These days taking chances isn’t just for college dropouts in hoodies. We all need to be nimble, adaptive, daring—and maybe even a little crazy—or risk being left behind.
But how do you take smart risks without risking it all? That’s Linda Rottenberg’s expertise. As the cofounder and CEO of Endeavor, the world’s leading organization dedicated to supporting fast-growing entrepreneurs, she’s spent the last two decades helping innovators think bold and execute smart.
Now Rottenberg draws on her unrivaled experience to show you the proven techniques to achieve your dreams. Crazy Is a Compliment combines inspiring stories, original research, and practical advice to create a road map for getting started and going bigger.
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Linda Rottenberg, the cofounder and CEO of Endeavor, has been named one of “America’s Top Leaders” by U.S. News, one of 100 “Innovators for the 21st Century” by Time magazine, and the world’s first “mentor capitalist” by Tom Friedman. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, author Bruce Feiler, and their twin daughters.
Why Everybody Needs to Act Like an Entrepreneur
Iwant to tell you about Leila.
Leila Velez grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Her mother was a maid; her father, a janitor. In the early 1990s Leila was serving hamburgers at McDonald’s. But she had a dream.
Leila was frustrated by how few hair products there were for the curly locks of Afro-Brazilian women like her. “Poor people deserve to feel beautiful, too,” she told her sister-in-law Zica, a hairdresser. In 1993 the two amateurs turned Leila’s basement into a mad scientist’s lab. They tested their first product on their husbands . . . and the men’s hair promptly fell out.
Going back to the sink, Leila and Zica perfected their formula and opened a salon. It was an unimpressive place, down a dark corridor, a mere three hundred square feet. “How can you be successful in such a pitiful space?” their friends said. But the sisters pushed on. Soon women in Rio were waiting four to six hours for an appointment, and customers were crediting their products with not only improving their hair texture but also boosting their self-esteem.
When I tell this story to friends, they often say, “That must be one of those charming stories we keep hearing about women in microfinance.” But there’s nothing micro about Leila’s story. Within a few years her company, Beleza Natural, was selling an array of hair products in a handful of “hair clinics.” By 2013 Beleza Natural was serving 100,000 customers a month, employing 2,300 people, and earning $80 million a year.
So how did Leila do it? How did she go from being an hourly worker at McDonald’s to the leader of a multimillion-dollar franchise? And more to the point: What can the rest of us learn from her story to be more daring in our own lives?
We can learn a lot.
First, we can be reminded of the value of looking at the world through fresh eyes. The legendary retailer Sam Walton once said, “If everybody else is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction.” Leila saw that everybody else was just selling hair products; she would sell confidence. She called her niche lipstick psychology.
Many of the best ideas fulfill a need no one else knows exists. Earle Dickson was a twenty-eight-year-old cotton buyer for Johnson & Johnson in 1920, whose wife, Josephine, kept cutting herself while cooking. To stanch the bleeding, Josephine used the standard remedy, a piece of rag attached with string. The contraptions quickly fell off. Her husband began tinkering and soon presented his wife, then his bosses with an alternative: a self-adhesive bandage with the cotton built in. Band-Aids, as they were called, failed to take off until the company gave away free samples to butchers and Boy Scouts. More than a hundred billion of Earle’s inventions have since been sold.
Next, we can learn that psychology plays an enormous role in tackling risk. The biggest barriers to success are not structural or cultural; they are mental and emotional. At every turn, someone (or, more likely, everyone) will call you and your idea crazy. The job of the innovator is to push past naysayers and find a way to drive forward. Leila was soft-spoken and shy. She wasn’t used to bold action, confrontation, or speaking out. Before she could foster confidence in others, she first had to discover it in herself.
Finally, we can learn that risk takers rarely go it alone. Those seeking to disrupt the status quo need support. And support doesn’t just mean financial, though that always helps. More often it means advice on handling fear, navigating tricky growth decisions, and breaking an intimidating task into manageable chunks. When Steve Jobs was just starting out, he sought the counsel of Robert Noyce, the coinventor of the microchip and the unofficial mayor of Silicon Valley. As with everything he did, Jobs took this relationship to an extreme. He would drop by Noyce’s house uninvited on his motorcycle or telephone around midnight. An exasperated Noyce finally told his wife, “If he calls one more time I’m just not going to pick up the phone!”
But of course Noyce always picked up. Entrepreneurs always find a way.
So where did Leila go to get the backing she needed?
That’s where my story intersects with hers. In 1997 I cofounded an organization called Endeavor to support dreamers like Leila. In nearly two decades, Endeavor has screened forty thousand candidates and selected roughly one thousand individuals from more than six hundred fast-growing companies to be part of our network. We discovered these innovators in the least likely places: cyber cafés in South Africa, sandwich shops in Mexico, women-only gyms in Turkey; gamer hangouts in Indonesia; ceviche stores in the United States. We’ve worked with founders in such crazily diverse fields as biometric eye scanning, snail farming, pharmacy franchising, and wind turbine manufacturing. We’ve helped daring individuals operate in such challenging environments as Athens in the midst of a currency crisis, Cairo in the throes of a revolution, and Miami as it emerged out of recession.
We call these business leaders high-impact entrepreneurs, a term Endeavor coined in 2004. High-impact means individuals with the biggest ideas, the likeliest potential to build businesses that matter, and the greatest ability to inspire others. Once we invite these leaders into our network we do whatever we can to help them succeed, from forming advisory boards to accessing capital, from hiring talent to honing leadership. And we encourage them to nurture and mentor the next generation.
Today Endeavor has offices in forty-five cities around the world, employs 350 people, and has a pool of 5,000 volunteer mentors. While some of our ventures lose steam, the vast majority have grown at an impressive rate. In 2013 the entrepreneurs we support generated close to $7 billion in revenues and provided more than 400,000 jobs.
My experience has taught me that the capacity to dream big is not confined to any country, age, or gender. The desire to take initiative, be your own boss, advance your life, and improve the world is universal.
But the roadblocks are universal, too.
I’ve spent the last two decades working to identify the common mistakes and specific stumbling blocks that innovators face as they attempt to turn their ideas into reality. I’ve sought to isolate the mix of concrete steps, strategic support, and emotional encouragement they need to bring their ideas to the next level. And I’ve learned when change makers need a shoulder to cry on and when they need a kick in the pants.
When I met Leila, for example, she was eager to expand yet scrambling to keep pace with demand. She was overwhelmed. To help, we introduced her to mentors who could support her growth. We encouraged her to create a shareholder agreement with her in-laws. When she got divorced, Leila even found a new husband through our network. (She got what I call the full-service treatment!)
But most important, we showed her that instead of being alone, she’s part of the biggest movement in the world today, the unstoppable, unwavering trend toward individuals who seek to improve their own lives and, in the process, improve the world around them.
She’s an entrepreneur.
–ENTREPRENEURSHIP ISN’T JUST FOR ENTREPRENEURS ANYMORE –
I wrote this book because I believe that we all have a little Leila within us.
Every day I meet people with a dream. Those people are just like Leila—and just like you. Maybe you’re serving coffee and fantasizing about launching a microbrewery; maybe you’ve skipped college and yearn to start your own design firm; maybe you’re sitting in your cubicle and brainstorming a new idea that can improve your company; maybe you’ve got a plan to improve the environment; maybe you’re a stay-at-home parent with an idea for a new mobile app; or maybe you’re a retiree hoping to start a B&B.
You have a dream, but you don’t know how to turn your dream into reality. Or you’ve already launched your dream, but you’re unsure how to take it to the next level.
This book can show you the way.
I’m going to impart lessons I’ve learned from helping Leila and a thousand others like her. I’ll disclose the results of intensive research conducted over several years by the Endeavor team and our partners at Bain & Company. I’ll lay out the insights I’ve been taking to Fortune 500 companies the last few years because they, too, want to become more entrepreneurial. And I’ll share my own up-and-down story of building (and occasionally rebuilding) a fast-growing organization that’s a hybrid of nonprofit and for-profit.
Above all, I’m going to try to show you that no matter what you’re doing right now, no matter what dream you’re trying to get going or grow bigger, you need these lessons.
You need to think and act more like an entrepreneur.
When we started Endeavor in the late 1990s, the word “entrepreneur” was not very popular. It wasn’t even used by most people who started companies. Adapted from the French word meaning “to undertake,” entrepreneurship existed as an academic concept, but the expression—or any expression like it, for that matter—was barely used in most countries. Even most Americans viewed entrepreneurship as a rarefied notion that applied only to founders of the fastest-growing (or fastest-failing) enterprises. And at the risk of my pointing out the obvious, those leaders were mostly young, mostly in tech, and mostly male.
That stereotype no longer holds. Today entrepreneurship doesn’t just mean starting a tech company. It means undertaking any bold venture—from improving your neighborhood to selling crafts out of your basement; from modernizing your family business to proposing a new initiative in your corporation. The techniques involved in sharpening your idea, facing down critics, recruiting boosters, and handling setbacks apply in almost every realm of work.
Entrepreneurship, defined as a nimble, creatively destructive, optimistic force, has become the go-to problem-solving technique of the twenty-first century. If some moments have been ripe for diplomats, financiers, soldiers, or politicians, today is ripe for entrepreneurs. Now, that may sound a little grand. But scroll through the Internet, flip through a corporate annual report, visit a college campus, listen to moms and dads at school drop-off: Everyone is talking about being a force of disruption, trying a fresh approach, becoming an agent of change. Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit, put it well: “‘I have a startup’ is the new ‘I’m in a band.’” Even the Boy Scouts now have an entrepreneurship merit badge and Mattel has Entrepreneur Barbie!
The reasons behind this shift are complex, but they come down to a simple reality: We live in a time of uncertainty. Our economies, our companies, our jobs are no longer stable and secure. Change is the only constant. To survive, we all need the skills required to continually reinvent ourselves. Everyone needs to take some risk or risk being left behind.
Here’s the good news: Anybody can be a change agent today. There are no admission criteria. There is no wardrobe requirement. There is no secret vote.
Entrepreneurship is for everyone.
But here’s the bad news: We don’t really have a language to discuss this wide swath of workers who are becoming more entrepreneurial.
The word “entrepreneur,” once underused, is now in jeopardy of being overused. As a result, lots of people (me included) began taking this clunky word and adding all sorts of qualifiers to it, making it even clunkier. Suddenly we had “social entrepreneur” to describe those building mission-driven organizations that focus on everything from human rights to the environment; “microentrepreneur” to describe individuals starting lifestyle businesses; “intrapreneur” to label change makers within large corporations; “copreneurs” to describe couples starting businesses; even “mompreneurs,” “dadpreneurs,” and “kidpreneurs.” These terms became so unwieldy that on Twitter everyone just gave up and shortened “entrepreneurs” to #treps.
Trust me, as someone who’s sat on a gazillion panels about the “future of entrepreneurship,” I know we need a new lexicon.
In this book I want to try a different approach, one that I hope is clearer and certainly more fun. I’ve given each of these different groups a name. The names are simple, easy to understand, and reflective of the arenas in which people operate. They represent four different species, and they all need help in realizing their dreams. One of these species surely applies to you.
GAZELLES. This is the classic entrepreneur of myth and reality, someone who starts a new business venture and aims for it to explode into a white-hot phenomenon—Home Depot, Facebook, Jenny Craig, Under Armour, Instagram. High growth is the goal. The Endeavor entrepreneurs I work with fall into this category—or they aspire to, at least.
The term “gazelle” was coined by the economist David Birch in 1994. It describes high-growth businesses whose sales double every four years. Though only 2 to 4 percent of companies fit this model in the United States, this otherwise minuscule group accounts for nearly all private-sector job creation. When you hear politicians say, “Small businesses create most of the new jobs,” they’re really talking about the young and growing firms. They’re talking about gazelles. Birch chose gazelles because they’re fast moving and high jumping.
You would think gazelles already know how to be successful entrepreneurs, but in my experience, they don’t. Sure, they know how to start something, but unfortunately they keep making the same mistakes over and over again: They expand too quickly; they lose focus; they tangle with their partners; they can’t give up control. (And yup, I’ve made all those mistakes, too, which I’ll discuss in detail.) After seeing these pitfalls repeatedly, I developed a list of the most common mistakes made by gazelles and a playbook for how to avoid them if you want your start-up to become a big enterprise.
SKUNKS. The term “intrapreneur,” which first popped up in the 1970s and first appeared in the American Heritage Dictionary in 1992, is defined as a person within a large corporation who takes responsibility for “turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.” While the word is no more pleasing today, the idea is a lot more popular: Encouraging people to be more independent and creative inside corporations has become an urgent cry.
In 2013 I was invited to speak at Dell World on a panel about disruption. The founder, Michael Dell, had just taken the company private after a long battle with shareholders. He declared his intention to restore the firm’s entrepreneurial DNA, returning it to its roots in Room 2713 of the Dobie Center at the University of Texas. Michael opened the conference of six thousand people by saying, “Welcome to the world’s largest start-up!”
But while encouraging employees to take more risks is simple, getting them to follow through is hard. “Some are afraid of change,” Michael told me later. “This resistance is almost certainly a path of disaster in any fast-changing business.” There are the quick, he said, or the dead.
Michael isn’t the only corporate leader seeking to reclaim his company’s entrepreneurial mojo. Most of the world’s top CEOs realize they have to disrupt their own organizations before others beat them to it. Yet somehow this message is not getting through to many of their employees. If you work in a large corporation today, ...
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