On Tuesday, May 19, Inc. and CNBC co-hosted the first stop on the ICONIC tour, in Chicago. Here are the 10 themes that emerged from the event, which featured speakers such as Mark Cuban, Life Is Good co-founder Bert Jacobs, and SoulCycle co-founder Elizabeth Cutler.
1. Work Harder Than the Next Person
In a panel discussion, Howard Tullman said hard work is back in fashion. Mark Cuban told entrepreneurs to stop asking for help and mentoring, and get out there and work. "The one thing in business you can control is your effort," he said. "When I was getting going, there was no one who could outwork me."
2. Develop Your Employees
Employees quit for two reasons, said Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal: Either they think they're not learning and growing, or their boss is a jerk. Successful companies help their employees grow not just by making sure they learn new skills, but enabling them to use those skills to support a social mission they care about.
3. Manufacturing Must Matter
Chicago has a reputation for making and moving things. The city helps entrepreneurs service larger companies in the area, said Eric Ryan, co-founder of cleaning-products maker Method, who added that the support he was offered persuaded him to locate the company's manufacturing operations in Chicago instead of his hometown of Detroit.
4. The Only Scarce Resource Is Time
When we talk about resources in business, we're usually talking about money and employees. But entrepreneurs on stage at ICONIC talked about time being more constrained, both for entrepreneurs and their customers. "You want to give people an experience that matters to them," said SoulCycle's Cutler. "What are people doing in the hours they're awake? That's really the competition. People don't have enough time."
Bert Jacobs was even more direct in talking about entrepreneurs' own time: "Your most precious asset is your time," he said. "So what are you doing with your time? It's a big overwhelming question. ... Protect your time with your life, because it is your life."
5. It's All About Media
If you want customers to know how great you are, you have to create content they will share. Even the design of Method's manufacturing plant was conceived with social media in mind. "We thought of the plant as a media statement of our values," said Ryan.
6. Decide What You Are, Then Act That Way
Customers can smell B.S., and social media is giving them ever more means to sniff it out. "People are really smart, and they know what matters, and it's our responsibility to deliver," said Cutler. Hilary Folger, a partner in brand strategy for the consulting firm Lippincott, advised that brands need to think about advertising differently: "Don't say something, be something." Jacobs had a similar sentiment: "Authenticity is a superpower."
7. Employees Are the Business Model
Entrepreneurs talked about a model where employees, not shareholders, come first. The company takes care of the employees, the employees take care of the customers, and the customers keep the company in good shape. "It's the dawn of the American worker," said Cutler. "It is time for the people who lead companies to take care of the people who run them."
8. Values Matter
Millennials don't just want to buy something, they want to buy into something, said Folger. That's true when they shop, but also when they are deciding what company to work for. Jacobs said his company pays its employees "average," but the company has great retention and motivated employees. That's because the whole staff is excited about the company's message, as well as its nonprofit work helping disadvantaged and struggling children.
9. Take Baby Steps
Entrepreneurs are known for taking risk--but maybe that's because they're actually very clever at eliminating risk from their embryonic businesses. Marlo Thomas said the entrepreneurs in her book learned to just do one little thing every day toward starting a business. Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker outlined the tiny steps he and his partners took to find out if their idea of selling high-quality eyeglasses online and on the cheap, was any good.
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