The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs

the creators code

SIX SKILLS FOR ENTREPRENEURIAL SUCCESS

Consultant and entrepreneur Amy Wilkinson’s book, The Creator’s Code, is a step-by-step guide on how to become a successful entrepreneur based on 200 interviews with those who have achieved the heights of entrepreneurship — from well-known pioneers such as Howard Schultz of Starbucks to less well-known names, such as Sarah Blakely, whose idea for footless pantyhose became the billion-dollar company Spanx, and partners Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, who launched the wildly successful Gilt Groupe online fashion platform.

Carefully parsing the transcriptions of her interviews, author Amy Wilkinson was able to synthesize the responses into just six essential skills required for entrepreneurial success.

Some of the essential skills in The Creator’s Code are not surprising to any reader who has researched or experienced entrepreneurship. The first of her skills, for example, is to “find the gap.” Most entrepreneurs achieve their success by unearthing an unmet need or finding a gap that needs filling with a new product or business model.

Wilkinson, however, is not satisfied with a pithy prescription followed by examples. She explains to her readers how they can find the next billion-dollar gap by identifying three archetypes of entrepreneurs: sunbirds, who transplant ideas from other areas, architects, who build from the ground up, and integrators, who combine different concepts. Shultz is a “sunbird” (named after the hummingbird-like bird who moves pollen from flower to flower). Shultz made his millions by having the foresight to realize that transplanting Italian coffee shops, with their baristas and long menu of fancy coffees, would fill a need that no one before him had fathomed.

Spanx’s Blakely is an architect, building up her company from just an idea. Maybank and Wilson, of the Gilt Groupe, are integrators, who combined e-commerce and fashion to build a unique company based on online flash fashion sales.

Another of her more familiar skills, to “fail wisely,” is also presented with fresh, practical how-to information. More than just being resilient, Wilkinson argues that successful entrepreneurs know how to manage failure. For example, in addition to placing small bets (rather than risking it all), Wilkinson found that many entrepreneurs set failure ratios — proactively deciding how much failure they were willing to accept before giving up. The key to failure ratios is thinking in terms of a portfolio of risks. For example, Stella & Dot founder Jessica Herrin has a 1-to-3 ratio, accepting to fail at one out of three initiatives she attempts.

The four other essential skills at the heart of The Creator’s Code are less familiar. “Drive for daylight” is Wilkinson’s phrase for keeping focused on the road ahead. “Fly the OODA Loop” is the skill to be more agile than competitors. The phrase comes from the world of aviation dogfights, when American pilots were taught that the key to winning air battles was to Observe (get information), Orient (prioritize the information and ignore the irrelevant), Decide (on a course of action) and Act. “Network minds” is the ability to bring together “the brainpower of diverse individuals.” Wilkinson’s innovative ideas for networking minds include designing shared spaces, fostering flash teams, holding prize competitions and building work-related games. Her code closes with the somewhat surprising “gift small goods” — a call for generosity that strengthens relationships and increases productivity.

In The Creator’s Code, Wilkinson offers a solid framework for building up entrepreneurial skills, supported by fascinating, detailed stories of the creativity and hard work required to turn an insight or an idea into a thriving enterprise.

The Self-Made Billionaire Effect

WHY BILLIONAIRES SUCCEED

It’s possible to become a millionaire, thanks to a high-paying job in the right industry. To become self-made billionaires, however, takes something more, write John Sviokla and Mitch Cohen in their fascinating new book The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value. The authors label those who can succeed within the constraints of organizations or established systems, as performers. Billionaires, in contrast, are producers. “They envision something new,” the authors explain, “bring together the people and the resources to create it and sell it to customers who didn’t know they needed it.”

Researching the factors that differentiate self-made billionaires from everyone else, Sviokla and Cohen found that self-made billionaires were entrepreneurs who shared certain “habits of minds” that took form in what the authors term “dualities.” A duality is a set of two characteristics that complement each other.

Based on an in-depth analysis, augmented by personal interviews, of the history and personalities of the self-made billionaires on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, the authors identified five dualities common to all billionaires.

The Five Dualities

The first is empathetic imagination. Billionaires have the imagination to develop billion-dollar ideas. Those ideas, however, emerge from what the authors call “extreme empathy” for their customers’ needs and wants. For example, few people were buying mutual funds when 24-year-old Joe Mansueto began buying them in the early 1980s. Drowning in paper, after ordering the quarterly prospectuses from each fund he wanted to follow, Mansueto realized that investors would welcome a service offering a report that provided information for all comparable funds. Within two years, Morningstar was born.

While the first duality concerned ideas, the second duality, patient urgency, frames the billionaire’s perspective. Billionaires, according to the authors’ research, are uniquely comfortable with both urgency and patience. They can work fast and super slow simultaneously, depending on the needs of the situation. As the authors explain, “They urgently prepare to seize an opportunity but patiently wait for that opportunity to fully emerge.” Groupon founder Eric Lefkofsky, who had failed with an earlier ahead-of-its-time website, painfully realized the value of timing. He also knew that the social media layer of Facebook, Twitter and others had made the time ripe for a deal-of-the-day site such as Groupon, and forged ahead with the idea that would make him a billionaire.

The third duality, inventive execution, underpins how billionaires act. Execution is important, but that doesn’t mean that execution cannot involve creativity and imagination. Micky Arison, former CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, turned the three-ship company of his father into the world’s largest cruise company, owning 10 established cruising brands. Through initiatives such as air-sea packaged charters, Arison reinvented cruising from a leisure activity for the elite to a mainstream vacation.

Billionaires are not huge risk takers, the authors write. But, at the same time, they are less afraid of what they might lose now if there is an opportunity to create enormous value in the future. Having been fired from two real-estate investment jobs, Stephen Ross knew trying to start his own real-estate development firm had little chance of success. But the enormous risk of starting his own company was smaller than the risk of trying and failing again to work within the constraints of another firm. It’s this duality of the relative view of risk — balancing opportunity vs. potential loss — that separates billionaires from mortals, according to the authors.

The final duality that exemplifies the mindset and approach of billionaires concerns leadership, or more particularly, co-leadership. Billionaires seek partnerships, the authors write, with people who have the skills or experience that they are missing, usually combining their producer skills with a “virtuoso performer.”

While the bulk of the book explores the dualities, the authors also detail, in this revealing, in-depth exploration into why billionaires succeed, the steps that companies can take to try to encourage and enable potential producers to succeed within their organizations — instead of leaving to start their own enterprise.

Learning from Other’s Mistakes

Truth-be-told, entrepreneurs simply do NOT like to be told what to do. Learning from the mistakes of others however, takes the ego out of the equation so entrepreneurs can learn objectively, while still allowing them to enjoy the freedom of their own experience.

MJ Gottlieb’s How To Ruin A Business Without Really Trying takes a new and exciting approach to help entrepreneurs by telling them what “not” to do. The book uses fifty-five painstaking, yet hysterical tales throughout MJ Gottlieb’s 21-year journey as an entrepreneur to highlight some of the most prevalent and destructive mistakes entrepreneurs make when running a business today.

Gottlieb’s Top 9 Most Infamous Screw-Ups
1. Never ever ever spend what you do not have
2. Never ever ever sign personal guarantees
3. Never ever ever make a decision while in a negative emotional state
4. Never ever ever make a decision while in a positive emotional state
5. Never ever ever make a decision while your ego is involved
6. Never ever hire a friend as your attorney
7. Never ever over-promise and under-deliver
8. Never ever teach the market at your own expense
9. Never ever have anyone work for you for free

If you would like to hear the stories of these screw-ups – and the lessons learned – directly from MJ Gottlieb, then we invite you to join us on March 26th for our Soundview Live webinar The Most Common Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make. It will be both entertaining and insightful.

Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed

THE WAY OF THE SEAL

A Warrior Turned Entrepreneur

“Let’s face it. When the stakes include your own mortality, you tend to be very clear about what’s important.” As a former member of one of the fiercest fighting forces in the world, Mark Divine, who writes these words in his new book, The Way of the SEAL, is all too familiar with mortality. The SEALS are the elite group of fighters who take on missions that would seem suicidal to men less trained and less dedicated. Divine spent 20 years in the SEALS, retiring as commander. In The Way of the SEAL, he applies the mental and emotional training of the SEALs to success in the world of business and life through eight core principles.

The mix of Divine’s early background in business (including an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a job with a big eight accounting firm), years as a combat soldier, and subsequent challenges as an entrepreneur makes him uniquely qualified to help people overcome hurdles and push themselves and others to success. For Divine, who has started and led six multimillion dollar ventures since leaving the military, most leadership and management books make the mistake of offering techniques and strategies without first building the personal foundation required for success. It all begins with you, what you have inside, he writes. The following eight principles are designed to build that foundation.

  1. Establish your set point, the core values, passion and purpose that guide what you do.
  2. Develop front-sight focus — like a sniper focused exclusively on the front sight      at the end of the barrel and the target beyond, don’t let yourself be distracted or derailed.
  3. Bulletproof your mission so it won’t fail.
  4. Do today what others won’t so you can achieve tomorrow what others can’t.
  5. Forge mental toughness, eliminating the quit option.
  6. Break things and remake them — everything improves through innovation and      adaptation.
  7. Build your intuition, which includes slowing down so you can engage the senses.
  8. Think offense all the time — be confident, do the unexpected and execute without delay.

Devoting a chapter to each of the principles, Divine offers practical strategies followed by exercises to help his readers apply the principles to their lives. Bulletproofing the mission, for example, begins with “selecting high value targets” — making sure that the goals you choose fit your skills, are important to achieving your overall mission, fit the timing, and are simple and clear. Achieving the goals starts with answering four questions: What are your priorities? What are the realities of the situation? What options do your targets suggest? And what path forward will you select? The next step in bulletproofing your mission is to communicate the mission through a visual story. Finally, rehearse repeatedly.

The First Death

In his introduction, Divine tells the story of “Mr. Kane,” the owner of a family-run paper company audited by Divine’s employer at the time, a large accounting firm. To accumulate lucrative billable hours, the accounting firm kept the audit going as long as possible. Divine overheard one of Mr. Kane’s sons say that “these guys are never going to leave” and “they’re going to kill Dad in the process.” Indeed, Mr. Kane died of a sudden cancer during the audit. Kane & Co. would be Divine’s last client. He quit his high-paying corporate job and chose a new career that would put his life on the line in the most dangerous places in the world.

Readers involved in any endeavor will be fascinated, informed and guided by the often harrowing stories and practical lessons offered by this warrior turned entrepreneur.

How to Promote Yourself and Your Work

With the proliferation of social media and online marketing, it has become a difficult challenge to make a name for yourself among the millions of people screaming for attention. How do you establish and grow your personal brand above this noise?

Rob Eagar is one of those individuals who has developed a strategy for being heard above the noise. Rob founded his consulting practice, WildFire Marketing, in 2007 and has attracted a diverse range of clients including businesses, non-profits, and bestselling authors. He’s trained over 400 authors and consulted with respected publishing houses, including Zondervan (HarperCollins), Howard (Simon & Schuster), Moody, Barbour, and Harvest House. Plus, he’s worked with well-known non-profits, such as Growing Leaders, Campus Crusade, Proverbs 31 Ministries, and Hearts at Home.

Rob’s background includes over 10 years’ experience as a regional and national sales manager, public speaking for over 10 years to more than 35,000 people at over 180 events, and generating a consistent, six-figure income as a self-publishing entrepreneur from his first book, Dating with Pure Passion. His national media appearances include interviews on the CBS Early Show, CNN Radio, and the Los Angeles Times. He has a degree in marketing from Auburn University.

Rob is especially focused on helping authors, but his principles apply to anyone trying to make a name for themselves. Here’s a taste of what you’ll learn at this webinar:

  • Sell more books by driving readers to your website and retailers.
  • Secure more media interviews and speaking engagements.
  • Connect with key influencers who will spread word of mouth.
  • Create raving fans via social media that buzz about your book.
  • Build an author brand that makes you stand out from the crowd.

If you would like to tap into Rob’s expertise to grow your own brand, then join us on March 20th for our Soundview Live webinar entitled How to Create a Marketing Wildfire. Rob will explain how to use the best promotional methods available to build your brand, sell your products and services, and stand out from the crowd. You will also have the opportunity to ask Rob questions during the webinar.

What You Need to Know to Cash In on Your Inspiration

IDEA TO INVENTION

Anyone Can Be an Inventor

One day, Patricia Nolan-Brown was driving in downtown Boston with her young child in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as required by law. On arriving home, she complained to her mother about the frustration of not being able to see the child as she was driving to make sure that she was okay. In her book, Idea to Invention, Nolan-Brown describes how she told her mother that “Somebody should invent some kind of a special mirror so you could see your kid in the stupid rear-facing car seat.” To which her mother replied, “Why don’t you invent one?”

Nolan-Brown did just that and transformed that one day of frustration into a lucrative career as an inventor and entrepreneur who would sell millions of her products. In Idea to Invention, she emphasizes that you don’t have to have a business degree from Harvard or trust-fund seed money to invent and sell products. “The first thing you need to know about me is that I’m an ordinary person,” she writes, and her book is clearly designed for readers who are looking for the basic steps for turning their dreams into reality.

What It Takes

Successful people, according to Nolan-Brown, display the following characteristics:

They are inquisitive. “An inventor’s best friend,” she writes, “is curiosity.” They have the nerve. Many people have great ideas but don’t have the self-confidence to make it happen.They have a strong voice. They communicate passion and truth. They have energy. They keep their bodies healthy and their minds sharp.They nourish their dreams. If their passion or commitment begins to fade, they find inspiration and courage in workshops or seminars, biographies and autobiographies, mentors and networking, and a variety of other sources. They are tenacious. They believe in what they are doing and refuse to give up.

Not coincidentally, the first letter of these six success personality traits form the acronym INVENT.

Once Nolan-Brown has explored the six personality traits, she offers readers her six steps to invention.

Think it. It all starts with an idea. Start with what you know; then think outside the box.

Cook it. Is your idea marketable? Will it sell? What does a prototype look like? These are the questions that need to be answered to start moving the idea from just an intellectual concept.

Protect it. Nolan-Brown guides potential entrepreneurs through what they have to do — and they might not have to do — to protect their idea.

Pitch it. Entrepreneurs must know how to generate excitement around their idea, which might involve social media, trade shows and more.

Make it. Should you license the idea and have others put it together, assemble the product, or outsource it to an overseas manufacturer?

Bedazzle it. This is the bells and whistle phase, making sure the product attracts buyers for years to come.

Every chapter in Idea to Invention is filled with concise, practical advice. In the “Make It” chapter, for example, she explains the advantages and disadvantages of licensing. She warns that online submission companies are paid to do what you could probably do just as easily. She explains some of the basics of starting a business, describes the challenge of outsourcing manufacturing, and offers the essential steps for at-home DIY assembly.

Nolan-Brown ends the book with an inspirational chapter called “You Can Make It Happen.” But perhaps the true inspiration is found through the clear and practical information she conveys, which reinforces that anyone can follow in the footsteps of this “ordinary” person.

Book Review: Disciplined Entrepreneurship

by Bill Aulet

by Bill Aulet

Human history has seen certain occupations lifted to a pedestal during a particular era. What explorers were to the Age of Discovery and artists were to the Renaissance, entrepreneurs now occupy places of highest esteem in today’s global marketplace. However, MIT professor and serial entrepreneur Bill Aulet takes a different view of the start-up. In his book Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup, he’s not looking to knock down the entrepreneur’s pedestal but instead raise the masses to the same level. This practical guide to bootstrapping your business is now available as a Soundview Executive Book Summary.

If you’re currently entrenched in a large organization and thinking of striking out on your own, you might want to consult Aulet’s book before you start courting venture capital. Disciplined Entrepreneurship delivers compact doses of truth alongside the questions you need to answer to rapidly start and grow a business. Aulet is not afraid to take a hammer to some rock-solid myths, such as the belief that an entrepreneurial venture is commonly the work of a lone hero CEO.

The 24 steps in Disciplined Entrepreneurship are grouped into six themes. Each set of steps answers one of six questions: Who is Your Customer, What Can Your Customer Do For You, How Does Your Customer Acquire Your Product, How Do You Make Money Off Your Product, How Do You Design & Build Your Product, and How Do You Scale Your Business? All of the steps reinforce Aulet’s overarching theme that entrepreneurship can be taught. None of the questions can be properly answered without the reader first answering the question that Aulet suggests every would-be entrepreneur answer: What can I do well that I would love to do for an extended period of time.

If you are able to answer that question, you’ve taken an important first step. Disciplined Entrepreneurship will help you put the right foot forward on all 24 steps that follow.

Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

THE EVERYTHING STORE

Jeff Bezos’ Dream Come True

While the face may be somewhat familiar and everyone knows his company well, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has not enjoyed the iconic status of a Bill Gates or the ubiquitous (at least in business literature) Steve Jobs. And yet the Amazon story, as told in a new book from Bloomberg BusinessWeek writer Brad Stone called The Everything Store, reflects foresight, courage, vision, hard work and innovation that matches the story of any other major Internet or Information Age startup.

The company was started in a garage, although it stayed in the garage only for about three months. And it was not fresh, just-out-of-school whiz kids who started the company but a Wall Street veteran who decided that he, rather than the hedge fund company he worked for, should control his dream: to sell books over the Internet.

Bezos’ New York employer, a technology-driven hedge fund firm called D. E. Shaw, had already invested in several Internet ventures, and it would have been ready to finance an online retailer. But Stone describes how Bezos’ growing desire to strike out on his own was confirmed by his reading of the bestseller Remains of the Day — a brilliantly subtle but ultimately devastating novel of regret.

Much of the outline of the Amazon story is well-known, from its first focus on books and then a few other categories (e.g., movies and toys) to its current status as the behemoth of online retailing for just about any product, a giant in the e-reader space, and more recently, a major player in cloud computing with Amazon Web Services. Today, the company is headquartered in a campus of a dozen buildings and reached $61 billion in sales in 2012. Most people watched as new initiatives came online — Search Inside This Book, Super Saver Shipping and, more recently, Amazon Prime are three examples — and quickly became expected features. In fact, it is almost surprising to learn that Amazon is only 18 years old. The first book ordered on Amazon was Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies by Douglas Hofstadter; the date was April 3, 1995. The buyer was a former colleague of Shel Kaphan, a founding employee of Amazon.

The Stories Behind the Story

Although the overall plot of the story might be well known, The Everything Store is filled with the unknown stories and the vital but often anonymous people who made the Amazon success possible. Kaphan is an example. A veteran programmer when he was hired, Kaphan, who Stone calls Amazon’s “primary technical steward,” was responsible for turning the dream into a functional reality. Promised that he could stay with the company for as long as he wanted, Kaphan lasted five years before, as described by Stone, he was made less than welcome by Bezos.

Bezos, of course, is the star of the story. The portrait offered by Stone is of a complex, driven, hands-on, creative entrepreneur, which is no less than expected. It seems that there is an archetype for the successful entrepreneur and one that seems to run counter to the generally accepted view that respectful, team-oriented leadership works best.

According to Stone, one mention of work-life balance in a job interview at Amazon during the early growth years would kill your chances. Bezos, however, has had some formidable sparring partners, including Barnes & Noble and the New York publishers, not to mention the challenge of a dot-com bust, all of which would have conquered a less confident — and visionary — opponent.

The Everything Store is a fascinating exploration of a unique company and its equally unique founder.

What Works and What Doesn’t in Leadership

We learn from our successes and our failures, and hopefully we also learn from the successes and failures of others so save us some pain.

Our upcoming Soundview Live webinars provide access to the lessons learned from the successes and failures of top leaders. We begin the week with Nicole Lipkin, speaking about What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, and round out the week with Daniel Roberts and Leigh Gallagher talking about Supercharging You Career with lessons from the Fortune Top 40 Under 40.

In What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, Nicole Lipkin shows you how to recognize and resolve eight of the most troubling management issues leaders face today: miscommunication, stress, change, unhealthy competition, damaging group dynamics, loss of motivation and engagement, elusive success, and the typical leadership snafus that make us temporarily go from good to bad.

Explaining the mental processes that play pivotal roles in the workplace, she will help you to gain greater awareness of what causes these recurring problems and to find better solutions by recognizing and addressing those causes more quickly and effectively.

In Supercharge Your Career, Fortune reporter Daniel Roberts brings you original insight on the best-kept secrets of top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and rising tech stars. Discover how Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh built a uniquely attractive corporate culture, how Under Armour founder Kevin Plank took on Nike, and what Marissa Mayer told herself before leaping from a safe post at Google to the high-risk top job at Yahoo. Roberts reveals the fascinating profiles of these and other young innovators and provides attendees with tips to fast-track their own career success.

Join us next week and use the insight of these top leaders to move your company and career forward.

Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

DAVID AND GOLIATH

Who Has the Real Advantage?

Launched by his bestseller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell is a nonfiction superstar, and with good reason. As his latest book, David and Goliath, proves, Gladwell keeps surprising us with new revelations about how the world really works. In David and Goliath, he destroys an assumption that has been accepted without question for thousands of years: that the David of the Bible – and all the “Davids” that followed in the history of the world – were underdogs. In general terms, David and Goliath forces us to reconsider what we thought we knew about those with advantages and disadvantages.

For example, most people believe that to grow up very poor is a disadvantage for children. But Gladwell argues that to grow up very rich is also a disadvantage. On another topic, the accepted wisdom is that small classroom size is better for children; however, Gladwell argues that if classroom sizes become too small, the children are impeded in their learning as much as they would be in classrooms that have too many students.

It’s easy perhaps to make counterintuitive, against-the-grain pronouncements and perhaps even to find some anecdotal evidence to support these pronouncements. But Gladwell is a teacher, not an opinionated contrarian. In all his books, he uses a wide range of academic studies and other research reinforced with eloquent true stories drawn from history as well as from the lives of contemporary people and events around the world.

What’s So Bad About a Large Classroom?

Gladwell’s discussion of the impact of classroom size on learning exemplifies the depth of his research and insight. Classroom size happens to be one of the most researched topics related to education in the world. A number of global academics and consultants have carefully explored whether and how the size of a classroom impedes or enables learning in countries from Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore to numerous countries in Western and Eastern Europe to the United States. The results are mixed, at best, with smaller class sizes sometimes having a positive effect, sometimes having a negative effect, and sometimes having no effect whatsoever.

As Gladwell digs deeper in the research, he discovers an inverted U relationship to small classroom size. Reducing the number of students in a large class does help increase learning to a certain point. Then the upward curve bends downward as smaller class sizes reduce learning. There are a number of factors. For example, shy or mediocre students don’t get the boost to their self-esteem that comes from hearing others asking the questions with which they are wrestling.

Success In Spite of Struggle

Gladwell plunges with equal depth in a wide variety of other situations in which the advantage or disadvantage is wrongly assigned by our assumptions or the accepted wisdom. For example, dyslexics or people who lose a parent young are often successful because, not in spite, of their struggles.

Whatever the situation or context, Gladwell provides the evidence that bolsters his conclusions – often evidence that was available but ignored. Any historian of ancient times, for example, could tell you that the “artillery” of ancient armies consisted of men with slingshots, who benefited from greater mobility and the ability to strike from a distance than the heavily armored sword fighters. In other words, Goliath was taken out by a better soldier.