Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Bill Gates walk into a bar…and buy it and turn it into a profit-generating machine in just one financial quarter. While it makes sense that over time society might mythologize kings, presidents, war heroes or athletes, business leaders are never looked at the same way.
There is just something that is duller about someone who built and ran a company successfully than someone who led a nation through times of trouble or led their sports team to victory. However the qualities for all these people certainly overlap, and for those wishing to become successful entrepreneurs, there is no doubt that there is much to learn examining the life and viewpoints of these very successful, A-list business leaders of today.
Be Ready to Fail
A positive attitude is so essential to a successful business that if it’s not the first thing an advice book tells you, toss it to the floor. No one is going to believe in you or your idea if you don’t believe in it first.
Having overwhelming certainty that your product or service is going to lead to great things is absolutely important because the chances of it happening right away are extremely low. Early failure does not necessarily mean that you have to close up shop completely and declare bankruptcy, but it absolutely means that you have to be ridiculously patient early on.
There will be long periods of time when nothing might happen when the phone might not ring for orders when certain things cost more than you expected when a product just doesn’t look or work exactly like you wanted it to. Throughout all this, you have to keep your head up and stay positive (and maybe take on a side hustle, that hopefully, doesn’t involve anything from the straight or trans sugar baby industry to shore up some investment capital).
Yes, you are failing, but you have not yet failed. Only when you throw in the towel and give up is exactly when you have officially failed, not before.
Jeff Bezos held plenty of jobs in the tech industry and on Wall Street before founding Amazon in 1994, and he told early investors that there was a 70% chance that the company would go belly up.
While Elon Musk had early success with his initial start-ups (being part of the team that created the software which would eventually become PayPal), the early years of his time as the head of Tesla and SpaceX was full of setbacks and crippling financial losses. For the first five years of Microsoft, the team was so small (and not growing very quickly) that Bill Gates himself was reviewing and editing every line of code in its software.
While not exactly failing, there were certainly moments when these now-wealthy CEOs were absolutely not succeeding, and knowing that this part of the process should always be remembered.
Risk Early, and Then Stop
Risk is a natural part of business and economics. There is no such thing as a ‘sure thing’, although safe bets can get close (the fact that the word ‘bet’ is used suggests that there is always a chance it can blow up in your face). While the internet was obviously seen as the ‘next big thing’ in the mid-nineties (as it was the rise of business email, the world wide web and the ease to find anything, including a squirt gay site), investors still treaded slowly at first.
Jeff Bezos knew that pushing through the boom-bust cycle was essential, and made sure that because Amazon was just an online retail book store to start, it had enough cash in its coffers to withstand the storm. When Musk’s early rocket launches were rocket explosions, he kept his eyes on the prize, made sure to keep his entire team positive and kept the money flowing (his own, since he didn’t want to make SpaceX public) so they could try it again. The risk to keep Tesla burning through money through the 2008-2009 recession was also seen as foolish at the time.
For Bill Gates, the risk doesn’t have to come from introducing a product or service that the world might not be ready for, but in certain business deals. Early on he accepted extremely small fees from IBM when Microsoft sold their software to the electronics company because he believed (that is, he risked) that if companies tried to develop similar hardware to IBM, they would need similar software as well, which Microsoft could also sell to them. It was an early risk that paid off, making Microsoft the biggest software company in the world in the nineteen-eighties.
Know Your Weaknesses (and Strengths)
All three of these business leaders are known for being obsessed with their fields, wanting to know every little facet about how their products and services work. It is hard to imagine them on vacation and having some Group Fun on the beach.
However, being led by a workaholic and good manager is not only why these companies have succeeded and have become household names. While no one would mistake Bezos, Musk and Gates as incredible salesmen (they are rather a nebbish and awkward even when giving good news at a pre-conference), all three of them recognize the importance of product promotion.
They also realize since they aren’t the best at it, they should leave it in the capable hands of marketing gurus and experts. It was only after these companies became massively successful (economically and culturally) did these CEOs essentially emerge from their corner offices to become recognized as the business leaders they are today.