception, and asked for their channel technology manager… by luck the receptionist was very kind, and put me through to their office in Minneapolis where I spoke to a gentlemen called Ken Burns. Maybe he took the call because he thought we were calling from the comic book company Marvel, who knows, but here I was put straight through to the exact person who could change our company’s future.
I told him I was calling from Silicon Valley, and we were developing a new read channel technology that could deliver 200MB per-second transfer rates. Now I had his attention, our technology was significantly faster than the incumbent best in market Texas Instruments… this was my elevator pitch.
I then said, “Ken, if it’s OK with you, can I send a couple of my engineers to visit you in person? I know you’re busy and I don’t want to waste your time, so just give us half an hour? If you like what we’re doing they can stay longer…” He said yes!
Straight away, I ordered two-tickets (for my husband and his brother) and they were straight on the plane to visit Ken! We won our furst customer, Seagate- and that was the start of our journey. Seagate, one of the largest storage companies in the world, were now using our chips and not Texas Instruments – I can’t tell you how clearly I remember this, it’s like having your first child, you never forget it.
Timing, luck and- importantly- getting out there and meeting people are just as important now as ever before.
Q: What are the key negotiation strategies startups need to learn?
[Gary Vaynerchuk] In any negotiation, your aim is to get value while providing value for the other side. You have to read the tea-leaves of the market! The supply and demand of value-exchange is one of the most important things you need to judge.
Startup culture was so hot 2 or 3 years ago, that you could get an $8 million valuation on any idea if you had the right network- it was crazy! That’s come down to about $4 million for a lot of things, and even that’s crazy in my opinion.
When Vayner Media first started out as a startup, I was asking people for $5,000 a month as a retainer- now that’s close to $80-120,000 a month. At the time, I didn’t have the leverage (as people didn’t value social media as much) so I had to come down to where the market was.
I’m not worried about judging or social commentating on the inflation of entrepreneurship and startup culture because the market always corrects it. We will have a crash and a correction.
I don’t need to convince anyone with my words, actions are always the more interesting part of the game.
Q: How did you know the right time to exit?
[John Caudwell] Exiting the business was quite an easy decision for me as there were several significant factors that came together.
From around 2004, I saw the UK heading for a massive recession and started preparing the business for sale. We were extremely lucky to sell the business given the recession started very quickly around 2006, and the world economy had begun to unravel.
The mobile phone market had also reached such a state of maturity, that while there would always be opportunities it would become more about consolidation- meaning that the shareholder value built on 15 years of growth would be lost overall.
The growth to come in mobile telephony was not going to be as a result of the trading business that I ran, but rather because of applications, software developments and other areas which are not my expertise. I am not a software developer or application designer; and even if I was- the risks to stay in the business were very big.
An effective recession within the cellular phone marketplace caused by maturity, saturation and consolidation combined with a UK-wide recession set the scene for my decision to prepare the business for sale.
I’d had 20 years of the most indescribable intensity and focus; and not many people can appreciate what that means, because there are very few people that have grown a business organically from one person to over 10,000. Most people had acquisitions along the way, but I did the whole thing organically from 1 to 10,000 and the pressures and stresses were intense. After 20 years of that, and 10 years in a previous life with similar stresses, I had sort-of ‘had enough.’
The sale of my business came at a time where I was also focussing a lot more on philanthropy, and was not as interested in making money anymore. If the sale of my business went right, it was going to be well over £1 billion, and how much money does one man need?
As a very successful businessman and entrepreneur, and having made that money, I decided that the right and proper thing to do was to pay roughly the right tax, and not to disappear- having had all the benefits of the country you love, without paying the dues of that country felt wrong. I decided that paying the right amount of tax was important. I didn’t want to be a mug and that meant putting in reasonable tax planning to be sensible… but fundamentally, that I was paying my taxes!
The small amount of tax planning that was done I could share with all. Not only am I very comfortable with my whole tax situation, but I am actually proud of it.
Q: What are the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make?
[Tim Draper] Most common mistakes are overhiring and using money to solve problems in a business. The most common misconceptions about entrepreneurship are that people say that entrepreneurs are born, not made. Nothing could be further from the truth. At Draper University, I have seen entrepreneurs made over a six week immersive time period. Entrepreneurship is more about necessity is the mother of invention.
[Steve Case] At a macro-level, people often don’t realise that while having an idea is important… executing that idea is more important. There’s a Thomas Edison quote I cite a lot which is that, “vision without execution is hallucination.”
Having a great idea is great but you have to execute it! There is a tendency to think that the idea itself is a breakthrough, rather than the product, service or business built around the idea.
You have to assemble the right-team around you, and assemble the right partnerships so that you aren’t doing it alone. All to often, this ‘go-it-alone’ mentality prevails while partnerships are increasingly important in markets such as health, financial services and education which require a lot of collaborators to create meaningful impact.
Entrepreneurs regularly don’t fully understand the competitive climate. Often we’ll hear people telling us how original their idea is, but our view is that if somebody else isn’t doing it? It probably means it isn’t a big idea! If something is a good idea, a lot of people will be doing it, and the real question is who will win.
When people come and pitch, and say something is so unique that it has no competition, we get nervous. It either means it’s not a big idea, or that the idea is big, there are lots of people pursuing it, but the people presenting either don’t know about them, or do- and just aren’t’ telling us the truth.
Entrepreneurship is hard, but if you knew all the challenges you were going to face? You probably wouldn’t set out to do it in the first place! It’s like being a parent… raising kids is hard! When it comes to business, a degree idealism and naivety may be a good thing, those characteristics can help you persevere through the hard times, and the challenges and make you glad you did.
The great breakthroughs are entrepreneurs who, despite being shouted down by friends, family and colleagues, stuck with it. Some of those [at the time] dumb ideas, became great, iconic, businesses.
[Jerry Yang] Probably the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is not planning enough for success! Often when a company is starting out, they are in survival mode. They don’t think about what happens when they need to scale (or hyper-scale), or how incumbents might compete once the startup is on the competitive radar. A misconception about entrepreneurship is that its portrayed as a one-person show. But it is nearly impossible for the entrepreneur to do it all; there certainly needs to be a great team behind great entrepreneurs.
Q: Do people understand the realities of being an entrepreneur?
[David Cohen] Entrepreneurship has become easy, cheap and popular.
As an investor it’s extremely difficult because early-stage capital is so-available right now. Private capital is very interested in entrepreneurship, and there are a lot of people out there who’ve watched the Facebook movie and thought, ‘hey! I can do that…’
A lot of people who get into entrepreneurship simply don’t realise how hard it’s going to be, the toll it will take on them, and don’t go into it with the right mind-set. These same people find it easy to raise $500,000 and they basically get paid to play at being a start-up for a year before they shut it down, after realising it was a lot harder than they thought it would be.
If you’re going to start a business and you’re going to raise money, you need to have at least a 10-year mind-set. If you think it will work in a year? You’re not living in the real world.
People think they can raise a bit of money, and get a billion-dollar valuation, because ‘hey…. Look at all those unicorns… it can’t be that hard, right?’
Q: What does wealth mean to you as an entrepreneur?
[Sir Richard Branson] Money is not my first priority – I have always pursued what I am passionate about whether that will make me money or not, my fascination is learning and discovery more than being rich and powerful. I believe that success in business can be measured if you enjoy what you are doing; create something that stands out, create something that everyone is really proud of; be a good leader and be visible.
Wealth may improve aesthetic aspects of life in terms of being able to over indulge and travel to luxurious locations however, true success in life can only be gauged by something which is priceless; how much love you have in your life – I am truly fortunate to be surrounded by extremely loving and fun family and friends and nothing beats spending time with the people I love.
[Robin Li] I didn’t start with anything, and I do the things that I do because I believe profoundly that they are of tremendous value, and because I’m good at what I do. That’s why I stay up late and get up early, excited still every morning when I wake up. A lot of people work through the week just waiting for the weekend. Not me. I’m exactly the opposite: When the weekend comes, I can’t way to get back into the office. I see change happening in the world every day, and every day I see that things that we’re working on impacting people’s lives. This is what gives me a sense of fulfillment. So no, I don’t work for money. My personal definition of wealth and fortune are very broad. Money is not nearly the most important piece of it. What matters is that you’re doing something that you love and finding fulfillment in that.
[Sir James Dyson] At Dyson our philosophy has always been to invest in the long term. To power our 25 year pipeline of technology we have just announced a further £1.5 billion investment into new research and development on top of our current spending of £3 million a week. You cannot create disruptive technology without investing heavily in the long term. Without long term investment our new Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner would not be the machine that it is. It took 16 years and £28 million of research, development and testing to create the finished technology. That is what wealth means to me; it is the ability to invest in the future of your business giving your team the tools and time they need to create world leading technology.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] Personal wealth does not interest me. I don’t own any share in any company any where. I see my asset as an indicator of my capacity to create social businesses. I encourage all entrepreneurs to set aside a percentage of their income and wealth each year to their personal social business fund or contribute this to common social business funds participated by many others. I feel wealth and income has to have a social purpose besides personal purpose. As an extension of this idea, I feel that all people should make their wills specifying that, after their death, except for a basic modest amount left for their family members, all remaining wealth should go to social business funds of their own, or contributed to common social business funds of their choice. They should actively prepare for this during their life time. Such wills can be executed either voluntarily or with some government incentives or compulsion. Unless this is done income, wealth, and opportunity disparity cannot be stopped from worsening. The rich who do not leave behind a will donating their wealth to social business funds according to government guideline, government may collect these assets as tax after their death and put it into the social business fund.
[Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw] Entrepreneurs have to be driven by passion first and foremost; money follows.
It’s only when you’re driven by the passion for an idea, that the value is realised. If you think something is really exciting and really cool, you will see that it could bring huge value. You are not chasing a financial goal; you are chasing an idea that can deliver an exciting financial model.
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] Entrepreneurship is an exercise in deferred gratification!
Entrepreneurs share the hope that sacrifice and hard work today will bring good fortune in the future. This comes back to the core ingredients of successful entrepreneurship- aspiration, hard-work, sacrifice, daring and commitment, along with optimism and the ability to take risks.
Only 10 out of every 100 entrepreneurs may succeed, and, therefore, money cannot be the number 1 driver!
Entrepreneurs take up their journey because they realise that, at some point in time, they will get recognition from society and, if they are lucky, unimaginable wealth. And many want to use this wealth to make even more difference to society. Wealth is a derivative of the entrepreneurial journey rather than the primary objective of the journey itself.
[Jamal Edwards] I’ve been motivated by passion, and money comes after.
I always say to people, ‘don’t start businesses to make a quick buck, be in it for the long run..’ That’s really important.
Personally, businesses has always been a passion for me….
[Tim Draper] The best ones don’t care about wealth and they get it. The worst ones are doing it for wealth and they never do. One of the ironies of entrepreneurship.
[Nathan Myhrvold] New ideas and new companies require support, including financial support. The pursuit of invention takes time, but also resources— a smart team of smart people can’t work on something for free, especially for long periods of time.
For all of the great entrepreneurs that I know, wealth is an enabler to continue to do more great things. Financial success gives them more personal resources to do so, but even more to that point, the success of their investors is what emboldens the next set of financiers. The more successful an entrepreneur, the more often they’re raising money. Entrepreneurs need investors because it’s investors who bet on them, which makes their dreams possible.
I think it’s a mistake to look at the personal wealth of entrepreneurs as a goal. They’re in the business of making their investors wealthy, many of which are now almost always, either directly or indirectly, pension funds, university endowments, and other large institutional sources of money. Entrepreneurs need to provide a return so that these organizations can pay pensions, employees, or provide funding elsewhere. Entrepreneurs get wealthy as a side effect.
It’s also true that the prospect of personal wealth does encourage entrepreneurs to leave far safer jobs, even though the fact is a large number of them won’t actually succeed. Just as an entrepreneur has to envision a company that doesn’t exist and often a need for a product that does not yet exist, it helps for them to envision a financial future they don’t currently have. I think that it is great that incentive exists—if smart young people were only attracted to safe positions, we would have fewer people taking risks and less innovation in the world.
[Wendy Kopp] I feel so privileged to have found my way to such a rich pursuit – where I have the satisfaction of making a positive difference in the face of a really important challenge as well as the opportunity to work alongside others who bring such rich perspectives and shared values.
[Steve Case] Most entrepreneurs want to build a valuable business, and will hope that their stake in that valuable business will be worth something- but in most cases, they’re motivated by more than that. They really do want to make a difference, and believe their ideas have broad appeal… the success and wealth that could come out of that are a bi-product. The main-event for most entrepreneurs is trying to change the world.
[Jerry Yang] : It really depends on individuals. In our market based society today, entrepreneurs are measured by the value they create, which translates to wealth. Entrepreneurs I work with generally take a long view of their companies and potential, so generally the wealth is mostly on paper. However, wealth isn’t the end in unto itself. Success in building a compelling, highly impactful company is the ultimate goal.
[Tony O. Elumelu] Being wealthy as an entrepreneur is both a blessing and a responsibility. Not everyone who puts in years and years of hard work, or burns the candle at both ends while others were asleep, will find wealth or success—and not everyone who does that seeks wealth. This is why I view the ability to create wealth as a blessing, but it also means that the wealthy one has a responsibility to share: share experience, share knowledge, and indeed, share the wealth, but in a sustainable and coordinated manner such that one can create meaningful transformation that lasts for generations.
[Ricardo Salinas] An entrepreneur is driven to create wealth, but he or she is not always wealthy. Many people feel that money is an entrepreneur’s main motivation, when actually it is not and cannot be. It’s more like the scoreboard in a game. It’s obvious that a business that doesn’t make money cannot keep its doors open. Money is like the blood that keeps the body alive. However, the body does not exist to pump blood through its veins: it lives, dreams, and creates. That’s exactly what business is like: it exists to serve the customer, implement visions for the future, and money is only the secret ingredient that can help business live and grow. If you are doing fine work, wealth should, of course, be created in the process, but it is not your main driver. An entrepreneur who starts his career pursuing money as an end in itself will end up very unhappy. On the other hand, I find today there is an intellectual current that is increasingly vocal against wealth creation, which I believe is very dangerous. If entrepreneurs create wealth, should they keep part of it? I believe the answer is yes; if you create wealth, nobody has the right to take it from you.
[Vladimir Potanin] When you are on the top, it is important to evaluate the state of affairs with lucidity. The best is to begin by figuring out how you got there, whether the path taken was one of honesty and integrity, and thus decide if you deserve to be in that place. It then becomes easier to get used to the thought that sooner or later you will have to come down to the bottom. No one is a champion forever.
I have been doggedly trying to make my compatriots realize that bragging about your wealth, making a display of it, is wrong and immoral. I believe that it is nothing to be particularly proud of, although it is nothing shameful either. If you made your money honestly, it is silly to be self-conscious about it. In the market economy a person’s material wealth is one measure of success. Not to be coy about it, I recognize the importance of this fact, but I don’t get high at the thought of it either.
In the civilized world there has long existed the notion of payback, something akin to paying your dues to society. If you are lucky, if you have attained success, then instead of bragging you should share what you’ve got with others, with your less fortunate countrymen. Making the world a better place is quite a normal thing to do; it’ll make for a more comfortable life. Unfortunately in our country business people have done precious little of this, and now they are reaping the harvest of distrust. Many people greet even the most reasonable ideas coming from business people with suspicion, and even with a degree of fear. It will take a long time to change the perception. It will take positive examples of actions that are good for society, of charitable campaigns, of philanthropy and things like that. My fear is that our lives will not be long enough for us to see it, that it will be a few generations before people will begin to look at business people differently. Things like that don’t happen overnight.
[Dr. Michael Otto] Wealth was never a driving factor in my activity as an entrepreneur. Nevertheless I am grateful that our company was able to meet the high expectations of your customers for over 65 years now. The wealth that we have created has always given me decision-making freedom to act in the best interests of the company, and in the best interests of our employees in terms of social responsibility. Besides this it has enabled me to give something back to society in a focused way and support projects that serve the common good.
[Steve Ballmer] Never was wealth the driver for me – it was always hey, there’s a cool idea here, let’s make something of it. It was nice to be well rewarded, but the interesting part was working the problem, thinking about new things and how to bring them forward from being ideas to being products or new ways of doing things.
Many forms of entrepreneurship don’t lead to wealth, and but they are no less entrepreneurial. Place-based social service interventions like the Harlem Children’s Zone, is a great example: Jeffrey Canada figured out a new way of doing something that makes a huge difference for disadvantaged kids, other places are now pioneering it – I call that entrepreneurial.
[Laurence Graff] Wealth is something that can allow you to live your life in a certain way, but for me it is my family and my passions that are my wealth, those things are invaluable.
[Thor Björgólfsson] Wealth is just an indicator of how well (or not) things are going. Whatever I’m doing, there are indicators… do people like what I’m doing? Do they think I’m crazy? Am I making a lot of money? These are just indicators.
Wealth is not and end in itself, it’s just one of many indicator as to how you’re doing.
At the peak of my wealth I enjoyed spending as much money as I could on yachts, planes, etcetera… and you know what, I couldn’t! it was almost a full-time job!
When I lost it all, guess what… there wasn’t really much difference to my life. It’s all relative of course, I still had a home and we had enough to eat, but this was an important sanity check. When I lost my billionaire status wealth, I realised I didn’t miss it that much….
Q: What are your views on sustainability in entrepreneurship?
[Naveen Jain] Sustainability has become a synonym for conservation.
You can never have sustainability through conservation, you can only have sustainability through creation. You need to create more of what you need, not use less of what you have.
Imagine if I said, “We need to conserve Oxygen, so you can only breathe every 5 seconds” you can probably do that… imagine it then went to 10 seconds, then 20, then a minute. There comes a point where you can’t do it. But what if, instead, you create more oxygen.
The things we fight over are in abundance if we think about it. We fight over land, but we can live anywhere… We fight over water, but we can have as much as we want… We fight over energy, but it could be limitless. Technology is creating abundance.
It wasn’t long ago when the rarest and most precious mental on earth was Aluminium. It was so rare that the Washington Monument was tipped with it. There’s a great story about Napoleon hosting the King of Siam. He wanted to honour the King, and so he organised a huge dinner. His Generals were fed on gold platter, his troops on silver, but the King? He was fed on aluminium! That was the highest honour.
Guess what… when electrolysis came along, aluminium became so abundant that we throw it away now in wraps and cans. This is the same abundance we could create for energy, for space travel, for fresh water, for clean air, for health.
We are living in the most innovative decade in human history. We can modify the software of our own body! For example, why do we get fat? It’s a bug in our software that links back to when we used to eat maybe every 3 or 4 days, and so we needed to store fat for the next hunt. Now? We should be able to tell our software that just because we had a big lunch, it doesn’t mean we won’t have a big dinner! I may have an even bigger dinner! We can theoretically fix that now. Why should we age? It’s a disease that kills everyone. We should be able to cure ageing now.
Q: What is social entrepreneurship?
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] I’ll talk about ‘social business’ entrepreneur, because it is easy to describe. A social business entrepreneur is a person who is disturbed by massive poverty, absence of healthcare facilities for bulk of the population, problems of rejected people, problem of continuously worsening situation of income-wealth-opportunity disparity, global warming, unemployment, etc. But he has enormous faith in human creativity and power of technology. He believes that he can use his creative power to create a social business to start the process of solving a giant problem, say, unemployment.
He sees the word ‘impossible’, he reads it as ‘opportunity’. He believes in his power to create a world that he would enjoy to live, rather than live in captivity of the present world. He believes that making money is happiness for some, but for him, making other people happy is a super happiness. He does not want to miss that super happiness.
[Wendy Kopp] In social entrepreneurship the “profit” is value to society.
[David Cohen] Companies that have a dual-purpose, that want to capitalise, be a value-generator, but also have impact, are very interesting. I just spoke with one of our companies in our Berlin programme who are a for-profit business that brings people into restaurants at slow times, and who have a charity angle that really works well.
Social enterprise is totally compatible with capitalism and growth. Finding ways of being responsible for what you’re doing while you’re doing it is important.
We try to look for that second bottom line, it can be a tie-breaker in comparing two similar things we may invest in.
[Steve Ballmer] It is really good to be able to support existing institutions that are doing very good work for what their chosen purpose is, and to support those organizations and their missions. But really being involved with convening something new or helping social entrepreneurs who have really interesting ideas get something off the ground or up to scale with what I’d call “mezzanine financing”….. that can be really cool too. Take for example toughening up the background check process for buying guns here in our state of Washington. The organizers had a good idea and needed extra support to make it happen. A lot pf philanthropy is making bets, seeing if they work, staying with them…it is more like being an investor in other people’s good entrepreneurial ideas.
[Donna Karan] I can’t separate who I am from what I do. I’m a mother by nature, I always want to take care of people I work with. My desire to dress and address others started in the dressing room. Women would always be telling me their problems, especially about sick loved ones. There is such a void in healthcare and there are no easy answers. There are no easy answers about how to take care of Haiti, a country besieged with problems. Solutions don’t happen overnight. You have just keep at it.
[John Caudwell] I’ve helped a lot of charities over the years, but I found the best way of making certain that I could the biggest success possible for the people I was trying to help, was through the creation of my own charity, Caudwell Children.
Caudwell Children helps children across the UK, with any illness whatsoever. The only qualifier is that parents would not be able to afford or get help any other way. I founded that charity with a view to making it super-efficient. My company, right from the beginning, committed to paying all the operating expenses and this is something I’ve carried on personally since selling the company. This year, we’re building a new centre specialising in autism- and we’re hoping to make a big improvement in the lives of autistic children over the next few years. I’ve also founded a new charity called Caudwell Lyme Co which looks at Lyme and infectious diseases; our aim is not just to transform Britain in this regard, but to transform the world because so little is understood about Lyme and co-infectious diseases which are causing long-term chronic illness and disability across increasing percentages of the population.
It’s very easy to donate money to charities and become demoralised when you feel the money isn’t being used properly, or that it isn’t achieving the outcomes you had hoped. By founding my own charities, I solved that problem. Charity occupies around a third of my life, it’s a big challenge and a big responsibility.
Around eight years ago, I decided to donate at least half my wealth to charitable causes during my lifetime or upon my death. That takes the pressure off; there will be a team of people including my family members and other trustees, who are responsible for carrying on my work after my death- so whether I give the money away within my lifetime, or after my lifetime, the money is there to make a difference.
I don’t believe in handing vast sums of money down from generation to generation. You need to encourage your children to be successful in their own right, and that may not be financial, it’s whatever they- themselves- deem that success means to them! One of my daughters is going to be a psychologist, she won’t make huge money but it doesn’t matter as long as she’s successful and changes people’s lives. Another daughter, I’ve been able to help into property development in New York, and she’s now independently wealthy in her own right. Encouraging your children to be successful and happy whilst also encouraging them to have a humanitarian outlook is the best any parent can do, and leaving them vast sums of money is probably the worst thing they could ever do!
Philanthropy gives me way more satisfaction than most things in life. I like going on my boat with my friends, and going to my ski home, but nothing gives me the same feeling as helping people, and changing the lives of people who needed help.
[Frederik Paulsen] If you are someone who has generated wealth, you have the responsibility to make sure this money is used to benefit the community. This is something that exists in all philosophies, cultures, and all religions. You have an obligation to the people around you, and your society.
Many entrepreneurs donate their funds, time, and resources into philanthropic endeavours and do so with a wish to have a high degree of personal involvement. This is quite different from your classic donor or foundation. I really like to contribute myself, to the projects and organisations I support, to see that those ventures, communities and endeavours reach their full potential.
We’re currently on an exploration around Antarctica, and as I speak to you today, we have a trail of icebergs around us. We’ve just left Scott Island in the Southern Ocean, and it will be around a week before we get to the next island.
I have invited 60 researchers to join us, who are working on 22 research projects. One of the groups have brought an automatic submersible, and they’re going underneath the water and revealing just how seriously the ice is disintegrating. The quality of the ice has never been this bad, it’s extraordinarily sad.
The researchers with us are confirming many of the worst-case scenarios around climate change in our world’s ice-caps.
Q: What is the role of fairness and compassion in business?
[Sir Richard Branson] Fairness in life is so important. It helps us to stay level headed and strive towards changing the world for the better. From human rights to industry competition, fairness makes the world go round and ensures we never settle for anything other than what is right. One of the issues I am passionate about is prison reform and what happens to ex-offenders when they have been released. The first year following custody is the most crucial, and this is where business – in collaboration with parole officers and social workers – can make the greatest contribution. Virgin Trains have been working with ex-offenders for some time and we hope that their approach is something other businesses will adopt. We need far more businesses to make a commitment to training and hiring ex-offenders.
Q: What is the role of corporate social responsibility to the entrepreneurial enterprise?
[Ricardo Salinas] In 1970, Milton Friedman wrote “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.” That was true four decades ago, but in the 21st century a company is expected to generate much more than financial returns for its shareholders. Companies should strive to create economic, social, and environmental value. They should care deeply about the wellbeing of the communities where they operate. Companies influence the lives of their employees, partners, associates, customers, suppliers, and the community in general. The key is to strike the right balance between public interest and profit generation. The mutual dependence among companies, society, and government implies that business decisions and public policies should follow the principle of shared social value. Successful businesses create prosperous communities and vice versa.
[Gary Vaynerchuk] CSR does not help with me (as a buyer), why? Because I’m cynical about it now, I don’t believe it. After the success of Toms Shoes, every 23 year old told me they’re starting an umbrella company and giving an umbrella to the people that need it in the Amazon. CSR has clearly become a tactic.
Every strategy of every company and human being should come from a truth. I didn’t have a CSR strategy when I started Wine Library or Vayner Media, but the wealth creation allowed me to give back to the world in the way that Lizzie and I want to.
I don’t like anything that’s done to cover-up true intentions, and I believe an ungodly amount of CSR are just make-up to the ambition of the organisation financially.
Q: What is the role of philanthropy in entrepreneurship?
[Sir Richard Branson] I’ve always regarded business as a powerful tool for delivering positive change in the world; so in my opinion entrepreneurship has a crucial role in addressing these Global challenges and many others besides. Public funding and open-ended research is absolutely crucial for coming up with better ideas, novel technology and progressive policy, but it seems only the markets are capable of pouring resources into truly scaling things up; and those markets began with entrepreneurship.
Prizes can be a real catalyst for moving an idea along, especially if it’s a novel but profoundly important area. The X Prize foundation are a shining example of how prizes can incentivise innovation, and we liked the concept so much we even have our own equivalents, like the Virgin Earth Challenge, a $25m prize for ways of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to help tackle global warming and help people and the planet.
[Robin Li] Naturally I support and encourage philanthropy on the part of entrepreneurs, and I’m very glad to see that engagement with broader social issues, giving generously to worthy causes, and working for a common good are now things very much expected of corporations. I would add that the best thing an entrepreneur or company can really do is to build in a real nobility of mission from the very outset. If you set out to do something where your company’s success also means bringing tangible benefit to society, that’s really the highest form of philanthropy. Baidu’s a great example of this. When our business does what we set out for it to do—to provide the best and most equitable way for people to find what they’re looking for—then we’re doing great good in the world.
[Sir James Dyson] What philanthropy means to me is inspiring the next generation. Inspiring the next generation of designers, scientists and engineers. The work of the James Dyson Foundation aims to achieve just that. An example is the Foundation’s recent donation to Imperial College London, to create the Dyson School of Design Engineering. The new school will allow the best and brightest to develop their engineering skills in a practical way; giving them the necessary skills to excel in industry and to set off on their own. This will lead to the next generation of engineers and I can’t wait to see what these young graduates go onto to do and what problems they will solve.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] Philanthropy helps address the problems of the people which otherwise remain unaddressed. It is a great concept because this is the only window through which people’s problems can be addressed, in a world where businesses are sharply focused on selfish goal of making profit. But I see a big limitation in philanthropy. Philanthropic money can be used only once. Once it is used the money is gone, it does not come back to the donor. I solved this problem by creating the concept of social business. I make the objectives of philanthropy to be achieved it by using the methodology of business, delinking it from the personal profit. This way we get the money back, and we use the same money over and over again and keep on achieving the goal endless times. Philanthropy suddenly becomes very powerful. With this I have brought entrepreneurship and sustainability to philanthropy. I am asking all philanthropists to create social business funds which will keep on growing, social businesses created by them will keep on solving people’s problems, and continue to expand with its own financial strength for ever and ever. I don’t think anybody can pass up this attractive option.
[Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw] Philanthropy to me has always been about making a difference and giving back to society. Every one of us has benefitted from society’s support. When you make it big, you have to make an impact on the society that has supported you; that’s how you build a progressive society.
In India, when I became successful- I started to think about how I could give-back, and create the progressive society that I wanted to be a part of. In a country like India, our society has a lot of inadequacies; education, sanitation, healthcare and more. As someone who has created wealth, I wanted to make a difference to the lives of these people- and I’ve focussed my philanthropy on these issues as they concern me, and worry me a lot.
Even as I was building my company, I knew that these were really unacceptable inadequacies within our systems and society.
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] Entrepreneurship is about the transformation of our world through the power of ideas, and entrepreneurs use the power of their ideas to make this world a better place and, in the process, make money!
For many entrepreneurs, they continue this transformational journey through their philanthropy. It is very natural for an entrepreneur to use part of his or her wealth for philanthropy which, ultimately, is about transforming the world through the power of ideas! Such philanthropic journeys are generally led by social entrepreneurs. Look at Teach for America’s founder, Wendy Kopp, for example. When she finished her degree at Princeton at 22, she did not want to go to Wall Street, but wanted to make this world a better place by helping people who were not as fortunate as her to get good education. That is a great transformative idea! That is true philanthropy.
Entrepreneurs use their ideas to create jobs, wealth and transform the world. They also help other people’s world-transforming ideas by philanthropy. Philanthropy is part of the same continuum as entrepreneurship.
There are many great examples of people like Bill Gates who are entrepreneurs in the for-profit and non-profit worlds. Not everyone can do that. So, many entrepreneurs support social entrepreneurs financially after they make their money.
[Tim Draper] I think entrepreneurship is the most philanthropic pursuit in the world. Giving money away to non-profits who may or may not have your passion is not nearly as powerful for humanity than pursuing your own passion and throwing all your resources back into your business. A business that employs people, makes customers’ lives better and creates wealth for society.
[Jamal Edwards] Philanthropy and charity have become more important to me as I’ve grown. I’ve just come back from Kenya with Save the Children, and as I’ve grown-up – giving back, and trying to improve other people’s lives, and helping them out is really important to me – almost as much as the music side of things.
I’ve learned a lot over these past 9 years, and I can transfer that on to people as I’m learning.
With all the experiences I’ve had, it’s made me see that the bigger I get, the more I can help to raise awareness of important issues. That’s why I keep on growing and building, it allows me to do stuff like that.
[Wendy Kopp] Philanthropists have been an essential part of the journey. I have had the privilege of working with some of the world’s most forward-looking philanthropists—who were willing to take risks and committed to the long journey towards attaining our vision of an equitable world where all children can attain an excellent education and fulfil their potential.
[Tory Burch] Social responsibility was part of our business plan from the beginning. The idea of giving back was essential to building and sustaining our culture. Something I didn’t think about in the beginning was the positive impact it would have on the bottom line. In 2009, we launched our foundation to empower women entrepreneurs, and we found out how important it was to our employees, to attract people to want to work with us, and to our customer. It’s a win-win and it’s important to inspire other companies to think about philanthropy from the beginning.
[Steve Case] We created a personal family-foundation (The Case Foundation) nearly 20 years ago. We believed that we’d been blessed with significant success, and we wanted to give-back. Over the past couple of decades, we’ve supported hundreds of organisations and joined the Giving Pledge, launched by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, which means that we’ve publically declared we intend to give away the majority of our wealth.
We also believe that entrepreneurs can change the world, not just non-profits and government. Because of that we’ve had a big focus on investing in the next generation of entrepreneurs- not just through our investment company- but through advocacy for things like impact investing and regional entrepreneurship. We launched something called Startup America a few years ago building regional ecosystems for entrepreneurship for example.
For us, giving back is partly making donations of money, but also is about giving time and reputation to different causes, and creating an environment that means the next generation of entrepreneurs can have success and impact in a broad range of sectors.
[Jerry Yang] Entrepreneurs by and large are impact driven. Many entrepreneurs want a better society as a result of their work. I’ve always viewed giving back as a big part of how I live my life. I find giving back to causes I believe in, and making a difference is extremely rewarding.
[Tony O. Elumelu] I have been able to use my skills and training as an entrepreneur to the benefit of others around me in the practice of philanthropy. The Tony Elumelu Foundation practices catalytic philanthropy, which means that our charitable actions are designed, much like my businesses, to invest for long-term impact. Practicing catalytic philanthropy, which we pioneered in Africa, has led to the creation of our flagship programme, the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, through which we committed $100 million in grants to 10,000 entrepreneurs around Africa for the next ten years. These grants will build businesses, create jobs, increase employment around the continent and generate over $10 billion in revenues over the next decade. We have already completed the first cycle, selecting 1000 people from 51 countries around Africa with enterprises in agriculture, education, ICT, healthcare, construction and several other key sectors. This is real impact, and it is the driving force behind my philanthropic pursuits.
[Ricardo Salinas] Philanthropy in the sense of writing checks for good causes is as easy as the stroke of a pen. We need much more than that. At the same time, I don’t like the word charity, because it avoids the root of the cause of poverty. It is much better to teach people to fish; education is the most powerful tool that you can offer people. At Grupo Salinas, our most important social initiatives are directly related to education and instilling ideas that promote a much-needed cultural change. By this I mean a transformation in mentality that enables people to avoid the cultural traps that keep many of them in poverty.
[Vladimir Potanin] I made a principled decision that none of my wealth will be passed on as inheritance, that my capital will work for philanthropic causes. In other words, philanthropy is the reason I make money.
Philanthropy is not handing out money, it is finding solutions to problems. Money is just a tool; it’s like fuel, no car can move without it. I help those who I believe can become strong and independent, and in turn begin helping others. The main slogan of my philanthropic activities is Support the Leader, because leaders are people who create an environment and make others follow in their footsteps.
In the broadest sense of the term, for every normal person who has made a lot of money or has gotten into a position of power, philanthropy is a desire to make life better.
[Dr. Michael Otto] If we want to change things long-term for the better, generous financial donations are not enough. This is why I get personally involved within the framework of my foundations’ activities as well as in a range of other socially orientated projects. It is important to me to trigger and drive forward fundamental social, societal and environmental policy initiatives through my own personal involvement. For me, it’s not only about ‘doing good’: alongside the implementation of specific projects I also want to raise people’s awareness of particular topics, to seed and nurture ideas and generate momentum that others can then take up and develop further. In my view, projects only make social and societal sense if at some stage they can support and develop themselves.
[Will.I.Am] In Boyle Heights, where I’m from, there’s a programme called iam College Track. That came together because of travelling, meeting Laurene Jobs, learning about her college track… meeting Jack Dangermond, Dean Kamen, learning about their programmes and then approaching Lorraine and asking her if I could couple her existing programme with other things to differentiate it in the Bay Area. We use her college track as a ‘spine’ and surround it with project-based learning so that when kids graduate college, they don’t just have a degree with debt and no jobs. We give them a computer science skill-set, robotics skill-set, GIS and map-building skill-set. They go to China every year so they get the travel bug and learn about building relationships and see life. We’ve been doing that for about 5 or 6 years, and had our first graduating class this year. Almost 70% of our kids have graduated and have computer science and robotics degrees, but 100% of our kids have graduated and gone on to college.
Q: What is the role of fairness and compassion in business?
[Sir Richard Branson] Fairness in life is so important. It helps us to stay level headed and strive towards changing the world for the better. From human rights to industry competition, fairness makes the world go round and ensures we never settle for anything other than what is right. One of the issues I am passionate about is prison reform and what happens to ex-offenders when they have been released. The first year following custody is the most crucial, and this is where business – in collaboration with parole officers and social workers – can make the greatest contribution. Virgin Trains have been working with ex-offenders for some time and we hope that their approach is something other businesses will adopt. We need far more businesses to make a commitment to training and hiring ex-offenders.
Q: What is the role of corporate social responsibility
[Jack Welch] Your corporate’s social responsibility is to win.
After the recession, in the late ‘70s, I was going around in the early ‘80s with my tin-cup to various companies raising money for United Way, a charitable organisation here in the US. I was the corporate fundraiser for the New York region, and too many company CEOs said, “sorry, not this year… things are really tough.”
You cannot be generous from an empty wagon!
This nonsense about giving when you’re broke is ridiculous. When we were winning, our company had over 40,000 mentors, going out in the community mentoring high school students and inner-city kids all over the world. Companies that were losing that couldn’t afford it, had no such efforts.
Corporate responsibility, first and foremost, is to win. You can then take those resources from winning and allocate them as you see fit. That’s not a popular statement, but it’s the truth.
As you get more and more profitable, you can do more. We were able to give people tonnes of time off to mentor, we were the largest donors inmost every city we operated in. Why? We were winning.
When all those start-ups blew-up in the early 2000’s, all they could do is burn their furniture for heat.
Q: How do entrepreneurs maintain work-life balance?
[Naveen Jain] People who talk about work-life balance have fundamentally concluded that those two things are mutually exclusive and will never come together.
The only time you want to balance two things is because you think they cannot exist together.
Life is a continuum, everything happens together. Sometimes there may be more of one-thing and sometimes more of another. Life is not about ‘this’ or ‘that.’ There is no such thing as work-life balance, it’s a work-life continuum.
Work should never be work; it should be your life.
I look at myself as having been retired for a very long time. What happens when you retire? You do things that you enjoy doing as often and as long as you want. Guess what… I’m doing that! So that means I’m retired!
Q: How does entrepreneurship manifest in the arts?
[Sir Richard Branson] I think within the arts and entrepreneurship you have to show a desire to be creative, to stand alone and follow your passions, even when those around you might not share your idea or vision.
I believe we need to encourage all young people to consider an alternative to the traditional career path, and I think entrepreneurship offers some hope. I identify with these young people. As a young businessman, I faced my fair share of difficulties when I was starting up. Our music mail-order business was almost brought down by postal strikes in the early 1970s, but we adapted, and that prompted me to start Virgin record stores.
Q: What did you learn about success from music?
[Will.I.Am] One of main things you learn in music about sustaining your career is that you have to stay on the road, stay travelling and stay meeting people. You have to build personal relationships with radio-staff, journalists and all the people who can help you break a song, tell a story or who can give you the connections you need to succeed.
We stayed in France, we stayed in London, we stayed in Japan, we stayed in Bangkok, we stayed in Brazil, we stayed everywhere. Since 1998 we’ve travelled. It’s the same thing with iam plus… here’s a new venture, a new mission.
Music is about creating connections with the audience, you give them something to escape to, something approachable, and something to relate to. What I’ve learned about tech is that it’s cold and robotic; you don’t know any of the people who make the stuff you live on.
We want to borrow for music, and staying ‘gone,’ and travelling has been important to us- it’s the reason we have offices around the world to get different perspectives. We’re like labs, skunk-works, where we get people to work on awesome technology because it’s awesome and then we turn those awesome technologies into awesome things.
Q: What makes a business investable?
[Dave McClure] For a lot of traditional investors, people emphasise team or markets.
We’re investing early- and it’s not always easy to see whether the team or the individuals who founded the company, will become ‘rock stars.’ We may have only known them a short period of time, and they may not have that market experience.
A lot of investors will in hindsight, say that the knew all along that an individual would be great because they went to Stanford or worked at Facebook… but we tend to look more at the product and the customer.
We want to understand whether a product is functional in a market, and whether there is growing customer usage and revenue. The product and customer link is key… Products are often seen as a mirror to the soul of an entrepreneur!
We try and assess entrepreneurs on how their business is doing, not just on our subjective reflections on the entrepreneurs themselves.
[Troy Carter] I credit the success of any of my investments 100% to the founders of those businesses. With artists, the work is often more hands on- where I’ll be working as their chief strategy officer and manager, but I work with early-stage technology companies- we’re investing in great founders we believe in, they do the work. We can help on execution of course (if they need it) but for the most part we (as investors) are looking for brilliant people who are running their own companies, where we just invest capital, resources and relationships.
[Thor Björgólfsson] I use my intuition a lot when assessing potential investments. I will look back to my failures and successes and think about how they relate to the business we are thinking of investing in.
I also like to push myself hard. We have done very well in Eastern Europe but essentially emerging markets are becoming global so we have to push ourselves into regions like Africa and South America.
There are patterns that emerge. Our latest venture in Chile revealed an incredibly similar set of patterns to Poland; they are totally different countries, but with similar markets, similar demographics, a distinct lack of challengers, disruptors and foreign investments, and that’s turned out very well for us. And guess what… by copying one of our models, we managed to avoid the mistakes we made first time around.
There’s no substitute for experience when you’re investing. One of the best ways to make money is not to lose it. If you can learn not to lose money, you’re making money.
If you learn it by losing someone else’s money, that’s experience!
When you lose your own money, it hurts, it makes you careful, but you cannot let it take the mojo… the hunger out of you.
You have to be hungry and willing to go into the unknown. The unknown is where you will always find opportunity. You will never find opportunities in your comfort zone, you have to push yourself.
[Dennis Crowley] What investors want the most is a team committed to a cause for the right reasons (passion about solving a problem, not passion about financial game), who can go and get people to buy into the vision, and who can build and manage teams that will help create this vision.
I hate to sound like the idea doesn’t matter, but you can’t expect all VC’s to understand the idea. They’ll see an opportunity, but it’s the team you rely on to execute.
You can tell the people who have the ability to bring people with them on the journey, and you can also tell the people who are in it just because they think startups are cool, and who probably won’t last a year.
I know that I’m good at this part of the game, but I’m only good if I’m really passionate about the idea. With Foursquare, they’ve put me on stage to talk about stuff I’m not passionate about sometimes, and I have a really hard time doing it. This is why the work we’re doing with Kingston Stockade FC is so interesting; I don’t really know what I’m doing, I’ve never done anything in sports before, but I’m really passionate about it, I have an idea I think works- and people want to follow us and be a part of it. I think have the skills to do it, but I don’t always know if the idea I’m chasing is the right one. I’m so used to having some many of the answers when it comes to Foursquare, and Stockade FC feels like the opposite – having to learn a whole new industry (sports) on the fly.
I don’t even know if it’s going in the right direction, but there’s something there, and I’m passionate enough about it to try to find the right answers and make it happen.
[Gary Vaynerchuk] Key to my investment decision is the entrepreneur, the jockey, the pilot, the person running the show….
Do I like them? Do I like their behaviour? Have they had experience? Have they had exits before? Have I been very impressed with their decision making in the past 12-24 months?
I also prefer to invest a little later, not when it’s still a ‘back of a napkin’ idea. I want to see a working business.
You know what matters most to me? Do I really, genuinely, believe in the thesis of the business. Do I believe the market they’re trying to fill is a void, vulnerable or emerging during the period they’re navigating in?
The thesis of the business is critical to its success, and to my view of it as an investor.
Q: What are the ‘secrets’ of raising funds?
[Tim Draper] Start close to you. Think of raising money as an onion, where you start with family and friends and work out toward people who know them and have more money than they do. When pitching, show your enthusiasm for your business.
Q: What causes startups to fail?
[Gary Vaynerchuk] In today’s climate, and over the past 5-7 years, people have been building financial arbitrage machines not actual companies.
Most people’s behaviour is more predicated towards raising the next round of financing rather than building towards a profitable company.
I’m not worried about business. Unlike politics, education and the unions it works itself out. We’re going to have a massive crash and 90% of the people will go back to working at Bank of America, Chase, GE and companies like that- and the people who are good enough will continue to build businesses.
Q: What is the role of failure in the entrepreneurship journey?
[Dave McClure] Perhaps one of the reasons, why so many of the start-up and innovation role-models have come from the USA is that we’re less concerned with failure. There is a greater emphasis on trying, failing, trying, failing and trying again.
If you look at some of the more formal cultures of Japan, UK and other places- they may… to coin a phrase, be more concerned with saving face than saving their ass! In truth, you can choose to save your face or your ass, but my advice? Choose carefully…
If you’re worried about getting embarrassed, or how you will look in front of your company, your parents and your friends, there’s a good chance you’ll miss the opportunity to find out what you’re capable of, how big your business could grow…. Or even to start a business in the first place.
In the USA, and in particular Silicon Valley, there’s an acceptance of failure- at least where you take lessons from it on the way to your eventual success. If you look at the lean start-up movement of the past 5-10 years, there’s an emphasis on failing fast and often in ways that help you learn to be successful, and fine-tune your subsequent efforts.
[David Cohen] Failure is an important part of one’s journey as an entrepreneur, and anyone who has some success likely has some failure in the background. It’s true of me, I had a company that didn’t work…
As an investor, my favourite pattern to invest in is an entrepreneur who had a moderate success and then a failure. That’s the one I want… you know they’re capable of success, and pretty upset about their last one, and will go out and make it happen on the next one. I’ve had a lot of success investing in that pattern, post-failure.
There are a few exceptions like Mark Zuckerbeg, who turned the first thing he did into gold, but even he’ll tell you there’s some element of luck there. Failure is something you learn from, whether it’s in the macro sense of business, or the micro-sense of making progress.
[Jack Welch] From the first time I was CEO, we worked hard to establish a culture where people would follow their insights, ideas and ‘go out on a limb’ . One of my first attempts to show risk taking and subsequent failure was to take on lighting efficiency, and the team went after compact-fluorescents. We were doing that in ’82 and ’83 when this technology wasn’t fashionable. Our lighting team developed some great compact fluorescents, but they cost about U$16 each. This 40 person team failed miserably, as we found everyone talked great until they had to spend green, even though our product saved a lot of energy.
We celebrated this team, we brought them to our general management meeting, we gave them awards, money, television sets, and other things. We made an example of them for trying and failing.
You can’t be reasonable in your approach to running a company, you have to exaggerate. If you want to improve your quality, you can’t say ‘we must have better quality,’ you have to say, ‘we must have the best quality possible, everybody has to focus on Six-Sigma, you can’t be promoted unless you’re a black belt…’ you have to go over the top! You can’t move a large institution with rational presentations , , , but you can’t do this “over the top” too often.
[Laurence Graff] Failure gives us an opportunity. I feel it is important to admit when you have made a mistake and take it as an opportunity to learn and improve. If you fall down you must stand up again and carry on, then you always keep moving forwards.
[Thor Björgólfsson] Having epic failures can be important, sometimes these are the events that can teach you a lot for the next stage of your career. You have to fall to get up again.
We only make progress by getting up from getting kicked to the ground.
How does a baby learn to walk? It falls, gets back up… falls, gets back up, and one day its running.
Here’s the thing about life. You will fall, stumble and fail- that’s inevitable. You need to analyse it when it happens, learn from those mistakes, and move on. Don’t dwell on failure.
[Dennis Crowley] Sometimes I don’t think people know what they’re signing up for when they become entrepreneurs.
When you go to the airport and stop at a newsstand, it’s wall-to-wall cover stories about successful entrepreneurs, but nobody talks about the failures and very rarely do they talk about the very hard times. Nobody wants to admit that their company almost went out of business 10 times.
All the talks I give are about failure, how hard it is, how much this job kinda’ sucks and genuinely how tough it is. People often go into this world thinking it’s all roses, and it’s not.
When people don’t talk about this stuff, they think they’re the only people to have ever experienced those challenges. The more people talk, the more everyone realises these are journeys which are shared. Successful entrepreneurs have to speak out about the bad stuff, not just the good.
Q: Why are young entrepreneurs so important, and how can we stimulate entrepreneurship in young people?
[Sir Richard Branson] Ultimately, the children of today are our future and we should understand the importance of nurturing their talents. I think encouraging curiosity is important and also to remind them it’s ok to ask for help. No one is good at everything. Some skills take years to master, while others you might not master at all. And that’s ok – focus on your strengths and keep trying. Learning to delegate and share responsibility are important skills to hone as well. I think exploring less traditional ways of how we use education is key to stimulating entrepreneurship. I have never been shy in sharing my opinion about this area. Math’s and literacy are of course important, and university is the right path for many and it’s wonderful that we have a choice towards further education. But as an entrepreneur, I got my education out in the world – real life learning is the way forward for young entrepreneurs. And this is what we must encourage and support.
Q: What is the role of education and mentoring in entrepreneurship?
[Sir Richard Branson] In 2010, we launched Virgin Media Pioneers, an online community for young entrepreneurs, with the aim of helping young people realise their potential. By championing a cause that is both close to my heart and vitally important to the future of the UK’s economic recovery, we are providing easy access to peers, practical advice from experts and tangible support for young entrepreneurs
I still find it strange that you can access money as a young person to go to university but that level of funding or even a fraction of that amount is not available to people with good ideas to set up a company. We must try to make early stage finance more available and ensure the banks do look at micro-financing or low rate long term loans for aspiring business builders. Together with Virgin Media Pioneers, we are campaigning for a fund for young entrepreneurs on similar terms as student loans.
[Sir James Dyson] It couldn’t be more important. Education is the key to unlocking a child’s potential. It is part of the reason that I started my charitable foundation, the James Dyson Foundation. My Foundation has worked on projects across a wide range of sectors from donating £750,000 to Royal United Hospital in Bath to create The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care to the James Dyson Award. The Award gives the opportunity for young graduates to showcase their inventions. The winner each year is mentored and supported with a £30,000 grant to help commercialise their invention. The award encourages students to create solution to a problem. The range of ideas that are submitted is vast, from tackling drought to food waste. The ingenuity and creativity of these young inventors never ceases to amaze me. It shows that inventors and designers can solve the problems the world faces today.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] I started to lend money to poor people without collateral in 1976. Later created a bank, Grameen Bank, to expand my initial individual initiative to reach out to millions of illiterate women to help them launch their micro businesses. That idea became known as microcredit, and reached out to over 170 million poor women around the world. Poor women became entrepreneurs with no education or training. That convinced me that human beings are basically entrepreneurs. Given opportunity they can bring it out. We made sure in Bangladesh that their children have education, can go to college. Once the education is done, they become job seekers and get frustrated by the absence of jobs. I keep telling them if your illiterate mother can start a business, what good good is your education if you can’t do better than your mother?
Education somehow makes young people believe that life is about finding a good job, or any job. They are never told they can be job creators. When you tell them for the first time they get shocked.
Conventional education is counter-productive as far as entrepreneurship is concerned. If we design an education system specially designed to promote innovation and entrepreneurship it can do wonders to young people. In addition to this new education vital thing which is missing is financial institutions to support young entrepreneurs. These two are key to creating a new civilization where all people will grow up to become entrepreneurs.
In. Bangladesh we have already set up the financial structure to turn unemployed youth into entrepreneurs. We have created a social business angel investor’s fund. Any unemployed poor young person can get investment from this fund. The fund becomes the partner in the business of the new entrepreneur. Once the business is successful the new entrepreneur can buy all the shares from the fund at the book value plus a small fixed fee to cover the operational cost of the fund. Since the fund is a social business it is not interested in making profit out of the business.
[Wendy Kopp] I’ve been inspired to meet educators – most recently Kiran Sethi, founder of the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India and founder of Design for Change – who are incorporating design thinking into their curriculum. At the Riverside School, students are experiencing today’s reality, envisioning new solutions, and implementing and learning from their ideas. I can’t think of a better way to inspire entrepreneurship. At the same time, I’ve seen first-hand the need for a full set of supports to encourage entrepreneurship. In my own trajectory I’ve benefited so much from coaching, strategic consulting, and committed investors who are willing to live through the setbacks and stay with the entrepreneur and the idea at all the different stages of the journey.
[Tory Burch] I have always believed in the value of mentors and, to this day, turn to trusted advisors from many different industries for insight. I studied art history in college so I learned how to be a designer and CEO on the job. Education is key but can come in all forms. Not everyone has the ability to go to business or design school. I learned on the job—having proper training would have been additive, but I also looked at things differently. Many entrepreneurs that I know feel the same way.
[Steve Case] Mentoring is basically being able to get advice and perspective from people that have had different experiences from your own, and using those views to inform your own ideas on how to build a product, a company, an idea, raise capital and so on.
We need to also ensure our schools are injecting a sense of possibility, creativity and inspiration. We need to make sure young people are asking big questions about Why? And Who Not? And thinking outside the box- not just focussing on the basics.
Ultimately, that’s what entrepreneurship is about. It’s about thinking outside the box and asking why this, that or the other can or can’t be different or better. Asking those questions and pursuing those answers can be stimulated in education, particularly when people are young.
[Jerry Yang] Entrepreneur communities have always been built around mentorship. Past entrepreneurs often become mentors. These days there are many more “formalized” ways to educating entrepreneurs – everything from business schools, to accelerators, to boot camps. Education and mentoring are key to entrepreneurial spirit and success — rarely do entrepreneurs succeed in a vacuum!
[Dave McClure] If you get advice from the right mentors, it can be really useful. Sometimes everybody and their mother wants to be a mentor these days! There’s a lot of opinions out there, and many of them don’t always agree…
We try to emphasise mentorship from previous entrepreneurs more than investors, and from people running tech and platform companies rather than traditional businesses.
I do find however that the best entrepreneurs don’t need mentoring as much as they need access to capital.
Education and access to peers and mentors is important, but access to capital- and equity capital in particular- is the real fuel for entrepreneurship.
[Weili Dai] I’ve always believed I could make a huge impact, and even though I was acutely aware of the fact that there were not many women in technology, I had this mission and believe that I could do it.
In life, nothing is easy- but you need to believe that you will do your best to make your dreams happen, and instead of thinking, “oh gee, women in technology… that’s difficult” you can look at these as hurdles (risks) and opportunities.
Over the years, many founders have approached me to get my opinion on their work.
One founder (of a company called Lark Technologies) called Julia Hu approached me with her artificial intelligence startup. She wanted to save lives, help people and make the world healthier. She was suffering from a chronic disease and was suffering on a daily basis, and seeing doctors on a regular basis. Then she and her fiancée (who have recently got married) decided to change the world to help other people with the chronic disease.
When she approached me, she actually came to Marvell for one of the Marvell events, a public event, and she stopped and said, “My name is Julia, I read about you, I heard of you, can you help me, give me some advice?”
I told her I was a geek, and so anything in technology intrigues me. They told me they were making this wrist band to track how people sleep. They were supporting the apple eco system and selling this little piece of hardware. When I asked her what here core competency was? She told me, “artificial intelligence…” this was the Aha! Moment for me, I could help them with the vision and strategy for their business- but only if they realised that they were making toppings.
Think of the tech ecosystem as a pizza… Marvell is like the pizza dough, the major eco-systems like Apple iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft Windows are like the tomato sauce and the apps are the ‘toppings.’ Realising this, she had to perform major surgery on her business- to pivot. I helped her come up with a new direction, raise some money and recently I was appointed to Chairman of the Board of Lark Technologies. I’m immensely proud of being able to help them in this way, and to help them scale to the next stage. Their AI nurse is an incredible piece of technology, and is soon going to be deployed into hospitals and the community – it will help tens of thousands of people with conditions including Type2 Diabetes.
It’s really important for entrepreneurs to help each other, it should be part of their DNA.
[David Cohen] Education is generally non-experiential and theoretical, and while it can be very valuable to have a background or basis to understand finance, business models, and so on- it’s really the mentorship that we focus on… This is where you’re actually doing it, and are getting help from people that have actually done it.
Network and experience transfer is massively underrated in entrepreneurship, and it’s only now being documented and understood. I have countless stories of companies helped by mentors that totally changed the trajectory of that company.
A big part of what we do is to inspire people in entrepreneurship. We’re known for the accelerators and venture capital, but we also run things like start-up weekend which operates worldwide and gives people a taste of what entrepreneurship is like. There are lots of ways to try being an entrepreneur without starting a company now….
There are lots of people who can’t quit their day-job but still have a great idea, and accelerator programmes are great for them. You get a bit of money and try it out, and see how it goes.
[Troy Carter] Mentorship and networks play a huge role in success.
I’ve been in the music industry since I was 16 years old, and in that time I’ve built a lot of relationships, been through many cycles, and the beauty of working with talent and global celebrity is that you deal with everything from consumer goods to fashion, politics, media, sports and more- it goes across the gamut!
When I’ve met a lot of early stage technology founders who were looking for business development relationships for example, these contacts allowed me to make the right matches and help those founders scale fast.
[Dennis Crowley] At Foursquare we’ve worked with executive coaches and CEO coaches and we’ve made them accessible to our management team as well, and I think that’s been helpful. For me personally, I have a lot of friends who are startup founders who I look up to and connect with regularly; it’s a bit of a support group, and really great for advice. We also have some real rock star venture capitalists on our board, and they’re great too.
When we were doing Dodgeball at ITP (grad school), there weren’t a lot of people who had done successful startups in New York. We had to learn a lot of things from scratch, make our mistakes along the way, and struggled to find people who we could ask questions to or who could mentor us. We ran into similar problems when we started Foursquare.
Now? I try to spend as much time as I can giving talks in the city, getting coffee with entrepreneurs and speaking to students. Here’s the thing: if people really want to do something, all they need to do is meet someone who’s built something from scratch to show them that it can be done by someone just like them. That’s how I started. I used to work at a tech company, and the founders were only a couple of years older than me. I used to think, ‘I wanna’ be these guys!’ – I’d just met them and realised that if they could do it, I could too! I want other people to have that feeling.
You need experts around you to help you get back on course, or call you out on your bull***t . You need to be open to that feedback in your life.
[Gary Vaynerchuk] This is a gold-rush, and these consultants and mentors are part of the group of second and third tier businesses wrapped around primary booming industry. A decade ago, it was real-estate experts.
To be frank. I don’t feel bad for the startups who end up blowing money on mentors and consultants, 90% of them should be working at a company- not startup founders. They are in the gold-rush themselves, and I don’t have a whole lot of empathy for them choosing the wrong mentors. It’s the blind leading the blind.
Q: Do all entrepreneurs need mentors and to be mentors?
[Sir Richard Branson] I think it’s important to remember that you can always learn a lot of valuable lessons from others. When you experience success, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know it all. We all have the potential to continue learning, and all need to be brave enough to ask for support. Entrepreneurs need mentors but I also think entrepreneurs should be mentors themselves. I have had the pleasure of mentoring a number of people over the years. Having the opportunity to share my failures as well as successes is important and helps me look at things with a different perspective. It’s important that we all help each other out where we can so we can all work on changing business for good! I’m extremely proud of the work that Virgin StartUp does. As a non-profit company, it offers financial support, mentoring and business advice to thousands of young entrepreneurs throughout the UK.
Q: How did your upbringing impact your life outcomes?
[Weili Dai] Let me start by talking about my own journey…. If I look at the reasons behind my own success, there is really two factors… One, is my upbringing… People ask me who my role models are, and I have one clear answer… my parents, especially my Mother. I believe upbringing has a huge impact on people’s futures, as parents you’re basically developing young people’s views on the world!
In my case… I grew up in a fairly normal family, it was me and my two older brothers, Like an Asian family, being an only daughter, you get spoiled right? I say spoiled, but I mean this in a very positive way. My parents were encouraging, loving, caring and did everything to make me feel I could do anything. They gave me the freedom to believe in me and meanwhile gave me the knowledge that they were always there to help and support me when I needed. This is, I think, is the ideal recipe that any parents should follow, that’s what me and my husband have been doing for our two sons, who are now PHD Students at UC Berkeley studying electrical engineering. Everybody loves them because they are down to the earth, thrive and achieve themselves not because their parents are successful, and all of those things.
My upbringing also taught me the importance of tradition, of family, and the role of a wife, mother and daughter within the family.
When I got married, my outlook changed and I thought, “…how do I support my husband and use my capabilities to contribute as much as possible, so together we could be game changing entrepreneurs and make a positive impact to the world..” 21 years later, we’ve done just that.
Q: What are your views on diversity in entrepreneurship?
[Troy Carter] I don’t think there are diversity issues in entrepreneurship in the wide sense, but rather we do have diversity issues in specific fields such as technology. We have a responsibility to do something about this, and while companies are starting to step-up, a lot more can still be done.
As a fund, we’re putting a lot of proactive strategies in place to encourage diversity through our portfolio- and we’re also seeing a lot more serious investors and funds around us do the same.
[Weili Dai] I’ve always believed I could make a huge impact, and even though I was acutely aware of the fact that there were not many women in technology, I had this mission and believe that I could do it.
In life, nothing is easy- but you need to believe that you will do your best to make your dreams happen, and instead of thinking, “oh gee, women in technology… that’s difficult” you can look at these as hurdles (risks) and opportunities.
Q: How can an online MBA compete with traditional business school models?
[Jack Welch] Our school has grown from nothing to 1,200 MBA’s since 2012.
Our faculty is evaluated on the basis of student satisfaction, and our students are 38 years old on average- they know right from wrong, and they’ll kill a professor that doesn’t perform or give them value for money.
Don’t forget, our student are still in their jobs…. Our principle is that we teach you on Monday, you practice it on Tuesday, and you come in and share your results on Friday. Every week, we have an idea we drive home that they take to work and practice. Our students report incredible success in meeting their career objectives while in the program.
The worst thing about online schools is this. Imagine a student stays up all night working on a presentation, submits it and some dopey professor feeds-back, ‘nice job.’ Just think about that… you’re tired, your spouse is yelling at you for not taking care of the kids, and you’ve just put your paper into vacuum Our faculty must maintain a certain number of engagements with each student per week, and this is measured. Our faculty has no tenure, and a certain percent don’t make it each year. They may not make it from semester to semester. . This is all about providing value and performance for the hard-working students that come to us. The student, not the faculty, is the customer!
Q: What are the key differences you see between entrepreneurship across cultures and continents?
[Robin Li] One thing you notice among the more successful private enterprises in China is that their CEOs tend to be their founders. It’s not like any of them are doing it for the money: These are all people who are already very well off by any standard. They continue to work hard because of a kind of idealism. While in the U.S., founders often either cash out or are moved aside by their boards in favor of professional managers at the first sign of difficulty, in China that’s not often been the case at all. I understand this very well, personally. I doubt that many professional managers would have made some of the decisions that I’ve made as Baidu’s CEO over the last 15 years—decisions that have proven to be the right ones for the business.
We’re starting to see convergence, especially in culture, between U.S. and Chinese companies in the Internet space at least. I often travel to the U.S. and always meet with leading Internet companies there—from founders and CEOs down to ordinary engineers—and I’m finding that they’re increasingly interested in what’s happening in China, and much more receptive to working together with Chinese companies like Baidu. Despite the well-known obstacles, I nevertheless see communication and cooperation across the Pacific growing, and that’s very encouraging.
[Jerry Yang] It has been great fun to get to know entrepreneurs around the world. They all certainly share the common traits we’ve discussed above, but also there are cultural differences. Many Chinese entrepreneurs focus and derive success based on the uniqueness and eccentricities of the Chinese market. The Chinese market grew rapidly over the last 15 years, so many of the entrepreneurial endeavors leapfrogged equivalent Western markets. For example – mobile growth quickly overtook PCs (as the PC market wasn’t as mature as Western markets). Similarly the e-commerce market in China developed when retail, logistics, and supply chain were all developing in parallel.
[Tony O. Elumelu] On the surface, I suppose there are certain tools and technology at the disposal of industrialized countries that are lacking in developing nations like Africa. However, the core of being an entrepreneur is the same regardless of culture: entrepreneurs represent a class of people who overcome a series of psychological, financial and sometimes even physical barriers to implement an idea and turn a profit, while solving an economic or social problem. I don’t find that attitude to be culture-specific.
Rather than view this from a cultural perspective, I prefer to consider the individual and his environmental circumstances. The individual who has big dreams and is tenacious, resilient, and unrelenting, with the ability to translate ideas into action often succeeds, irrespective of where he comes from. Similarly, an individual in an environment where the entrepreneurial ecosystem is well developed, i.e. where there is power, good roads, security, etc., is also more likely to succeed than one who is expected to support himself in nearly every respect.
[Ricardo Salinas] The essence of an entrepreneur is always the same. That’s why we can always relate to each other and share experiences, regardless of borders.
But of course, an entrepreneur must always be able to adapt to different environments. It is not the same to operate in Mexico as in the United States, Brazil, or Venezuela. Some countries are friendlier to entrepreneurs, while in other countries entrepreneurs are constantly harassed. Mexico is not totally amicable to entrepreneurs, but the environment is by no means as bad as in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. The United States is viewed as an entrepreneur-friendly country, but there are many absurd regulations that force businessmen to spend ridiculous resources on lawyers and compliance officers, and the trend is toward even higher hurdles. An entrepreneur must constantly adapt to different environments, but sometimes doing business becomes impossible and you must cut your losses before it is too late.
Q: What is the role of government and policy in entrepreneurship?
[Sir Richard Branson] Governments and policymakers usually have an important role to play in creating the fertile grounds for entrepreneurs to succeed. Many of our Virgin businesses wouldn’t be able to operate without the rules and regulations that govern their sectors. Though as with many instances in life, one must generally find a balance between enough policy and regulation and not too much.
An analogy I find useful is to think about entrepreneurship like a game of football. There are certain rules of the game which you must follow, such as there being two halves, running for 90 minutes and not being able to use your hands, but when it comes to how you arrange your team, and what strategies you use to score goals, it’s completely up to you. The same should be true for business: policies and regulation can create the pitch and the rules and then entrepreneurs can play how they like.
Many democracies go hand in hand with entrepreneurship, though I’ve seen many examples of people building successful businesses in less democratic political regimes. Like nature, even if the environment isn’t ideal, entrepreneurship will find a way.
[Robin Li] Speaking here just of our home market, China, the government obviously plays a supervisory and market-regulatory role. At the same time it can and often does play an important role in providing support to companies. The government should create an environment in which companies can foster innovation and grow. It should create systems that are conducive to creativity and fair competition, including a legal system that safeguards the rights and legal interests of entrepreneurs. I believe that innovation flourishes best under a system that gives maximum free play to entrepreneurship.
[Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw] When I was starting out in business, the government didn’t even understand the sectors that were being created in their own country. When the biotech and IT sectors were created- out of nothing- they were born under the radar of government! Crony capitalism and corruption- which were systemic within India’s system- didn’t even touch these sectors because the government didn’t know what they were building!
We started reaching out to government and asking for help, because they were doing nothing. The government did something very smart. In Bangalore, we had a very different, very progressive and modern ecosystem. It’s all about technology here. The government was very honest and said, “hey, we don’t even really understand your business, so let’s form a true PPP – Public Private Partnership ” The government allowed policy creation to be led by entrepreneurs who- over time- helped government understand their industries. A vision group of IT and a vision group on Biotechnology were created, and chaired by entrepreneurs. I chair the biotechnology group, and the IT group was initially chaired by Mr. Narayan Murthy who founded Infosys. Government allowed us to pick our own teams, and the only permanent member were the few government members that exist as special officers to facilitate the link with policy. The rest of the individuals were picked by the chair- and we have picked people from industry and academia. This progressive stance has allowed for a wonderful consortium of industry, academia and government.
To complete the circle you need talent (which requires progressive academic and educational policy), you also need this to be connected to progressive industrial policies and also the government’s help in putting it all together!
We have created a fantastic platform here in India, and we genuinely think it’s a platform that governments around the world should replicate. It’s something that nobody wants to emulate because many governments are simply not comfortable devolving power like that.
This isn’t just about government; it’s also about mentoring and academia. The academicians in the Karnataka (where Bangalore is) work very closely with us, they have a stake in what is happening. If you look at the number of biotechnology start-ups, I’ve not seen it anywhere else. We’ve built a very integrated system, everyone leverages each other’s strengths, nobody tries to replicate and steal stuff!
Today, Bangalore alone has 1.4 million IT workers, Silicon Valley has 1.7… By 2020, Bangalore as a city will have 2.1 million IT workers, overtaking practically everywhere else in the world.
[Steve Case] Governments set the stage for entrepreneurship.
Let’s not forget that the internet itself came out of government funded basic research by the defence agency. Without government investment, the internet wouldn’t exist, GPS wouldn’t exist, a lot of things we take for granted simply wouldn’t be there.
Governments must also create the right investment climate to incentivise these often-risky enterprises, and can do so through tax [or other] incentives that help persuade people to put money into these firms which- over time- are driving job-creation and growth.
Protecting citizens in a responsible way, and providing the right regulatory framework are also important functions the government plays in regards to enterprise. This is often a difficult balance as policy-makers have to prevent bad things from happening, but also must give enough freedom to allow good things to happen too.
Policies around talent and immigration-reform are important. Countries need to attract and retain great people!
Governments need to recognise that they have to lean to the future, engaging with entrepreneurs, working together to figure-out the right climate for innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. At the same time, entrepreneurs must engage with government- particularly in sectors like health-care and education.
In the USA, there is a big gap between- for example- Washington DC and Silicon Valley. They’re talking past each other and not engaging.
In an ideal-world, government and enterprise dance together in a constructive way rather than pointing fingers at each-other.
[Tony O. Elumelu] It should be every government’s role to create the enabling environment for entrepreneurs to thrive. Entrepreneurs, through their innovation and hard work, create the opportunities for employment and economic growth that serves nations in numerous quantifiable and qualitative ways. When government policies support the growth of the private sector, they start a ripple effect that will ultimately resolve basic societal challenges, from unemployment to a lack of social amenities, which can be provided from the tax revenues gained from robust companies.
[Ricardo Salinas] In Mexico we say “mucho ayuda el que no estorba”, meaning that “the best way to help is to not get in the way.” Milton Friedman once said that “the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse.” He was probably right. Governments should subscribe to the philosophy of “do no harm”. The absence of bureaucracies and regulations that stymie private enterprise can go a long way. Regrettably, in Latin America entrepreneurs have faced obstacles for decades. In some countries this situation has improved somewhat and in others, such as Venezuela, Brazil, or Argentina, it has become much more difficult, if not impossible, to develop entrepreneurial activities. Mexico has historically taken two steps forward and one step back in promoting business. Only when Latin American governments are in big financial trouble do they take meaningful measures to support entrepreneurs. The most important role of government is to provide security, the rule of law, and a strong environment to enforce contracts. None of these elements are completely present in Latin America. But as Friedman also used to say, “the way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.”
[Vladimir Potanin] Government has many means at its disposal to push businesses to invest in industries that are important to the nation. Governments can create beneficial tax regimes, introduce tax holidays, cancel fees, create special economic zones, and subsidize interest payments on loans, among others. Russian government should move away from centralized redistribution of funds towards arranging a natural flow of capital from the industries with high profit margins to the industries where margins are lower.
Businesses should not take on more than is expected, but neither would it be right to deny their significance. Businesses create value, produce goods, offer services. That is what makes a country thrive. Politicians must take care to infuse everything with the right kind of meaning, to define the right goals – then there will be no excessive tilting in either direction. There needs to be a fair balance.
It is important to find that line where incentives for business development are present while its output is distributed for the benefit of the society, according to societal needs.
Russia’s success and economic wellbeing are directly dependent on whether the country will give rise to a class of respected business people. You may find what I say pompous, but that is how things are. Entrepreneurs can work for their own benefit, for the government, or for a private company; but together they move the economy forward.
[Dr. Michael Otto] There’s no doubt that entrepreneurs should also engage on the political level. That said, this concerns the bigger picture much more than what may currently be on the political agenda. I get involved through my foundations.
My “Aid by Trade Foundation” is to show an example for the development policy that to help people to help themselves is a particularly effective form of development aid. The same goes for ‘2° – German Business Leaders for Climate Protection’, which I cofounded with a number of similarly-minded CEOs. We aim to contribute to the implementation of climate-protection measures and to support political actors in reaching economically sustainable climate-policy decisions.
[Thor Björgólfsson] Governments often miss the point when it comes to entrepreneurship. They’re frequently too late implementing policies, or ride the crest of something that will happen anyway.
In the early stages of the adoption of ideas, governments can create the platforms to turn embryonic ideas into commercial successes. The same is true of the state owned university sector; these universities play a crucial role in commercialising the intellectual property and ideas that a country is generating.
Governments also need to provide tax incentives to reward people for taking risks with their own capital so that they can benefit if things go well, and have tax mechanisms to recoup losses when things don’t.
Entrepreneurship, particularly in the technology and digital world, is so far ahead of legislators that policy simply cannot catch up!
Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of our global patent system as they relate to innovation and entrepreneurship?
[Nathan Myhrvold] It would be very hard to run the world of real estate without there being deeds that allow someone to own land. Who would invest or lend you money to build a building if you didn’t own the land under it? Who would offer a mortgage if in fact there was no ownership? In the same ways that ownership is important in the context of real estate, as well as other aspects of the economy, ownership is important with ideas.
Any new idea requires a lot of work in order to test it, vet it, and then make it a commercial reality. The idea of a patent system is entirely parallel to the idea of a deed for a piece of real estate. It is a contract with society that establishes the right of ownership. Unlike real estate, the bargain an inventor makes with society is a limited period of exclusivity, typically twenty years, in exchange for telling the whole world how to do it. That is an incredibly important thing and has enabled inventions to be financed and thrive.
Parts of the world that have not had strong intellectual property protections have typically not been the parts of the world where lots of new ideas have generated from. It’s a really basic thing— if you want new ideas to flourish, you need to have a cultural expectation that encourages invention and defends inventors’ rights.
Perhaps the most stunning example of this is nineteenth century America. The United States entered the century as a deeply troubled agricultural-based society. Yet, by the end of the century America was of the world’s leaders of invention and innovation. Regardless of what area of technology you look at, American inventors were doing it, even though on paper, Europe had a higher fraction of educated people, leading universities, and scientists of the time.
How come? The United States had a strong patent system and a strong culture of entrepreneurship. It was a place where people with a crazy idea could come to make that idea a reality. It was also a place where people could pick themselves up after a failure or a less than winning success and go on to do something new. Many of the great American inventors of that time came here from Europe or other parts of the world because stricter, hidebound societies with limited upward mobility made it much more difficult to be an entrepreneur.
Q: How do you feel entrepreneurship has changed over the last quarter-century, and what do you think the future holds?
[Sir Richard Branson] The big change to entrepreneurship over the past 25 years has been technology. Now, more than ever, anybody can create their own business and be up and running in the time it takes to register a website. The growing start-up community has fostered a spirit of creativity and collaboration where everyone feels they can become a successful entrepreneur. And they’re right – they can! In the future I think entrepreneurship is going to become even more widespread than it is today. More and more people are realising the way to get ahead in the business world is to get out there, be brave and make things happen.
Q: Can entrepreneurs tackle the big problems facing our species?
[Nathan Myhrvold] The thing that makes enormous problems potentially soluble is that there is no limit to what a new idea can do, whether it is feeding the world, protecting it from a rogue asteroid, or solving the many other problems that we face as a species. Mythology is full of the notion of magic, including magicians and wizards who can utter just a few words to overcome insurmountable challenges or change the world. The truth is that science, technology, understanding, and human creativity are magic that we need.
Human history is largely a list of enormous problems and the committed people who had an idea for a solution and put it into effect. Much like today, energy presented a number of problems during the nineteenth century. Whales were being hunted to extinction because whale oil was the preferred fuel for lamps. By the middle of the century, that diminished population had caused the price of oil to skyrocket. As it turns out, the solution came from a high school principal named Edward Bissel and a retired train conductor, Edwin Drake. Backed by a set of friends who all met at Dartmouth, Drake drilled the first oil well and ushered in petroleum oil as a new approach to the problem. They faced many difficulties throughout the process, but the innovation’s instantaneous success silenced the many skeptics who had thought the idea, as well as Drake, was crazy.
Petroleum created an entirely new energy system that enabled transportation in a new way— coal powered automobiles wouldn’t have been very effective, much less airplanes. We don’t think of the oil industry as an environmental savior, but at that time it actually was for whales. We know now that oil has left its own environmental legacy and today we’re looking for the next Bissel and Drake to innovate in some form of renewable energy to continue to meet the energy needs of the planet.
The nineteenth century was full of such innovations—steamships, locomotives, the telegraph, the telephone, electric lighting—but all of those things were entrepreneurial driven ideas that completely changed our world. Now it’s probably too much to ask an individual to go solve any one of the world’s big problems, much less of all of them. But, the degree to which those problems are solved, or if not solved than coped with, will be because of enterprising people who come up with great ideas, and are driven to then put them into effect by creating organizations, institutions, or companies that make the idea happen.
Q: Why are people so excited about entrepreneurship right now?
[Jamal Edwards] Right now, people are fed-up- they want to start something themselves. People also know that businesses make a difference, I know that if I can employ people, I can improve where I’m from.
We live in a digital age, the internet means you can start businesses quick- but with the competition, you need to figure how you can be different from others.
[Dave McClure] This is a hugely exciting time for the world.
It’s constantly getting cheaper, easier and faster to build businesses and scale them. A lot of things that used to cost millions of dollars are now free or very cheap, and you can stand on the shoulders of giants, with platforms like Google, Amazon, Cisco and Facebook – building your applications on their services. This has reduced capital requirements, and increased speed to market.
The internet has given people a huge global market too. You can build products and services cheaper, faster and get those products and services to thousands, millions or even billions of customers- instantly.
Q: What can we do to inspire more young people into entrepreneurship?
[Jamal Edwards] We need to show support. If someone has a good idea, encourage it- don’t discourage it- and find a way to help.
The young people of today, are the future leaders of tomorrow… We can’t be pushing them away if they have ideas. If you can’t help them, you can’t help them- but if you can… it’s important to show as much support as early as possible.
Q: What has been your greatest learning?
[David Cohen] Entrepreneurship is all about the people. I used to always think that, but now I know it in a very concrete way.
Putting the right CEO in a company that has product/market fit can change the company completely. Having the right founders can change an idea from a terrible failure to a great-success.
Entrepreneurship is so much about the people, their motivation and their obsession with their product. As an investor, I just bet on people like that and try not to ever tell them it won’t work. People with true drive will always make things work.
[Laurence Graff] To always be honest, always be correct. It is something I learned from my elders years ago and these values have shaped my own career. I have always paid my bills, always kept my word.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever had [and wish you’d had]?
[Donna Karan] I wish someone had told me to travel the world before working. I started too early. Once you’re working, you don’t take the time to be inspired. The best advice I ever received was from Anne Klein: a designer is a designer, whether you’re designing a dress or a toothbrush. The integrity, skill and creativity are all the same.
Q: What has inspired you on your journey?
[Gary Vaynerchuk] I’m the product of two…
My mother’s unbelievable parenting in deploying enormous self-esteem and confidence meant I believed in myself in a way that was blind. The best entrepreneurs are the most optimistic and completely out of tune with reality right? Why would you do it otherwise.
I was also born with ‘the gift of the gab,’ that storytelling ability. In my youngest, rawest form- when I was selling baseball cards and lemonade, there was a level of bull*** that I had. I cared about the sale- nothing else. There were no consequences as a kid.
My father made me a word-is-bond, word-is-everything, shake a hand and stick to it kinda’ guy. That combined with blind faith and belief has become an amazing concoction and something I live-off even today.
The best advice I’ve ever got? Your word is bond, your reputation is everything, being someone who is a liar or full of sh** is not worth what you get in return.
I’ve articulated that now to my own community by telling them that how you make your money is more important than how much you make. I really believe that.
I could be far more wealthy than I am- and that’s weird to say. However, I want to be far more proud of how I made my money than how much I made. That requires patience… I know I’m going to get there anyway, so boy is it gonna’ feel good at 70 when I have coffee with a youngster, moulding her future one day, being very proud that she wants my attention- that she wants me to be her Yoda.
The alternative? Make a tonne of money but always be worried that people will one day find out all the sh** you did to make it.
Be proud of how you make your money, and be patient.
Q: Who are you?
[Sir Richard Branson] I think the best way to describe me can be found in my Twitter profile: Tie-loathing adventurer, philanthropist and troublemaker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr. Yes within Virgin!
Q: What would be your message to future entrepreneurs?
[Robin Li] This is something I speak about quite often, and I always emphasize that entrepreneurs should focus on what they believe is worthwhile, exercising their own judgment without blindly following the crowd. Find that sweet spot at the intersection of what you do best and what you love to do the most, and your odds of success are immediately much higher. If you do what you excel in doing, you’ll be better than your competition. And if you focus on what you love to do, you’ll be doggedly persistent even when faced with strong competitors, reversals of fortune, and beguiling distractions.
Not everyone makes it. There’s no small amount of risk, and failures large and small along the way are inevitable. But if you really have the ambition to become an entrepreneur, if you’re someone with a dream planted firmly in your heart, if it’s something you want so badly you can taste it, if you believe you can make it, and if you’re sure that you’ll be bringing something great into the world that will benefit society, then you shouldn’t let anything stop you, and you should just reach for it.
[Sir James Dyson] Don’t aspire to be an entrepreneur. Aspire to create something that solves a problem. My message to young people with an idea is build a prototype and test it. Test it again and again, making the changes, learning from failure. Don’t be afraid to go it alone. When I first created dual cyclone technology I tried to license my technology to major manufactures and got nowhere. Sometimes you have to be brave and jump in at the deep end but the rewards for creating disruptive technology that really works are truly amazing.
[Professor Muhammad Yunus] My message is not to those who are ‘interested in entrepreneurship’. They are only a small bunch any way. My message is to all young people, even if they are not interested at the moment. Every one of them has the potential of turning into great entrepreneurs. My message is a simple question: Should you start your life at the top or rather start it at the bottom? If you go for a job, you start at the bottom. There, you’ll be busy trying to satisfy your immediate boss, giving up your creative power to fit into a small role defined by your boss. For rest of your life you’ll be dedicated to fulfilling the goals set by your boss, not by you. Have you ever thought of your goals? Why not start with your goals, make your life, and the world, your way. Be the leader, rather than a tiny follower.
People will tell you that it is too risky. Don’t listen to them. Start by finding your own solutions. The fact that others have not created solutions for you, that’s an advantage. You get the chance to try your hand. Come up with your ideas. Nobody can beat you on ideas. Try it. There are many like you waiting to join you. Take the first step. I can guarantee you, it is a lot fun.
I have set three goals for myself. I aiming at three zeros: zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emission, by 2040 to 50. If your goals are similar we can work together and achieve them faster. World has no option but to achieve them.
[Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw] I was just talking to a young woman who has created a fund supporting female led start-ups, and initiatives like this make be very excited about the future of entrepreneurship. She’s already raised over $250 million.
I want every young person to know that it’s not money that’s key, but the idea. You have to create big ideas and take them to market; that’s the excitement of entrepreneurship. It’s not about size and scale, it’s about the power of ideas.
If you can get a powerful idea, then make sure you have the passion to deliver into the market, that’s the zeal you need as an entrepreneur.
[N. R. Narayana Murthy] Compared to 1981 when I started my entrepreneurial journey, the opportunities for entrepreneurs have become multi-fold. Today, there is a lot of venture capital chasing entrepreneurs. Today, parents do not mind their children joining start-ups. In fact, many prefer them to! You can list your company much faster than during the 80’s.
On the other hand, there is a lot more competition today. The only instrument our entrepreneurs have is the power of their innovation and ideas. It is no longer about the big companies eating smaller ones, it’s about nimble companies eating laggards.
Our entrepreneurs have a lot of opportunity throughout the world. Thanks to globalisation, good ideas can come from anywhere. Once upon a time, it was just from the USA. Today, it could be from Australia, Japan, England, Brazil, India, Africa or from any other country. There are no geographic monopolies on ideas today. Therefore, competition has increased.
Today’s entrepreneurs must focus on improving the power of their ideas, and use that power to make this a better world and also to become successful.
[Tim Draper] The advice Elon Musk gave to our Draper University students was, “”You must feel compelled to do it… if you need inspiring words, don’t do it.”
[Jamal Edwards] The biggest thing is self belief.
Self belief is so important… Believe in yourself, try out your ideas… if you fail? Learn from that failure and move on. Don’t be harmed by it….
Don’t let the success get to your head, and don’t let the failures get to your heart.
[Nathan Myhrvold] I think there’s a moral imperative for people who have been entrepreneurs and successful entrepreneurs in business to try to figure out how they can affect social change. For some that is through philanthropy, but as important as philanthropy is, creating new institutions, new ideas, and new paradigms is frankly more important.
Many social problems have the nature that they have been with us for a very long time and they are managed at some level in the same old way and have been for a long time. To some degree it is understandable then that we have no better solution, but in other spheres of life, technology has completely transformed how we live and work. Trying to manage social problems using the same old approach as before, rounding up the usual suspects, is a much less exciting strategy then coming up with bold new solutions. And often when we haven’t found a solution, it’s probably because there has not been an environment for people to try new ideas very effectively.
I am very much in favor of saying that any problem— regardless of whether it’s a purely scientific, technological, or engineering problem or a human, social, or political problem—can be solved. Now I admit that is difficult, so I certainly can imagine people who are skeptical, but that’s what entrepreneurs and innovators have always had to deal with throughout history: skeptics who say it’ll never work. In essentially any area that you pick, be it in technology or in business, those skeptics end up being wrong. I believe that the people who are skeptical that we can make proper progress against thorny problems of society, they’ll prove to be wrong too, but only if we put our shoulders to the wheel and try to not just work hard on those problems, but work smart, to work creatively, and to work entrepreneurially.
We are living in the golden age of innovation. It’s never been easier to start a new company, to come up with new ideas, or to harness amazing technologies developed for one area and apply them in a totally new and unexpected way. The history of progress in the world is largely the history of technological innovation and even in ages past, long periods of time would go before there was an invention as important as the wheel or the electric light bulb. The accelerating pace of technological innovation means that there will be more opportunity in the future— every sign says there is going to be greater opportunity for the next generation and the next after it, then exists at present.
Although it’s fashionable to look at the impact of innovation on all of the world’s problems, our population is more educated than ever before. Whether it’s through the internet or another means, we’ve never had a better opportunity to communicate with people across the globe— which means we also have the possibility for an idea in one part of the world to affect everyone. So my message to the next generation is this: you have an incredible opportunity to change the world, far more than existed when I was young and vastly more than most of human history for all human history, so let’s see what you do with it.
[Wendy Kopp] What’s more important is to be part of big solutions to big problems, so I’d encourage people to pursue passions and impact rather than entrepreneurship per se. Find a big societal issue that really concerns you and immerse yourself in understanding that problem as up close and personal as you can. Learn what others are doing to tackle it and become part of those solutions. If you come up with a new big idea that you believe will have a more profound impact than advancing and scaling the solutions already under way, then go for it!
[Tory Burch] I tell entrepreneurs that first you have to find your passion and your idea should be unique and fill a void. It is important to realize that starting a business is a tremendous amount of work—you have to be extremely tenacious. Nothing that is successful comes easy and it is important to be patient.
[Steve Case] There are still a lot of problems and challenges in society that require fresh thinking, bold perspectives and innovation. The next wave of entrepreneurship could be the most interesting and impactful we’ve ever seen.
There are now entrepreneurs who are focusing on things like how we stay healthy, how we eat, how we get around, how we manage energy, how we learn and many other critically important aspects of the lives of billions.
My hope is that entrepreneurs are inspired to take on big challenges. In those challenges are opportunities, and those opportunities could build the next wave of iconic world-changing companies.
Its hard to be an entrepreneur, it always has been and always will be. In many parts of the world, such as some parts of Africa, there are structural challenges which make it even harder- but even there, entrepreneurs are seizing the moment and looking at ways to improve sanitation, food, energy and some big challenges.
There will always be a role for government and NGOs, but entrepreneurs can improve lives, usher in change and build great companies in the process.
My hope is that entrepreneurs set their sights high, to tackle big problems and challenges, and take that path of passion and perseverance to have significant impact.
[Jerry Yang] Entrepreneurs will continue to be the difference makers across generations. The times may change, and it will only get easier for ideas and business to start. However, the fundamentals of persistence, passion, and the pursuit of passion will remain the same.
[Tony O. Elumelu] I think it is paramount for future entrepreneurs to build sustainable companies that will create value for their stakeholders over the long-term. It is also important, however, for these companies to have a social impact. My investment firm, Heirs Holdings, makes long-term investments in key sectors—financial services, energy, real estate and hospitality, healthcare—through which each of our companies add to Africa’s economic prosperity and social wealth. This isn’t the easiest path to success, to be sure, but it is responsible and it is my firm belief that this is the foundation upon which great legacies are built.
[Ricardo Salinas] It is fundamental to know yourself. I recommend the writings of Paul Getty who said that in private enterprise there are four kinds of people: (1) the entrepreneur, who is a natural risk taker, restless, creative, and hardworking; he is unable to take orders or work for someone else; (2) the executive, who is a person who is equally restless and hardworking. He pays attention to detail, but prefers to work for another person because his tolerance for risk is much lower—in this sense, finding good executives is key to entrepreneurs–; (3) the employee, who prefers a fixed schedule and salary, regular vacations, and who methodically obeys instructions but is completely unable to take risks and finally, (4) the bureaucrat, who doesn’t care whether the company earns or loses money. He creates unnecessary obstacles and inefficiencies and the only thing that matters to him is that his salary is paid on time. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur, but whatever your calling, avoid bureaucrats in your company since they can sink the whole enterprise. If you have what it takes, move forward with determination and confidence. If you fall, get up, adjust course, and continue.
[Vladimir Potanin] People often think that business people are cynics who are not interested in anything beyond profits. This is not so. Without profit, a businessperson simply cannot discharge his professional duties. Let me say it again – just like a surgeon, who cannot work without inflicting pain.
And like a doctor, who does not have to be a sadist, a business person does not have to be a cynic through and through who thinks of nothing but the bottom line. It is important to understand that the business you are conducting brings something positive to the people.
[Dr. Michael Otto] The framework conditions for young entrepreneurs are no tougher than they used to be – even if today due to digital networking entrepreneurs need to move to the implementation phase much more rapidly than in the past if they want to be successful. We have so many young, well-educated digital natives with great ideas and high implementation drive; they should harness their creativity and ideas to draft new business models. Crowd-funding platforms and venture capital provide many opportunities to establish a sound financial basis for a company to grow.
[Weili Dai] Our company is only 21 years old, and recently myself and my husband received lifetime achievement awards from the Global Semiconductor Association. This wasn’t just our customers and partners, but our peers and competitors. This was an incredible feeling, and we’re proud of each and every person who’s made this journey possible.
The journey has never been easy, you go through different stages- face different challenges- and often get impacted by things out of your control. You have to be strong, continue, and never lose the hunger you ad the day you first started your company.
You have to believe that nobody and nothing can stop you from achieving your success, your vision and your purpose in life. That’s determined by you.
[Jack Welch] You must surround yourself with great people, and as you grow, never forget the generosity gene. You must demonstrate that gene with encouragement, praise, recognition, and cash.
Building a great team is what this business game is all about. The team with the best players working together wins. This great team will drive growth, and growth is like an elixir. It’s exciting, it creates more and more growth, and it’s a helluva lot of fun. Business is fun, it’s a game. You’re playing against others, and you want to win!
Winning is good, losing is bad! Do you want to be in the winner’s locker room celebrating or in the losers with your head down and a towel around your neck? If you’re winning, you can give back — to your family, institutions of your choice, and your local communities… If you’re losing, your pockets are empty.
[Naveen Jain] You have to dream so big that people think you’re crazy. If people don’t think you’re crazy, you’re not dreaming big enough.
You can never be afraid of failing. As an entrepreneur, you never fail – you adapt and pivot. Ideas fail, people don’t. If you are smart enough to adapt and pivot, you realise that ideas are stepping stones.
[Troy Carter] Stay undefined and stay curious.
Our world is changing so rapidly that the only way to survive, thrive and adjust is to have a deep and constant level of curiosity.
[Steve Ballmer] Two things: One you have to get a unique insight. It starts there. Two, you need to be prepared to devote a lot of energy and commitment.
[Will.I.Am] You have to figure out who you are in the conversation.
You have to know who you are at the table. Are you the idea guy? The note taker? The make-it-happen guy? The follow-through guy? Or the bring-it-together person?
In a proper thinking session, you have those personalities. The idea guy, the guru (who brings people together, not necessarily the same person as the idea guy) the note taker (who takes everything down and collates it), the make-it-happen guy (who creates the action points, and understand what needs to be done) and the follow-through guy (who makes those actions happen). There’s also an ‘assembler’ who knows how to bring all these people together. Are you that person? Who are you?
Iovine was the funder and the bringer-together and sometimes the glue. He was never afraid to say, ‘hey, I’m not the idea guy… that’s why I have these other guys.’ I was Jimmy’s ideas-guy.
I’m an ideas person… I know exactly that’s who I am. I’m not a good follow-through guy, I sometimes overthink things too much, and I can be overprotective of my ideas… As an ideas-person and a facilitator you will want to get your idea out when you think it’s finished, and that’s often suffocating for your business because you don’t allow it to grow.
You have to be open-minded, and be a people-person. If you’re a recluse? Go build a social-network or something… Recluses often build or create what they’re lacking.
You have to know who you are, be open-minded, and be ready to collaborate.
You have to have thick-skin and be prepared to get your idea ripped apart.
You have to be patient, and you know what? You gotta’ like bullsh** A lot of the time, the reason your stuff ain’t working is because bullsh** happened. A lot of people give-up because of the politics and turn into frickin’ wusses.
If you want to be successful? You have to take bullsh** and turn it into fertiliser.
[Laurence Graff] To follow your dreams and imagine the unimaginable. Everything man-made that we see and touch on a daily basis has been invented by someone, by an entrepreneur. All you have to do is to look around you to feel inspired by creation and invention. Life is exciting and you can create your own destiny, just as long as you believe in yourself and step outside of the box.
[John Caudwell] Before you set-up in business, analyse how much you really want it.
There are six critical factors for success.
Ambition sits like a shining beacon that sits in the sky that tells you where you want to go, and stops you from resting until you’ve achieved it. Without ambition you’re not going to go anywhere, and if you want to be successful on a big scale, you have to have ambition.
Drive is absolutely fundamental to success. You have to be capable of driving yourself beyond the limit that most people can go to.
Resilience is important. With all the ambition and drive in the world, if your body and mind are not resilient enough to cope with the stresses, you won’t be successful. Your health and your brain have to hold-out no matter what the world throws at you.
Passion matters. That’s the inspirational component, and helps you to win with suppliers, customers and employees. People love passionate people!
Commercial intellect is a huge factor to success. You have to be able to weigh up a commercial situation, and be able to find ways and angles to turn it to your favour- to add value to your business smartly.
Leadership abilities are the real differentiater between growing a business, and growing a business at real scale. The leadership ability you have allow you to manage people, motivate them, drive them, keep them honest, keep them loyal to the cause, keep them fighting and keep them motivated. This is a rare and difficult skill.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to evaluate yourself honestly on your ambition, drive, resilience, passion, commercial intellect and leadership ability. You also have to be willing to potentially sacrifice a big part of your life.
Entrepreneurship is fantastic, and if you do it right? It gives you the wealth and power to do what you wish; and in my case, that’s been about changing people’s lives.
[Frederik Paulsen] The key to being successful in business is trust, you have to trust the people you work with. This trust must co-exist with competence.
Many people weigh trust higher than competence, however competence is absolutely key. First and foremost the people in your business have to be extremely competent at what they do, and then it’s up-to you as a leader to have trust in them and their abilities, and to give them the freedom to do their job!
I believe many of our new generation of entrepreneurs put too much significance on money, and not enough on ideas. If you have a great idea, and the skills to execute that idea, the money will come.
[Thor Björgólfsson] Don’t be afraid to take chances, and if you fail? Get back on the horse as soon as you get thrown off… again, again and again.
When I was a door to door salesman, I learned a very valuable lesson. 1 in 10 people would talk to you, 9 out of 10 would slam the door in your face. Sometimes you would get 30 doors in a row slammed in your face, but that means that there are 3 yes’ coming your way.
You have to create benchmarks to aim for, stay on the positive, and ignore the nay-sayers, adversity and challenges. You have to suspend yourself from reality and focus on what you want to do.
Ignore those around you who are tearing down your ideas, and focus on your mission.
Never give up.
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“The essential point to grasp is that in dealing with capitalism we are dealing with an evolutionary process….” wrote Joseph A. Schumpter in his seminal work ‘Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy‘ (1943). He continues to write that “Capitalism… is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. And this evolutionary character of the capitalist process is not merely due to the fact that economic life goes on in a social and natural environment which changes and by its change alters the data of economic action; this fact is important and these changes (wars, revolutions and so on) often condition industrial change, but they are not its prime movers. Nor is this evolutionary character due to a quasi-automatic increase in population and capital or to the vagaries of monetary systems of which exactly the same thing holds true. The Fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.”
Schumpter also noted that entrepreneurship (as the engine of capitalism) cannot be studied in isolation from time or context.
“First,” he identifies “..since we are dealing with a process whose every element takes considerable time in revealing its true features and ultimate effects, there is no point in appraising the performance of that process ex visu of a given point of time; we must judge its performance over time, as it unfolds through decades or centuries. A system—any system, economic or other—that at every given point of time fully utilizes its possibilities to the best advantage may yet in the long run be inferior to a system that does so at no given point of time, because the latter’s failure to do so may be a condition for the level or speed of long-run performance.” He continues to explain that “…since we are dealing with an organic process, analysis of what happens in any particular part of it—say, in an individual concern or industry—may indeed clarify details of mechanism but is inconclusive beyond that. Every piece of business strategy acquires its true significance only against the background of that process and within the situation created by it. It must be seen in its role in the perennial gale of creative destruction; it cannot be understood irrespective of it or, in fact, on the hypothesis that there is a perennial lull…”
Humanity is quick to forget the context by which it moves forward ‘on the shoulders of giants’. Our rationalistic and reductionist thinking mean that we see phenomena (such as economies) in isolation, and break them down into components. This process may help an observer understand how a thing or a system works (at any given moment in time), but will give you little indication of what led to its being, or the context in which it exists. Understanding- for example- what makes Sir Richard Branson successful is not a matter of analysing the performance of each component of his businesses now, but rather requires an understanding of the cultural, social and economic contexts leading those businesses to emerge from the abstract space of the mind into reality… in other words, their story.
In much the same way as its biological counterpart, entrepreneurial evolution is a story of the success of good ideas. Billions of iterations occur, and those which add value to the system of humanity flourish, and become part of our culture- and increasingly quickly. The Wright brothers made the first powered flight in 1903 (over a distance of 120ft). Just 66 years later in 1969, two humans were stood on the Moon looking back at earth – and in 2012, almost 3 billion air passengers were carried a combined distance of over 5 trillion kilometres (enough to get to the sun and back over 16 thousand times). In a similar feat, our species progressed in less than 70 years from the first basic digital computer in 1941 to having the total sum of human knowledge in a globally connected amorphous cloud of computers.
Our innate capability to generate ideas is potentially the most powerful faculty our species has at its disposal. Entrepreneurs are simply those who take a gamut of resources (capital, knowledge, tools, infrastructure) and transform their ideas into physical or virtual assets which can then be absorbed into society and wider culture.
Put simply, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world….” (Buddha)