Skip to content

CHERYL HELLER: It begins with an ultimate vision. Not I want to have a successful business. Not I want to launch a website. It's the real understanding of a purpose that creates energy and that aligns everyone around the same goal.

BRE PETTIS: Frankly, our biggest challenge as a culture is how do we empower people to unlock their true potential and explore who they are. Because I believe that inside each person is the potential to have deep, deep powerful impact on their local community and society at large. How do we make that happen? How do we unlock that?

SARAS SARASVATHY: The way entrepreneurs do it, they work with what they have and they look around and say what can I do with this.

JOHN BUTMAN: The really successful ones connect their ideas to other ideas. So no idea is totally original. Most of us have ideas that add to existing ideas that bring a bit of originality, that have our own take on things and the really good ones link into great ideas that have come before.

MIKI AGRAWAL: The first question that I ask myself is: What sucks in my world? Does this thing suck in my world so much that I want to do something about it? What sucked in my world? Having stomachaches every time I ate pizza. Regular conventional pizza. Bleached flour, processed cheese, sugar filled sauces, processed toppings. That was hurting me. But I love pizza and I wanted to keep it in my life, but I couldn't eat that kind of pizza. Second question is: Does it suck for a lot of people? Because if it sucks for just you and you're like a diva then sorry, but that's probably not the great business idea. But if it sucks for a lot of people then business opportunity. The final question which is the most important one is: Can I be passionate about this issue, cause or community for a really long time? It takes ten years to be an overnight success. We often think that like, 'Oh my god, Dollar Shave Club sold in two years for a billion dollars. Oh, look at Instagram—It had ten people, sold for a billion dollars. I can do this.' Those are literally like winning the lottery. You have to feel like you can sit in that discomfort for ten years and be passionate about that issue for ten years.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: You have to say to yourself, 'What is the worst that could possibly happen? And then can I live with what is the worst that could possibly happen?' You have to live your life recognizing that a sense of your life is out of control. That's hard for the average person but that's par for the course for the entrepreneur.

SARASVATHY: If you want the shortest predictor of success it's how people actually deal with failure.

RICHARD BRANSON: There is a very thin dividing line between success and failure. Most people who set off in business without financial backing they fail at sometimes in their lives. And I've only just stayed at the right side of that dividing line.

SARASVATHY: If you think about it for a moment just by being willing to fail once or twice and start again, you can increase the probability of your success. So failure teaches you not only what not to do, but also how to do things with a smaller footprint. So if failure happens, it's not disastrous.

BRANSON: I also learned the art of delegation. I have a fantastic team of people who run the Virgin companies. I give them a lot of freedom to run the companies as if they were their own companies. I give them the freedom to make mistakes and the Virgin brand is now maybe one of the top 20 brands in the world.

AGRAWAL: I'm really, really deliberate about the type of people I bring onto the team really checking their background, seeing if they really fit. Before anyone gets hired they have to meet the whole team, and the team has to give me their feedback on what they think about this person. If they jive well. It really is culture. Culture trumps strategy every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

BRANSON: You have to be a great listener and you have to be a great motivator. You have to be very good at praising and looking for the best in people. People are no different from flowers. If you water flowers they flourish. If you praise people they flourish, and that's a critical attribute of a leader.

DAYMOND JOHN: In a relationship, no matter what it is, you're Batman, somebody else is Robin. And often, you're Robin and you allow somebody else to be Batman, and it makes you much more powerful. That's what you see in the most successful people in the world. And success is not only money. Success can be various other things. People who have overthrown government with Twitter, arguments say. So, when people understand their power, they're constantly seeking to enrich more people as well as tapping into what they've learned and how to even become better at being powerful.

CHRIS LOOSE: The most important piece of advice I like to give them, particularly on the technical side, is find someone who has totally different skills from you that you can trust and will challenge you. It can help you think through the many aspects it takes to address to build a business.

AGRAWAL: From a skill set perspective you need to be opposites. Oftentimes best friends are like, 'We want to start a business together.' That's the fastest way to not becoming best friends again. Being opposites is so important. I'm great at design. I'm great at the vision. I'm great at the sort of strategy. I'm really great at the aesthetic. I'm really great at the brand. My partner needs to be good at operations, manufacturing, warehousing, legal, finance, all of that stuff that I don't love doing. I'd rather stay to my zone of genius and have someone really, really take on their zone of genius and be in mutual awe of one another.

PETTIS: As I think about what kind of advice I would give to other entrepreneurs when they start, I would say it's actually better to box yourself in and create a rule set for yourself, a manifesto. Something that basically says we are going to live our lives this way. This is our criteria. This is our sort of limitations. These are the things that, this is the sort of challenge we're going to give ourselves to stay within these parameters.

LOOSE: The advice I'd give is really to engage people who've gone through that product development experience very early on. They'll have a lot of rules of the road, a lot of mistakes to avoid, and can really help make you successful even if you don't have the deep domain experience. It's amazing how much young entrepreneurs who have a passion and enthusiasm and some really big ideas can engage and draw in people who have deep experience even before potentially they could afford them as consultants or employees. I think as entrepreneurs are dreaming big you can share that energy, share that vision, get people involved and really bring in fantastic folks at a very early stage.

SCARAMUCCI: Every entrepreneur will tell you when they're going through crisis, number one: clear your mind. Accept whatever the possible outcome will be, and then the steps that you have to take are non-fear based. And that's the biggest, biggest problem for people, because we all have these fears. You have to remember you're in a 100,000 year old piece of machinery. You're the same person that was walking around in ancient Rome, so you're filled with all these primordial instincts. You've got to dial down your fear based instincts, and you've got to focus on being aggressive in a time of crisis. Because if you don't do that, you have a very high likelihood of failure.

AGRAWAL: People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it. To really, really succeed you have to have such deep passion and drive to make it succeed. When you're going through the worst of times and you close your eyes, you really have to remember like oh my god, I've helped so many people just gain access to clean sanitation. That's going to keep you going. Most people can't say that if they're just trying to sell a tee shirt company.

LOOSE: Look for a platform company. If you're going to build a company make sure that if you're successful in one area it can create value in a number of adjacent areas because that really justifies bringing in the investment, building the whole infrastructure, not just for one product but potentially for many. So it's important to have a platform, but not to lose focus within that platform and make one crucial bet that ultimately can drive the early success of your company.

NATHALIE MOLINA NIÑO: There's way more to the world of investing and of securing capital than just venture capital. There's long view investments. There's debt. There's crowdfunding. There are many different options when it comes to getting funding but the one that dominates the headlines is venture capital. The bottom line for me is that there are many different sources of capital. It's not a one size fits all regime and we get fed one single product. And the reality is a smart founder has to look around to see what their other options are. And I would say this is not just a nice to have. This is a critical, critical thing. The thing that I always tell founders is that VC might be for you. It might not be, but let's not romanticize what it is and how it works. Please do not take venture capital from any investor no matter what terms they're giving you unless you're willing to be fired from your own company, which is what happens to a lot of people who end up taking venture capital.

JOHN: Most people are trying to expand their portfolio and their brands by operating new businesses instead of digging into the relationships that they already have. Five, 10, 20 years because when you already have worked with somebody whether it's a relationship as friends or your community or at the office or as an investment, the first transaction is usually the lowest. It is the 10 transactions afterwards. Not only the transaction you're having with the person, it's the fact that that person is probably another businessperson or has a relationship and they're out there networking telling people about how good you are. And that's exactly where it is. See, your reputation is like your skyline. You drive to the city, everybody can see it. And when you have developed these relationships and nurtured them, you do more and more business because the people know your ethics or morals and how you handle situations. And when you don't nurture these things, it slowly corrodes the foundation of who you are, and you have to go out and acquire new relationships. You have to nurture these relationships. They are symbiotic no matter what level you're at, and that's the importance of after you negotiate, now the real pot of gold is all those other transactions, all those other relationships, all those other references and networking things that they'll do for you and you'll do for them that you'll end up realizing have paid the best dividends.

PETTIS: There's so many places that are just waiting for innovation. I'm in the hospital and I'm like this garbage here. This equipment cost too much, it's too hard, isn't streamlined, has crappy UI, bad user experience, and people die because of it. I'm like there's so much opportunity in that.

AGRAWAL: I think having that passion, that purpose and that thing in that you can be like, when you close your eyes and be like, 'Can I sit in this for 10 years?' My answer is yes across the board. So I think if that is your answer too, then go for it.