One of my favorite podcasts is How I Built This, a witty and insightful series about many of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. It includes interviews with disrupters such as SoulCycle's Julie Rice, Dollar Shave Club's Michael Dubin and Kickstarter's Perry Chen.
On their paths to scale, they tell amazing stories and share five common traits:
1. They fight to the death.
Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia tells a story of the early days of the company in which out-of-town guests were bounced from a San Francisco property and had no place to stay. Gebbia drove to their location in his car and hailed them down in the street. He then drove them to his apartment where he and his roommates hastily arranged accommodations for the couple.
You do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do.
Insight: Andy Dunn of Bonobos says, "Companies don't die because the company fails, they die because the entrepreneur gives up." These entrepreneurs have no quit in them. They fake it 'til they make it. This may require cobbling together imperfect systems and launching products before the kinks are worked out, as in a minimally acceptable product (or MAP).
2. They are mission-oriented.
Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie never loses sight of the company's purpose: to give a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair that is sold. But even the companies who aren't as socially conscious (or double bottom line) have a heightened sense of purpose. JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman is Mormon and has an inherent need to serve. JetBlue's mission statement, "To bring humanity back to air travel", is based on a mindset about being human.
Insight: It is often the entrepreneurs that need to embed mission, values and vision in the daily thinking of their management teams. Managers can easily get caught up in the vortex of their daily work and lose sight of the mission.
3. They need help from others.
A common characteristic among many entrepreneurs is low attention span. JetBlue's Neeleman explains his struggle to focus. I have several clients who have dyslexia and successfully run large companies. The same people who have low attention spans also tend to possess the ability to have a strong vision.
Insight: Test-taking may not be a precursor to founding a business and building it to scale. It's critical that founders maintain the artistry that made them great and do not fall into the trap of becoming operators (something they are not in most cases).
Management teams must clarify roles, especially at the top. Successful entrepreneurs tend to hire detail-oriented people, including COO types who maintain daily operational control of the business.
4. They find a way to monetize.
For Bonobos, Dunn considered an IPO. He had completed a reference for an ex-employee, leading him to speak to a person affiliated with Jet.com, who then suggested they could be an acquirer of Bonobos.
He came to realize that retailers would own brands and that being part of an iconic ecommerce platform could be a path to value creation.
Insight: Keep laser focus on how people consume your product, and through what channels. Constantly reevaluate your value proposition, as your path to value could take unexpected turns.
5. They balance hard work with good fortune.
How I Built This host Guy Raz asks almost every guest whether their success was based on their ideas and hard work or luck. Almost every guest points to luck as a contributor to their success.
Insight: Make the most of your opportunities. The harder you work, the luckier you'll become.
These entrepreneurs are changing the world through ingenuity, persistence and their ability to pivot. Listen to How I Built This. It will change your perspective on strategy, building a team and the ups and downs of running a business.