This is the 2nd part of a 5-part series of articles in which we’re getting business, career, and life advice from some of the most successful entrepreneurs in history.

In this article:

  • Evan Spiegel – Snapchat
  • Gary Vaynerchuk – VaynerMedia
  • Ingvar Kamprad – IKEA
  • Jack Dorsey – Twitter
  • Jack Ma – Alibaba
  • Jeff Bezos – Amazon
  • Jeremy Stoppelman – Yelp
  • Kevin Plank – Under Amour

I’ve done my best to capture their best advice and to edit out all of the crap, so each of these quotations is straight to the point and easy to understand without any waffle.

Let’s get straight into it…

Evan Spiegel – founder of Snapchat (Net worth: $3 Billion) 

No standard terms

“I’m obsessed with this idea of no standard terms. I’ve come to learn that when someone says “don’t worry about it, it’s all standard” (Lawyers), I’ve learnt that standard either means that the person taking you through the documents either doesn’t understand them, or you could be getting taken advantage of. So when someone says “it’s standard”, keep on asking ‘why’, ‘why’, ‘why’, ‘why’, until you understand intricately how the deal is structured. Standard terms is a huge red flag.”

Gary Vaynerchuk – founder of Vayner media (Net worth: $50 Million) 

Don’t waste time

“How do you get money to do what you love? You don’t. I lost a shit load of money when I started doing what I loved. What you do is you position yourself to succeed. You do it after hours. You work 9-6, you get home, you kiss the dog, then you go to town. You start building your equity, your brand, and whatever you’re trying to accomplish after hours. Everybody has time. Stop watching TV! Work. That’s how you get it.”

Ideas are nothing 

“I’m a huge believer that ideas are shit, and executions the game. We’ve all got ideas. Everybody’s got ideas. Do you know how many fucking ideas we all have? Uber was magic cab three years earlier. Uber is not an idea. Uber existed. It’s called magic cab. But the guys that executed it sucked. So they lost. If there is any level of romance left about your idea, I’d like to suffocate it. Because it’s what you do with it.”

“Ideas are completely, completely, completely worthless unless you execute against those ideas. And you can sit here and tell me what your “purpose” is, but unless you go and execute against it, it is not different than an idea, which is completely useless without fundamental execution.”

Put yourself out of business

“Airbnb shouldn’t have been invented by Brian and Joe. Airbnb should have been invented by Marriott. But Marriott is looking short term, and isn’t creating business models to put themselves out of business.

Uber shouldn’t have been invented by Garrett and Travis, they should have been created by the guy who owned the most taxi cabs in New York City or by Greyhound.

If you don’t do what I do, which is wake up every single morning, and try to put yourself out of business, somebody else is going to do it for you. It is much more fun to put yourself out of business, than to have somebody else do it for you.”

Stay in your lane

“You need to bet on your strengths, and don’t give a fuck what you suck at. Way too many people are going to spend the next 30-40 years of their lives, trying to check the boxes of the things that they’re not as good at, and by doing that you’re going to waste a fuck load of time and lose.”

“In America there’s billions of dollars made selling you on how to fix the things you’re not good at. It’s a huge mistake. You need to figure out who you are, and go all in.”

“I think the biggest mistake we make, is we hope who we are, instead of auditing who we are.”

Don’t fall in love with the status quo

“Never be romantic about how you make your money”

Lifetime value > acquisition

“The game for me is not acquisition, it’s lifetime value and the percentage of wallet I get from that person.”

Preach only to the converted

“How do you make people buy in? You don’t. I speak only to the converted, and you should do the same.”

Surround yourself with people who are who you want to be

“If you know exactly what you want to be, you need to spend as much time with people who are actually that already.”

What to do with your life

“Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, what do I want to do everyday for the rest of my life…do that.”

“If you live for the weekends and vacations, your shit is broken.”

Ingvar Kamprad – founder of Ikea (Net worth: $6 Billion)

Good leadership = Good example

“If there is such a thing as good leadership, it is to give a good example.”

Impossible is nothing

“The word impossible has been and must remain deleted from our dictionary.”

It’s better to be stingy than to waste money

“It is better to be a bit stingy than throw money out of the window.”

Making mistakes is a privilege

“Making mistakes is the privilege of the active. It is always the mediocre people who are negative, who spend their time proving that they were not wrong.”

The most dangerous poison

“The most dangerous poison is the feeling of achievement. The antidote is to every evening think what can be done better tomorrow.”

True humility

“Being humble isn’t the same as keeping a low profile. If you have something important to say, say it. Being humble means admitting your weaknesses, and trying to put them right.”

What’s good for the customer is good for business

“What is good for our customers is also in the long run good for us.”

Jack Dorsey – founder of Twitter (Net worth: $2.9 Billion) 

Be an original

“You are not here to do what has already been done. Know what the old masters did, but do not fall into the conventions they established. These conventions were right for them. It’s so easy to follow in the footsteps of others, to do what they do, because you think it’s the right way and you can copy that success. You have to find your own path. You have to find your own footsteps.”

Build what you want

“Build what you want to see in this world.”

Focus and say no

“Constraint is a big thing for me. It’s important to say no, and to be able to easily say no. It’s really important to recognize where you need to go, where you’d like to go, and to really constrain the process and to keep things really simple. One of the things I’ve learnt at Twitter is that singular focus, and doing one thing, and doing it very well, that works out.”

Focus on the details 

“Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect.”

Focus on the goal, not the competition

“You can worry about the competition…or you can focus on what’s ahead of you and drive fast.”

Get ideas out of your head

“Everyone has an idea. But it’s really about executing the idea, and building the idea, and attracting other people to help you work on the idea. That is the biggest challenge. But the way to begin is to get the idea out of your head, draw it out, talk about it, program it if you’re a programmer, or make it if you’re building something.”

“I think it’s really, really important to write it out, draw it out, or code it, but you need to get it out of your head, and the reason you have to get it out of your head is you need to be able to see it on a surface that is not in your mind, and once you can see it, once you can step back from it, then you can also decide if it passes your filter, and then maybe you can show it and share it with some other people, and maybe they’ll be like ‘that’s the stupidest idea ever’, or ‘that’s somewhat interesting, but maybe this and this and this’… so the sooner you can do that, the sooner you can really decide if you want to commit to it and work on it more, or put it on the shelf for a later date.”

Great ideas can come from anywhere

“An idea that can change the course of the company can come from anywhere.”

It’s not about luck, instead…

“The strongest thing you can cultivate as an entrepreneur is to not rely on luck but cultivating an ability to recognize fortunate situations when they are occurring.”

Leaders are editors

“I think leaders of companies have to consider themselves editors, and you constantly have to edit the team. You constantly have to make sure you have the best people in, and if there’s any negative attribute within the team, a person, an element, or otherwise, you have to part ways. You have to deal with it right away. You have to say this is the best thing for the company. Like any other relationship, you have to be able to recognize what’s good, and what isn’t optimal, and take action on it.”

Never feel like you’ve made it

“Never feel like you’ve made it. You have to constantly innovate. You have to constantly push yourself. You have to constantly raise the bar. I learn something new every single day.”

On the future

“Expect the unexpected. And whenever possible, be the unexpected.”

Start now

“The greatest lesson that I learned in all of this is that you have to start. Start now, start here, start small and keep it simple.”

You need to listen

“You need to listen, you need to be still, and really listen to what’s going on around you, and let that inform and inspire your next steps. It’s really important that you’re able to step back and listen to what’s going on and what patterns emerge so that you can really consider those and move them.”

Where to find customers

“Meet customers where they are, and question how to make the tools customers use more valuable.”

Jack Ma – founder of Alibaba (Net worth: $40 Billion) 

Actions speak louder than words

“The world will not remember what you say, but it will certainly not forget what you have done.”

Attitude and decisions > capabilities 

“I believe in two principles: Your attitude is more important than your capabilities. Similarly, your decisions are more important than your capabilities.”

Be an optimist

“I’m lucky to know a lot of famous people: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jack Welch, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, I know all of them. The difference between those people and other people, is that they are always optimistic for the future, they never complain, and they always try to solve the problems of others.”

Get used to rejection

“When I graduated from university, I applied for 30 jobs, and 30 times I got rejected. I applied for the Police, but they said I was no good. When KFC came to China, 24 people went for the job, 23 people were accepted, and I was the only one who got rejected. When I applied for the Police, 5 people applied, 4 people were accepted, and I was the only guy who did not receive an offer. I also applied for Harvard 10x, and 10x I was rejected.”

Hire the right person, not the best person

“Hire the person best suited to the job, not the most talented. There’s no point putting in a Boeing jet engine when you need to run a tractor.”

Learn from the mistakes of other people

“Instead of learning from other people’s success, learn from their mistakes. Most of the people who fail share common reasons whereas success can be attributed to various different kinds of reasons.”

On the competition

“Even if your competitor is still small in size or weak, you should take him seriously and treat him as a giant. Likewise, even if your competitor is massive in size, you shouldn’t regard yourself as a weakling.”

“If you do not know where your competitor is, or if you are overconfident and snobbish about your competitor, or if you are unable to comprehend how your competitor became a real threat, you will surely fall behind him. Don’t be the “they” in this idiom: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

“Never ever compete on prices, instead compete on services and innovation.”

“You should learn from your competitor, but never copy. Copy and you die.”

Where the opportunities are

“The opportunities that everyone cannot see are the real opportunities.”

“The opportunity always lies in the place where the complaints are. Where there is trouble, there is opportunity. When you hear people complaining, think to yourself, if I can solve that complaint, that’s the opportunity. That’s what I did.”

Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon (Net worth: $100 Billion) (Currently the world’s richest man)

Be long term orientated (5 – 7 year time frames)

“Amazon is long term orientated. I ask everyone not to think in 2-3 year time frames, but to think in 5-7 year time frames. Today I’m working on a quarter that is going to happen in 2020, not next quarter. Next quarter, for all practical purposes is done already, and it’s probably been done for a couple of years. If you start to think that way, it changes the way you spend your time, how you plan, where you put your energy, and your ability to look around corners gets better, so many things improve, if you can take a long term view.”

Be proud of your choices – not your gifts

“Be proud of your choices, not your gifts. We all get to choose our life stories, and it’s the choices that define us not our gifts. Everyone has many gifts, and you can never be proud of your gifts, because they’re gifts, they were given to you. You might be tall, or really good at math, or extremely beautiful, or handsome.

But you can only really be proud of your choices because those are the things that you are acting on. One of the most important choices that each of us has, is you can choose a life of ease and comfort, or you can choose a life of service and adventure, and when you’re 80, which one of those things, do you think you’re going to be more proud of?”

Be stubborn and relentless, but flexible

“I always tell people who think they want to be entrepreneurs, you need a combination of stubborn relentlessness, and flexibility. And you have to know when to be which.

You need to be stubborn on your vision, because otherwise it will be too easy to give up, but you need to be very flexible on the details. Because as you go along pursuing your vision you will find that some of your preconceptions were wrong, and you’re going to need to be able to change those things.”

“If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.”

Bring energy to meetings

“Some people come into the meeting, and they add energy to the meeting, other people come into the meeting, and the whole meeting just deflates. Those people drain energy from the meeting. And you have to decide, which of those kinds of people you’re going to be. Are you going to add energy?”

Be willing to be misunderstood

“You have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate.”

Customer obsession vs competitor obsession

“Amazon is about customer obsession, instead of competitor obsession, business model obsession, product obsession, or technology obsession. There are many ways to center a business, and many of them can work, but I like the customer obsession model, and I think it’s the right one.”

“When given the choice of obsessing over competitors or customers, we always obsess over customers. We pay attention to what our competitors do, but it’s not where we put our energy or where we get our motivation from. We really like to start with customers and work backwards. We learn whatever skills we need to service the customer, and we build whatever technology we need to service the customer.”

“If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.”

“Keep our competitors focused on us, while we stay focused on the customer.”

Invent for your customers

“Customers are always dissatisfied even when they don’t know it, even when they think they’re happy, they actually want a better way, and they just don’t know yet what that should be. That’s why I always warn people: customer obsession is not just listening to customers, customer obsession is also inventing on their behalf, because it’s not their job to invent for themselves, so you need to be an inventor and a pioneer.”

“It’s really important to invent. It’s not a customers job to invent on behalf of themselves, you need to listen to customers, it’s critical, if you don’t listen to customers you’ll go astray, but they won’t tell you everything, so you need to invent on their behalf.”

Earn a good reputation

“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person, and reputations are hard earned and easily lost, so the most important intellectual property that a company can have, is the company name and what it stands for. You can’t ask for trust, you just have to do it the hard way, one step at a time, you make a promise, and then fulfill the promise.”

“You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”

Failure and invention are inseparable twins

“You cannot invent and pioneer, if you cannot accept failure. To invent you need to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it is NOT an experiment. So that’s a very important thing. They’re inseparable twins, failure and invention.”

Great product/service > great marketing

“The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies. The right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it.”

“In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

Keep an open mind

“People who are right most of the time are people who change their minds often.”

Never chase the wave

“Never chase the hot thing whatever it is. That’s like trying to catch the wave, and you’ll never catch it. You need to position yourself and wait for the wave. And the way you do that is you pick something you’re passionate about. That’s the number one piece of advice I would give to someone who wants to start a company, make sure it’s something you’re interested in, something you’re passionate about. Missionaries build better products. I would take a missionary over a mercenary any day.”

On hiring

“I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

Stay relevant, stay young

“If your customer base is aging with you, then eventually you are going to become obsolete or irrelevant. You need to be constantly figuring out who are your new customers and what are you doing to stay forever young.”

Stress

“One of the things that’s very important to note about stress, is that stress primarily comes from not taking action, over something you have some control over. If I find that some particular thing is causing me to have stress, that’s a warning flag for me. What it means is there’s something I haven’t yet taken action on. I find as soon as I make the first phone call, or send the first email, even if it’s not solved, the mere fact that I’m addressing it, dramatically reduces any stress that might come from it. Stress comes from ignoring things that you shouldn’t be ignoring, I think in large part.”

The best customer service

“The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.”

The definition of your brand

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Try things 

“If you decide that you’re going to do only the things you know are going to work, you’re going to leave a lot of opportunity on the table.”

“If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness.”

“The common question that gets asked in business is, why? That’s a good question, but an equally valid question is why not?”

The 2 ways to extend a business

“There are two ways to extend a business. You can either take inventory of what you’re good at and extend out from your skills. Or you can determine what your customers need and work backward, even if it requires learning new skills. Kindle is an example of working backward.”

Jeremy Stoppelman – founder of Yelp (Net worth: $220 Million)

Be adaptable

“Starting a company, your success is going to be very dependent on how you adapt. You’re going to make decisions, you’re going to make bets, most of them are going to turn out to be wrong.”

“The entrepreneurs that really make it are the ones that start with an idea but are ready to change it at a moment’s notice.”

“You have to be very nimble and very open minded. Your success is going to be very dependent on how your adapt.”

“About every year or two, there is a moment of truth where there’s some new development in the marketplace, some new technology, some sort of existential crisis. You just have to be vigilant about looking out for those moments.”

Kevin Plank – founder of Under Amour (Net worth: $1.41 Billion)

Be famous for one thing

“The number one key to any new companies success, plain and simple is focus. Great entrepreneurs take one product and say ‘we’re going to be great for this’. And most importantly, we’re going to be famous for one thing. And that is the greatest advice I can give you, because so often you get caught up with trying to keep up with the Jones’s, and going ‘but they’re doing this, and they’re doing that’, but they’re also like 150x your size. You’re not in the same league. You need to become great at one thing.”

Don’t predict the future, dictate it

“The best merchants in the world aren’t the ones predicting what’s cool next, they’re the ones dictating what’s cool next.”

How to end a meeting

“I end every meeting the same way: This is what I heard, this is what I think, and here’s what we’re going to do.”

Passion is the way

“At some point in your life, you’ll find yourself in a similar position: Surrounded by people who are smarter, faster, who have more experience and more money – and you’ll just have to find a way. And you’ll have to do it with passion.”

Perfection is the enemy of innovation

“Perfection is the enemy of innovation. What that means is, how many entrepreneurs are out there, tinkering in their garage right now, scared to death, making excuses, waiting to get the idea out there, but it’s not quite perfect yet, and they’re saying, ‘It’s not the right time just yet.’ But there’s no such thing as a good time. Get out of your garage and go take a chance and start your business.”

Speed > Smarts

“Smarts is something you never want to turn your back on, but if I had to choose I’d probably take speed (over smarts) and the ability to make fast decisions. Especially in starting a business and being an entrepreneur. There are so many great ideas right now that are sitting in a basement or an attic, where the entrepreneur is just timid or afraid to get out to market cause they think it’s not perfect, it’s not right, it’s not ready to go.

But one thing you learn is business is that version 2 is always going to be better than version 1. You can say I want to wait, I want to hold back, I’m just not ready, but sometimes the best decision for a company is just making a decision.”

The number 1 way to hurt your brand

“Don’t ever, ever devalue your product. Ever. It’s the worst thing anyone can do to hurt your brand.”

Summary of lessons

  • Be an original. Don’t try to copy and follow the success of others. Find your own path.
  • Be an optimist. The most successful people are. Pessimists don’t get anything done.
  • Be adaptable. Your success as a company is going to be very dependent on how you adapt. You’re going to make decisions, you’re going to make bets, most of them are going to turn out to be wrong.
  • Be famous for one thing. Don’t try to do everything. Don’t try to copy your competitors.
  • Be customer obsessed, not competitor, business model, product, or technology obsessed
  • Be proud of your choices, not your gifts
  • Be stubborn and relentless on your vision, but flexible on the details. If you’re not stubborn you’ll give up too soon, if you’re not flexible you’ll pound your head against a wall if it’s not working instead of seeing a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve
  • Be willing to be fail repeatedly and to be misunderstood if you’re going to invent and innovate
  • Build what you want to see in the world. Don’t try to copy what has already been done.
  • Don’t compete on prices, instead compete on services and innovation
  • Don’t try to chase the next hot thing whatever it is, instead work on something you’re passionate about
  • Don’t try to make people buy. Preach only to the converted.
  • Don’t waste your life trying to be good at all of the things you’re not good at
  • Don’t waste time watching TV when you get home (if you’re an employee). Work! Work on your business.
  • Earn a good reputation by doing what you say you will do and keeping your promises
  • Focus much more on creating a great product or service, than on great marketing. Approximately 70% of your focus and energy should be on creating the best possible product or service, and 30% on marketing (according to Jeff Bezos)
  • Focus on the long term (5-7 year time frames)
  • Get ideas out of your head. Write them down and share them with others and get them to critique them
  • Get used to rejection. Jack Ma was constantly rejected for jobs before he succeeded with Alibaba.
  • Having great ideas isn’t enough. Ideas by themselves are nothing, shit, worthless – unless you execute on them and bring them to life. You also need to be able to execute on great ideas if they are to count. You also need to attract other people to help you work on those ideas.
  • Hire the right person, not the best person
  • Instead of focusing on your weaknesses and all of the things you’re not good at, focus on your strengths and double down on them
  • Leaders are like editors, not writers. They edit teams to make sure they’re optimal.
  • Learn from the mistakes of other people. Learn what not to do.
  • Learn from your competitor, but never copy. Copy and you die.
  • Learn to say no
  • Never be romantic about the way you make your money
  • Never feel like you’ve made it. Constantly innovate and push yourself.
  • No standard terms. Don’t ever accept a lawyers comment it’s “standard terms”. It’s a red flag and you could be getting taken advantage of.
  • Perfection is the enemy of innovation
  • Spend as much time as possible with people who are who you want to be already
  • Start a company you never want to sell
  • Start now, start here, start small and keep it simple.
  • Stress largely comes from not taking action over something you can have some control over. So make some phone calls, send some emails
  • Take your competition seriously, but don’t focus on them. Always focus on the customer.
  • The best opportunities for business lie in the places where the customer complaints are.
  • The definition of your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room
  • To succeed in business you need to be very nimble and open minded and willing to change your ideas at a moment’s notice
  • What’s good for the customer is good for business
  • Your attitude and your decisions are more important than your capabilities
  • Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room
  • You find customers by meeting them where they are
  • You need to find new ways to become relevant to your customers
  • You cannot rely on luck, but you should learn to cultivate an ability to recognize fortunate situations when they are occurring

This is part 2 of a 5 part series: Business, Career, and Life Advice from the world’s most successful entrepreneurs:

Business, Career, and Life Advice from the world’s most successful entrepreneurs – part 1

Business, Career, and Life Advice from the world’s most successful entrepreneurs – part 3

If you’re looking for more career advice, I highly recommend you check out the following articles:

150+ Career tips from the CEO’s of Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, JP Morgan and more!

35 Interview Mistakes to Avoid

How to get your Dream Job

25 CV Mistakes to Avoid

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Footnote:

Evan Spiegel image credit: TechCrunch [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Gary Vaynerchuk image credit: Andrew Kelly [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Jack Dorsey image credit: David Shankbone (Shankbone) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Jack Ma image credit: By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Jeff Bezos image credit: James Duncan Davidson from Portland, USA (Etech05: Jeff) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Jeremy Stoppelman image credit: By TechCrunch (509306957DH00019_TechCrunch) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Kevin Plank image credit: By Dcavalli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons