This is part 3 of a 4-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:
- Kevin Systrom – Instagram
- Larry Ellison – Oracle
- Larry Page – Google
- Mark Cuban – Dallas Mavericks
- Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook
- Oprah Winfrey – Harpo
- Reed Hastings – Netflix
I’ve done my best to capture each of these great entrepreneurs 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…
Kevin Systrom – founder of Instagram (Net worth: $1.5 Billion)
Be your own advocate
“The one thing everyone is going to tell you is that your idea is bad and it’s never going to work.
Do you know why?
Because 99% of ideas don’t work.
And if someone says they’re not going to work, they’re generally right. And because they’re generally right, they’ve convinced themselves that no ideas work.
But you have to be your own advocate and you have to believe that your idea is going to work, because no one else is incentivized to believe it. So you absolutely have to believe or no one else is going to.”
Don’t let fear hold you back
“I actually truly believe that anyone can create the next Instagram, or the next Google, or the next Facebook.
I think fear, or lack of confidence, or fear of embarrassment, is the one thing that keeps people from doing the biggest things in the world, like starting a huge company or being the star of a movie.
I think a lot of people think they’re just not talented because of fear, but I believe anyone, with any background, can actually do big things.
It’s really just people that hold themselves back.”
Fail your way to success
“You should assume from the start that your first idea is not going to be your last idea, and your job is to fail your way to success. To fail early and to fail often, in order to find the right solution.
It’s not that you wake up one morning and have this brilliant idea and go implement it. You’re constantly refining this original idea and iterating on it, and often the first thing you start off with, is not the thing you end up with.
You need to find people that are drawn to the idea that you build, and they end up taking it and making it even better.”
Finding the problem is the hard part
“It turns out that the hard part (of starting a business) is actually finding the right problem to solve. Solutions actually come pretty easily for the majority of problems. Not for every problem, but for the majority of problems.
Once you have selected the problems you want to solve, you need to verify that they’re actually the ones that people have, and the way you do that is to get your product in front of people very quickly and to test out that hypothesis. Too many people wait a long time to see whether or not what they’re working on is actually the problem people are having.
Every startup should address a real and demonstrated need in the world. If you build a solution to a problem lots of people have, it’s so easy to sell your product to the world.”
No next perfect move
“Everyone has to take the idea that there is a perfect next move and throw it out the window.
There’s no perfect next move.
I had the privilege of going to a marine base once and I talked to marines about how they plan their next move. And there’s this phrase called “bias towards action” that I really was taken to. The idea is that you can spend a tremendous amount of time trying to figure out what the perfect next move is, “Am I going to work at Google?” “Am I going to work at Microsoft?” etc. but by the time you’ve figured it out you’re dead.
It’s moving and progress that gets you to the next step, and you just need to know that by moving and learning it all adds up, and that is what makes you into the thing tomorrow that will be successful.”
Larry Ellison – founder of Oracle (Net worth: $60 Billion)
Challenge conventional wisdom
“The single most important aspect of my personality as far as determining my success goes, has been my questioning of conventional wisdom, my doubting of experts just because they’re experts, and questioning authority. While that can be painful in your relationships with your parents and teachers, it’s enormously useful in life.”
Think things out for yourself
“Question experts. Question authority figures. Don’t assume just because someone is an authority or an expert that they’re right.”
“Think things out for yourself, come to your own judgments. Don’t simply conform to conventional ways of thinking, to conventional ways of dressing, conventional ways of acting. You have to go back to first principles and think things out for yourself. Whether they’re scientific principles, or moral principles, or business ideas, or product ideas, you have to think things out for yourself.”
Visualize the future
“See things in the present, even if they are in the future. Think of it as you want it, not as it is.”
Larry Page – co-founder of Google (Net worth: $48 Billion)
Don’t let great ideas get away
“You know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid dream? And you know if you don’t have a pencil and pad by the bed it will be completely gone by the next morning.
Sometimes it’s important to wake up and stop dreaming. When a really great dream shows up – grab it.”
Ignore competitors, focus on what’s possible
“For a lot of companies, it’s useful for them to feel like they have an obvious competitor and to rally around that. I personally believe it’s better to shoot higher. You don’t want to be looking at your competitors. You want to be looking at what’s possible and how to make the world better.”
Invention isn’t enough
“Invention is not enough. Tesla invented the electric power we use, but he struggled to get it out to people. You have to combine both things: invention and innovation focus, plus the company that can commercialize things and get them to people.”
“It is often easier to make progress on mega- ambitious dreams. Since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition.”
Mark Cuban – Owner of the Dallas Mavericks (Net worth: $3.3 Billion)
Be an original
“When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?”
“Wherever I see people doing something the way it’s always been done, the way it’s ‘supposed’ to be done, following the same old trends, well, that’s just a big red flag to me to go look somewhere else.”
Don’t have an exit strategy
“Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.”
How would you put yourself out of business?
“What would I have to do to kick my own ass? Whatever business you have, there is always someone trying to put you out of business. It’s better for you to figure how they’re going to do it, than they do it.”
Know your business and your industry
“If you start a business you better know your industry and your company better than anyone in the whole wide world because you’re competing.
Whatever industry you’re in, if you don’t know more about it than anybody else in the world, whoever those other people are that know more are going to kick your ass.”
Learn from history
“One of the things that start-ups do, is they come up with an idea, they’ll Google it, and if they don’t see it in the first 2 pages, they think it’s original. You gotta go back.
Over the past 15 years, there’s been so many different businesses, that have tried and failed and you have to go back and find them and learn from them.
The best advice I can give you is you’ve got to learn from history and you’ve got to find out the history of people who’ve tried your idea. Because there’s a 99.9999% chance, that your idea has been tried before. That’s not a good reason not to start it because you might be able to out perform them, but – you better learn from the history of your idea, because you know what they say about people who don’t learn from history.”
Put yourself in the shoes of others
“In business you’re always selling: to your prospects, investors and employees. To be the best salesperson put yourself in the shoes of the person to whom you’re selling. Don’t sell your product. Solve their problems.
If you can put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re trying to get a job with, get an internship with, or get an investment from, and think about what’s important to them, your chances of being successful increase 99%, a thousand-fold.”
Stop lying to yourself
“One of the big things that all start-ups do is they lie to themselves. Over and over and over. Mines faster. Mines cheaper. Mines better. Mines this. Mines that.
No it’s not.
And the reason it’s not, is because whoever it is you’re competing with, it’s not like they’re ignoring you. To think that whoever it is you’re competing with, is just going to let you come in and take their business, obviously that’s naive. Whatever you’re doing they’re trying to copy it, and now you’ve got to stay ahead.
You’ve got to be very careful as an entrepreneur to be brutally honest with yourself. Know what you know, know what you don’t know.”
Work your butt off
“If you’re going to compete with me or one of my businesses, you’d better recognize that I’m working 24 hours a day to kick your ass.
Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you.”
You only have to be right once
“You can pick the wrong career, you can pick the wrong job, you can pick the wrong spouse, you can pick the wrong whatever, but you just have to try different things, and even if 99% of them fail, you only have to be right one time and you’re set.
But if you don’t go out there and try all these different things, you’ll never get that one time.”
Mark Zuckerberg – founder of Facebook (Net worth: $74 Billion)
Build a good team
“People say that I built Facebook, or that Steve Jobs built Apple, but that’s not true.
We helped, but there were thousands and thousands of other people involved in building these things and the reality is that as strong as any one individual is, no one person can deal with all of the challenges that are going to get thrown at them in anything that you do.
One of the ways that I think we maintain resilience, is by having co-founders and partners who compliment our strengths and fortify our weaknesses and can encourage us and give us a push to keep going when things are tough, and there’s a lot of data on this, that suggests that companies that get started with more co-founders are more likely to be successful.
I always get a little bit upset when any media attention focuses on me personally leading Facebook, much less a movie. I think it’s one of these things that the media systematically gets wrong, is that it’s this idea that it’s a person, but it’s never a person, it’s always a team, and the most important thing if you are an entrepreneur trying to build something is you need to build a really good team, and that’s what I spend a lot of my time on.
I spent probably 25% of my time recruiting, finding good people, both outside the company, and inside the company to put in more impactful roles.
The media likes to sensationalize this, as if you have some eureka moment or you are some singular person who builds something on your own, but that’s just not how the world works.”
Ideas don’t come out fully formed
“Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started. If I had to know everything about connecting people before I got started, I never would’ve built Facebook.
Movies and pop culture just get this all wrong. The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie and it makes us feel inadequate because we feel like we haven’t had ours yet, and it prevents people with seeds of good ideas from ever getting started in the first place.”
“People think innovation is just having a good idea but a lot of it is just moving quickly and trying a lot of things.”
Learn how to program
“My number one piece of advice is: You should learn how to program.”
Move fast and break things
“Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff you are not moving fast enough.”
“I would only hire someone to work directly for me if I was willing to work for that person.
I don’t hire people who I wouldn’t’ work for myself. The heuristic of only hiring people who you would work for, tends to be pretty good.”
Spend your time wisely
“The question I ask myself almost every day is, ‘Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?’…
Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem that I can help with, I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time.”
“The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Oprah Winfrey – founder of Harpo productions (Net worth: $3 Billion)
A career vs a calling
“Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is and who you were meant to be, and begin to honor that in the best way possible for yourself.
You know if you’re doing the right thing if it feels right to you, if it gives you your juice, and if you would do it for nothing. That’s how you know what you’re supposed to be doing.
You use a job until you can figure out what the calling is.”
You become what you believe
“The fundamental key to success in life, is what you believe is true for yourself.
You don’t become what you want, most times in life you don’t get what you want, nor do you get what you wish for, or what you hope for, it’s what do you believe.
You can say I want to be the most successful person in the world, but if you believe that there’s a glass ceiling and you’re gonna have a hard time kicking through that glass ceiling, you’ll be defined by the glass ceiling.
The question is: What do you believe? Do you believe that happiness, success, abundance, comfort, fulfillment, peace, joy, love, is a part of your birthright? Is that what you believe? Or do you believe something else?
Create the highest, grandest, vision possible for your life, because you will manifest the life that you believe.”
“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.”
“To me success is getting to the point where you are absolutely comfortable with yourself, and it does not matter how many things you have acquired.
To have the kind of internal strength and internal courage it takes to say “No I will not let you treat me this way” is what success is all about.
The ability to learn to say no, and not to feel guilty about it, to me is about the greatest success I have achieved.
It’s the same thing that prevents you from being abused as a child, that prevents you from being abused as an adult, that allows you to build success for yourself. It’s about saying I will not be treated this way. I demand only the best for myself.
You are worthy to say no. It’s OK if you say no and then people don’t like you. That’s really OK. The important thing is how you feel about what you’re doing and how you feel about yourself.”
Don’t undervalue what you do
“When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.”
Do your best in this moment
“My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”
Listen with your eyes
“When people show you who they are believe them the first time. Not the 29th time.”
Surround yourself with the right people
“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.”
Reed Hastings – founder of Netflix (Net worth: $2.3 Billion)
You have to be authentic
“You’ve got to be authentic.
Don’t try to be someone else.
You’ve got no hope if you try to pretend to be Reed Hastings or Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.
You’ve also got to really get comfortable with yourself, and with your strengths and weaknesses.
People are inspired by authenticity, and I’m just surprised by how many people feel like they’re acting, and/or try to act.
Maybe you’re a really quiet person.
But if you have a fierce will and a desire for the company to be great, and your own role in that is secondary, and you authentically express that in whatever ways you do, then you’ll be greatly accepted and people will see that and they’ll follow you and they won’t be cynical. It’s when you hide things, it’s when you pretend (that people don’t trust).”
Be brutally honest about the short term
“Be brutally honest about the short term and optimistic and confident about the long term.”
Don’t get distracted
“Don’t get distracted by the shiny object [and if a crisis comes], execute on the fundamentals.”
Don’t tolerate brilliant jerks
“Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost to teamwork is too high.”
“I learned the value of focus. I learned it is better to do one product well than two products in a mediocre way.”
“Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.”
Set context, instead of trying to control your staff
“The best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people.”
If it doesn’t make the customer happy, or serve the business, don’t do it
“Tomorrow when you come to work, if it doesn’t make the customer happy, move the business forward, and save us money – don’t do it.”
Reposition weaknesses as strengths
“Truly brilliant marketing happens when you take something most people think of as a weakness and reposition it so people think of it as a strength.”
Solve problems in a very specific way
“When there’s an ache, you want to be like aspirin, not vitamins. Aspirin solves a very particular problem someone has, whereas vitamins are a general ‘nice to have’ market.”
Summary of lessons
- Be an original. Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing.
- Be brutally honest with yourself about what you know and what you don’t know
- Be your own advocate and believe in your idea even if no one else does. Because if you don’t believe in your ideas – who will?
- Build a good team and get co-founders. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t build Facebook and Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple. They were built by thousands of people.
- Challenge conventional wisdom. Question experts and question authority. Don’t just assume because someone is an authority or an expert that they’re right. Think for yourself.
- Demand respect. Learn to say no without feeling guilty about it.
- Don’t have an exit strategy. Start a company you never want to sell.
- Don’t just listen to what people say, watch what they actually do.
- Don’t let fear hold you back
- Don’t let great ideas get away. Write down and record great ideas as soon as they come to you.
- Don’t undervalue what you do
- Everybody has a calling, and your job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is
- Fail your way to success. Fail early, and fail often.
- How would you put yourself out of business? Better you do it than someone else does. Constantly reinvent your company.
- Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. Find people to help develop and build upon your idea.
- If you want to be more successful: Put yourself in the shoes of other people and start seeing things from the perspective of people you’re trying to get a job with or get an investment from.
- Know your business and industry better than anyone else. Otherwise someone else who does will kick your ass!
- Learn from the history of your industry, and learn from the history of people who have tried your idea.
- Mark Zuckerberg’s number one piece of advice: Learn how to program
- Mark Zuckerberg would only hire someone to work directly for him if he was willing to work for that person
- Move fast. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, but they frequently die from moving too slowly.
- The hardest part of starting a business is finding the right problem to solve. Solutions are often (but not always) easy. It’s finding the right problem to solve that is the hard part.
- There is no perfect next move. You just have to try a lot of things.
- Think BIG. Sometimes big dreams are easier to achieve because no one else is trying to do it.
- When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Not the 29th time.
- You don’t get what you want, what you hope for, or what you wish for. You become what you believe.
- You have to be authentic. Don’t try to be someone else.
This is part 3 of a 4 part series: Business, Career, and Life Advice from the world’s most successful entrepreneurs:
If you’re looking for more career advice, I highly recommend you check out the following articles:
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Kevin Systrom image credit: TechCrunch [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Larry Ellison image credit: drserg / Shutterstock.com Larry Page image credit: Marcin Mycielski, European Parliament (Stansfield) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Mark Cuban image credit: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com Mark Zuckerberg image credit: Robert Scoble [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Pierre Omidyar image credit: By Joi 15:42, 2 August 2007 (UTC) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Pomidyarji.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Reed Hastings image credit: James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media, Inc. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/x180/50264912/in/set-1076331/, via Wikimedia Commons