Successful entrepreneurs come in many stripes. While I have written about founders who have succeeded in industries from high technology to apple pies, the fund-raising success of Brandon Sanderson -- a sci-fi and fantasy author -- surpasses that of all other founders whose stories I've told.

How so? Sanderson -- who boasts 20 million print, audio, and e-books sold -- set out to raise $1 million to fund four new books in 30 days. He reached his goal in 35 minutes, had raised $15.4 million in 24 hours and within two days of opening his Kickstarter campaign had hauled in a whopping $19 million, according to the New York Times.

How the Sam Hill did Sanderson pull off this feat of fund raising? Kristen McLean, the executive director of business development at NPD Books, told the Times that Sanderson's success is due in-part to the time he spends at conventions and in direct interaction with his fans -- in 2019, he spent 111 days in such meetings.

To be sure, Sanderson's Kickstarter did not sell equity in a company. Instead, like most Kickstarters, it gave those who contributed an opportunity to place orders for the four books. He told the Times that he offered readers a range of product options -- from $50 for the four e-books to $500 for books in all formats plus eight boxes of swag.

Sanderson also publishes with Tor (part of Macmillan Publishers) and Delacorte Press, a Penguin Random House imprint because they place his work in bookstores. The reason he self-publishes is to create an e-books industry rival for Amazon which sells over half of e-books sold (e-books account for about 80 percent of Sanderson's sales), noted the Times.

Sanderson has built a 30-person company, Dragonsteel Entertainment, to publish his e-books. His staff includes "a marketing director, concept artist, continuity editor and human resources director. He also has a warehouse in Pleasant Grove, Utah, a short drive from his house," according to the Times.

Here are three lessons from Sanderson's success that can help any business leader.

1. Provide an outstanding product that meets a real need.

More than anything else, entrepreneurial success depends on solving the right problem. Unless you can answer yes to these four questions, you may not be on the right path:

  • Is your company trying to solve a problem that is so serious that people are willing to pay for a solution?
  • Do you have the talent and passion needed to solve that problem?
  • Do customers perceive that your product is much better than that of competing vendors?
  • Are customers eager to pay more for your product than it costs you to create, deliver, and service it?

Sanderson could clearly answer yes to all these questions. People need great stories that take them out of their day-to-day life and into a more interesting world. Sanderson's 20 million books sold means that his work takes readers to a world that is so compelling that they can't wait to spend more time there.

If you can't say something similar about your business, it's time to take a hard look at whether you should do something completely different or minor tweaks will get you to yes on these four questions.

2. Build ongoing relationships with customers.

If your business solves the right problem, then your customers will keep coming back to you for more.

Here are four ideas inspired by Sanderson's success for how to come up with new products that customers will eagerly buy:

  • Identify your company's most rabid fans
  • Learn why they love your product and what they want next
  • Co-develop your new products with those rabid fans
  • Create a forum for your customers to share their enthusiasm for your products

3. Control your product's value network.

If you are doing all these things well, you should have tremendous bargaining power with your partners.

The key thing that enables Sanderson to gain such power is that he has a direct relationship with the ultimate consumer of his work. This brings to mind a cautionary example -- Amazon's Third Party e-commerce platform that enables small vendors to sell their products online.

This works out well for Amazon because it controls all the customer information related to the products that these third-party sellers provide Amazon customers. However -- as the case of Allbirds reveals -- giving up access to customer information provides Amazon with a business opportunity: to make and sell knock-offs of popular products developed by these third parties.

Sanderson does not fall into this trap. If you control the customer relationship, you should build a value network that allows you to maximize the lifetime value of your customers. Through a blend of relationships with traditional publishers and his self-publishing operation, Sanderson is doing just that.