What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?

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I’ve really gotten into listening to podcasts over the last year or so. I listen to a few, a lot, then try others that are recommended to me or advertised on one I’m already into. NPR offers a lot of podcasts, and I’ve tried a few like, “It’s Been a Minute, ” “NPR Politics” and, of course, the iconic “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.” They’re all good, with polished production, scripted content and top-name guests, but they haven’t resonated enough with me to keep listening.

Recently, though, I discovered an NPR podcast that I love and want to recommend to anyone who is, or may want to become, an entrepreneur. It’s called “How I Built This with Guy Raz” https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510313/how-i-built-this, and it’s amazing. In its episodes, Guy Raz, https://www.npr.org/people/6597623/guy-raz interviews well-known entrepreneurs who have built great companies. I’ve listened to Kate and Andy Spade, Barbara Corcoran, Susan Tynan, Joe Gebbia, Arthur Blank, Howard Schultz and more. What’s fascinating, thought-provoking and inspirational about these people is not that they are all well-known and rich. In fact, that’s the boring part. What makes them fascinating is not who they are now, but who they were when they got started. Rich and famous? No. Smartest Person in The Room? No. Destined for Greatness? No, or at least not more than anyone else.

With nearly every person, you discover that their life paths came to a crossroads, where a convergence of timing, the happenstance of a new relationship and a desire to solve a problem intersected and triggered the action that would get their entrepreneurial pursuit started. For example: 1) Arthur Blank getting fired from his job running a hardware division of a large company; 2) Kate Spade convincing a potato company to sell her burlap bags for here first purses when no one else would sell her something she could afford; 3) Barbara Corcoran working as a waitress in a New Jersey diner when she met Ramone Simone, with whom she would start her first real estate company.

In addition, you learn that their rise to where they are now being almost all very similar:

  • They all worked hard and long, doing whatever was necessary.
  • They all faced serious financial hardships. The threat of bankruptcy was real, and scary.
  • They all made mistakes. Lots of them.
  • They all took failure in stride. It hurt, but it was temporary.
  • They all believed in themselves, while also doubting themselves at times.
  • They all, at one time or another, thought it might end before it became something.

Some people believe that everyone is born with something uniquely special inside them. I can’t say that I’m convinced of that universally, but it’s clear that each of the guests, on the How I Built This podcast, no doubt was uniquely special in some way. But their success, as I interpret it, had a lot less to do with them being uniquely special as it did with them being uniquely committed. And it wasn’t about the money. In fact, for a long time, most could only dream about what it might be like to have money, while they maxed out credit cards, bartered for things they needed, asked for extended terms from their vendors, worked for nothing and re-invested everything they had back into the business.

Nothing was beneath them, easy, deserved or guaranteed. That, more than any special, unique quality, is what makes them different from, and more successful than most.

Listening to this podcast won’t make you successful. Only you can do that. What it will do, I believe, is make you think differently about taking the entrepreneurial leap. I get that it may seem like too high of a bar to look at someone like Susan Tynan or Joe Gebbia and think you could be where they are. So, don’t do that. Instead, listen to the podcast and see where they were and what they did when they were all still unknown, in shoes just like yours, with dreams just like yours and with capabilities just like yours. I promise you that doing so will de-mystify the process, alter your perspective and nourish your personal belief system.

I’m not saying you will become successful, famous, household names like them.

I’m just saying you could.


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Mike Malatesta

Mike Malatesta

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I help entrepreneurs get unstuck, take back their power, achieve their life objectives, and create the futures they want.

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