Advice From the Most Successful Entrepreneurs Throughout History

The decision to start a business can be one that makes a person second guess and doubt him/herself. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who have successfully entered and conquered their business arenas. And no matter what their time or industry, some of the wisdom they imparted can be useful today.

Here’s what 15 of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs had to say about taking the leap into starting a business of one’s own.

The first black woman in US history to be a self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker was a beauty magnate who sold hair care products and a straightening comb a century ago.  She taught at a beauty college she founded and made it clear that people should never wait when they think there is a potential opportunity.  She said, “I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”

When it comes to doing what you think your business needs, Jas Bagniewski, who is Co-Founder of the online mattress company Eve Sleep, says the journey is one that can’t be completed if the owner takes constant detours.  He said, “Don’t get distracted. Never tell yourself that you need to be the biggest brand in the whole world. Start by working on what you need at the present moment and then what you need to do tomorrow. So, set yourself manageable targets.”

“One of the greatest skills of leadership is being unflappable.”  This advice comes from author and co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, Arianna Huffington.  She said. “Anytime you do anything in the world; there’s going to be criticism.”

“Anytime you do anything in the world; there’s going to be criticism.”

Fear should never cause one to play it safe according to the co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman.  He sums it up, “If you tune it so that you have zero chance of failure, you usually also have zero chance of success. The key is to look at ways for when you get to your failure checkpoint, you know to stop.”

Trusting yourself and your idea is the key, according to Rosalind Brewer who is the COO of Starbucks. “You can and should set your own limits and clearly articulate them. This takes courage, but it is also liberating and empowering, and often earns you new respect.”

When she isn’t being hilarious on her eponymous television show, or recording one of her comedy specials, Ellen DeGeneres is a multi-million dollar media magnate who has been as business savvy as she has been laughable.  Ellen advises, “Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul was put on this Earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth and everything else will come.”

“Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul was put on this Earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth and everything else will come.”

The fact still remains, good business requires hard work. J. Crew president, Jenna Lyons says there was no shortcut. “There’s this idea that everybody has to have everything right away. I wasn’t born the superstar. I had to work for it. Really long hours.”

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, is a fan of solid work ethic. He said, “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine!”

Resilience and persistence are traits the man behind the Star Wars empire believes are key to business success.  Going into an endeavor George Lucas recommends, “The secret is not to give up hope. It’s very hard not to because if you’re really doing something worthwhile I think you will be pushed to the brink of hopelessness before you come through the other side.”

While most people know Barbara Corcoran from the Shark Tank television show, her success in business and real estate taught her how dealing with people is a key factor. She says, “If people like you, they’re going to want to do business with you. And if they don’t, you’re going to have an almost insurmountable obstacle to overcome.”

“If people like you, they’re going to want to do business with you. And if they don’t, you’re going to have an almost insurmountable obstacle to overcome.”

John D. Rockefeller was the richest American of all time, with a net worth in modern dollars of some $340 billion. He recognized that being an individual with unique ideas was the key to winning in business.  He said, “If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.”

Reed Hastings who is Netflix Co-Founder and CEO offers advice much in the same vein.  He says originality is often laughed at until someone with courage shows the naysayers are wrong. “Most entrepreneurial ideas will sound crazy, stupid and uneconomic, and then they’ll turn out to be right.”

Superstar and businesswoman, Beyoncé Knowles, has always been one to trust herself along the entrepreneurial journey.  She says, “It’s easy to hear the voices of others and often very difficult to hear your own. Every person you meet is going to want something different from you. The question is: what do you want for yourself?”

“It’s easy to hear the voices of others and often very difficult to hear your own. Every person you meet is going to want something different from you. The question is: what do you want for yourself?”

When it comes to starting a business, there are sadly no guarantees. However, there are some best practices, and Thomas Watson, chairman, and CEO of IBM shares the closest thing he’s got to an assurance. “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”

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