Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

Lessons From Famous Entrepreneurs for Startup Founders

3 min read

Starting a company isn’t easy. When you find bugs in your software, get schooled in a meeting with an investor, or simply feel like your company isn’t where it should be, you’re likely to feel discouraged.

In these moments of weakness, it can be helpful to think of the most famous entrepreneurs. These are the people that persevered and changed the world in spite of various obstacles, and their stories offer lessons to founders everywhere. Here are six key takeaways that any entrepreneur can benefit from:

Define Your Own Market

Founders need to hear from customers about what they think of products and services, but this feedback is only helpful to a point. Henry Ford, who revolutionized automobile production in the early 20th century, famously said that if he asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said “faster horses.”

Ford’s point was that if you’re creating something truly innovative, a product that’s unique and ahead of its time, your customers won’t be able to give helpful feedback. Instead, you need to define the landscape for the customer, creating a world where they can’t live without your products and services.

The best products are created where there is little competition, where innovative solutions can change the world. Henry Ford didn’t see competition. Instead, he defined his own market.

Accept and Embrace Failure

Steve Jobs may be famous for bringing Apple success with the iPod and iPhone, but he wasn’t always on that track. Jobs founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976, but it wasn’t all rainbows and flowers. After facing various obstacles and struggles at Apple, Jobs resigned in 1985 because of conflicts.

But that didn’t stop Jobs. Rather than go to work for someone else, Jobs started NeXT, which was eventually acquired by Apple, as well as world famous Pixar.

Through it all, Jobs never gave up on his dream of entrepreneurship, nor in his faith in Apple. Years later, after the NeXT acquisition, Jobs stepped up and took the position of CEO at Apple, putting the past behind him.

Many would’ve given up along the way, but not Jobs. In the face of difficulties, even when he was the most famous entrepreneur in the world, Jobs never stopped trying to create the world’s most innovative companies and products.

Do the Grunt Work Yourself

When Lori Grenier, serial entrepreneur, started out, she did most of the grunt work herself. She hit the streets and visited all types of different neighborhoods to ask various people what they thought of her earring organizer. She handed out a questionnaire to people asking whether they would buy the product, and how much they’d be willing to spend on it.

Lori wasn’t too good for the job — she was committed to getting on the customer’s level so she could truly understand what they wanted.

“Get out there and pound the pavement,” said Lori in an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine. “Look beyond your friends and family — their innate desire to support you and give you positive feedback might not be indicative of the larger consensus. Go to different neighborhoods and get opinions from all types of demographics.”

Don’t Define Yourself by Your Competitors

Just because someone has years of experience doesn’t make them better than you. Just look at Evan Spiegel, 25-year-old founder of Snapchat.

Spiegel famously turned down a billion dollar deal from Facebook, which was hard for many to believe. Instead of bowing to the competition, Spiegel decided to continue working on his own. He wanted to be in charge, and was committed to building a team that was committed to the success of Snapchat.

“We have a lot of admiration for our competitors, they are really serious, really big and they know what they are doing,” said Spiegel in an interview. “So, I think it is always, always tough. But I don’t think you define your business, what you are doing in terms of other people. The way you have to do is what you believe in and what you want to do. And we built a team around that idea. So when you built a team that is terrific who believes in building something really meaningful, you just keep going.”

Stay Relevant for the Long Haul

When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, he was living in a college dorm room. Eleven years later, Zuckerberg is still leading the team to success.

Zuckerberg shows entrepreneurs everywhere what can happen if you’re willing to fully commit to an idea, a company, and a vision for the long haul. Zuckerberg was not looking to make a quick buck in college. Instead, he wanted to revolutionize the way people communicate over the Internet, and he continues to be committed to this vision.

Many experts cite Facebook’s ability to perform on mobile as a reason it’s been able to stay successful and relevant all these years. In 2004, when Zuckerberg started Facebook, mobile phones weren’t in the picture, and many other social media sites, such as LiveJournal and MySpace, weren’t able to stay relevant in a mobile world. Today, Facebook says that 87% use Facebook on their mobile devices, and roughly 48% use Facebook only on mobile devices.

Be Fearless

Electric cars, humans on Mars, and solar panels for the average joe. A few years ago, these would’ve sounded like the musings of a mad scientist, but Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity, is committed to making these dreams a reality.

Elon Musk isn’t content with the status quo, and he’s not ok with creating companies that don’t see into the distant future, even when critics say that he’s attempting to do the impossible.

He thinks about how his innovations can revolutionize and change the world — and he’s not afraid to go out and make it happen.

Whether you’re building a new software system, running the next unicorn, or opening a brick-and-mortar business, be fearless like Elon Musk. Go after what you believe is right, and don’t shrink in the face of challenges.

Lessons from them Best

As you lead a company to success, you may face challenges, but you also get to impact daily life for your customers. Look to the famous entrepreneurs that inspire you to do better and keep innovating.

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Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.