Running a business sometimes feels like an endless learning curve. Here are five successful entrepreneurs we can take inspiration from.
We have ups, downs, triumphs and failures, but the most successful business owners know that every experience can teach us a valuable lesson. To that end, here are five things we’ve learned from the people we most admire.
Lesson 1: Don’t stop reinvesting your profits
Norfolk entrepreneur Dale Vince OBE was a New Age Traveller living in an old army truck on a hill in Stroud when he founded the now award-winning Ecotricity in 1995.
From a single wind turbine, he went on to build commercial wind-monitoring equipment that’s still used today, and – under the name Nexgen – sold as green energy directly to over 200,000 customers across the UK.
Vince’s strategy is simple; he continually reinvests his profits to fuel expansion. It’s this strategy that has allowed him to own a significant share of the wind energy market. With a goal of generating ever more kilowatts from renewable sources, Vince has purchased more equipment, snapped up smaller companies and refinanced his existing windfarms to drive continued growth.
Quote: “People want what they are comfortable with, what they know. But businesses can shift the paradigm and introduce the things that nobody wants yet. The new things.”
Lesson 2: Do the right thing, even when no one’s looking
It’s one thing to say all the right things to your clients, partners and business community; it’s another thing to actually do all those things as standard – even when no one’s looking. That’s what happens when you doing the right thing isn’t just a goal; it’s part of your culture.
Few entrepreneurs know this better than Sir Richard Branson. The past few decades are full of examples of his ethos in action. Whenever there’s been a crisis – such as Virgin Airship Crash in 2014 – he’s the first to drop everything and do the right thing, even if there’s nothing he can do to fix it.
Doing the right thing and treating everyone with respect is deeply rooted in the corporate culture at Virgin, both externally and at on an internal level. ‘Look after your staff,’ he once said, ‘and they’ll look after your customers.”
Quote: “Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.” – Richard Branson
Lesson 3: Tread your own path – don’t imitate your competitors
Oprah Winfrey is one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. Her business empire includes a female-led media company which operates a popular podcast, radio show and magazine, as well as a global book club, a charity, an extensive real estate portfolio and a high-performing 10% stake in Weightwatchers International.
The platform for this empire was her long-running talk show, which ended in 2011. After a difficult start in life, she worked hard to progress from her job as a local news anchor and by the time she secured her first talk show, she was competing with some of the biggest names in the business.
Rather than trying to replicate their tried-and-tested winning formula on her own show, she went her own way, focussing on what she knew viewers really wanted to see, rather than aiming for ratings.
Quote: “The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but on significance – and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.”
Lesson 4: Define your values, not your ideal bank balance
With a £6,500 loan, Anita Roddick worked with a local herbalist to develop a range of natural cosmetics and opened her very first Body Shop in Brighton in 1976. By 2004, there were almost 2,000 Body Shop stores around the world, and it was voted the second most trusted brand in the UK.
How did she achieve this? By having clearly defined values. Roddick never set out to make money; she simply set out to create cosmetics that addressed her concern for animal welfare and the environment.
She didn’t advertise. She concentrated instead on raising awareness of important social causes, aligning herself with Greenpeace and Amnesty International. She used minimal packaging to reduce costs and offered discounts to customers who brought back their empty containers. The effect was long-lasting; customers felt good about buying her products.
Quote: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”
Lesson 5: Trust the process and practice gratitude
With two small children and a high-pressured role as Barnes & Noble’s acting President of e-Commerce, John Foley found he had no time to attend the SoulCycle classes he once enjoyed.
Grudgingly taking to his home exercise bike, he knew there had to be a more exciting, engaging and intuitive home exercise experience. It was then he struck upon the idea to attach a monitor to his bike and live-stream cycling classes – and Peloton was born.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign and whatever other investment he could drum up, Peloton invested heavily in marketing to attract 1.4 million members by 2019. But it was during the pandemic that Peloton really took off, banking $89m in 2020. Throughout it all, Foley had complete trust in his idea, his equipment and his team, and practiced gratitude at every step of his journey.
Quote: “Gratitude in practice is a commitment to changing your world view to being positive. Once it’s a habit, it opens up opportunity because you see how many failures and successes are ultimately tied together into a bigger process.”
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The Fresh Clarity Team