When you're just starting a company, you are going to get a lot of unsolicited advice. Much of it will be conflicting, and some will even be discouraging. You may need to disregard it along the way, as Lyft's founders, Logan Green and John Zimmer, once famously did.
But you should still listen--particularly to those who've come before you and found success on the other end. Here, we've collected some of the best tips from some of the best in their trade: the panel of judges who helped Inc. determine this year's 30 Under 30 Rising Stars list. They include Tina Sharkey, the co-founder and CEO of e-commerce startup Brandless; Dollar Shave Club's Michael Dubin; Laura Behrens Wu of the enterprise shipping platform Shippo; Pooneh Mohajer, the co-founder and CEO of lifestyle brand Tokidoki; and Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
1. What is your best advice for young entrepreneurs?
Tina Sharkey: You will never get someplace the way you think you will. Be prepared to find and embrace alternate routes, but never take your eye off the goals you set for yourself and your team. And don't be afraid to ask questions. There's a wisdom network in every industry, and you don't always need to go for the boldface names when seeking advice. Dig deep into the industries you're trying to disrupt and find the help and talent that is just waiting for you.
2. What is the most common mistake you see founders make and how can they avoid it?
Michael Dubin: The misconception that multitasking or busyness equals productivity. Each task needs and deserves your full attention. You'll realize that by slowing down, prioritizing, and being fully present for one thing at a time will get you a higher output--with better quality.
3. What is the biggest missed opportunity you're seeing today that would-be entrepreneurs should jump on?
Pooneh Mohajer: Even mature industries hold opportunities. If anyone had told me, "It has already been done so don't pursue it" or "It's a saturated marketplace," I would never have created successful businesses. Market differentiation comes in many forms.
4. What advice do you wish someone gave you when you were just starting out?
Melinda Gates: Early in my career, I spent a lot of time thinking that to succeed, I needed to make myself less myself and more like the people around me--most of whom happened to be men. I wish someone had pulled me aside and told me that even though I was often the only woman in the room, it was possible for me to succeed because of who I am, not in spite of it.
5. Where are you or what are you doing when you get your best ideas?
Laura Behrens Wu: Unequivocally, I get inspired the most when I'm in nature. Some of my favorite activities include traveling, backpacking, horseback riding, and jogging--all of which give me the opportunity to enjoy nature.
6. What book should be on every big-thinking entrepreneur's nightstand? Why?
Wu: Shoe Dog, a memoir by Nike CEO Phil Knight. In short, it took forever to build Nike. The company has been on the brink of failure so many times and is truly a great exemplar of persistence and grit. Imagine building a company in pre-internet times and sending snail mail to Japan for core businesses needs. It reminds me that it's OK to slow down sometimes.
Mohajer: Essentialism by Greg McKeown. This book reinforces taking care of yourself and staying focused on your mission and vision, which is essential for success. Also, What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. Every leader should read this book, as well as all of Marshall Goldsmith's other books. This book reinforces unique ways to improve yourself and the people you lead.
Gates: Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens packs the history of humankind into 400 pages while also managing to be about as forward-looking as a history book could possibly be. It asks big essential questions about who we are, where we came from, and what progress means--questions that a lot of innovative thinkers are grappling with every day.