Thinking About Entrepreneurship in New Ways

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At April’s Emerge Americas Conference in Miami Beach, a number of tech-world entrepreneurs took to the stage, including Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph, Fresh Diet founder Zalmi Duchman, and Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain. They discussed entrepreneurship, their experiences in building their companies, and how technologies play into their respective business plans.

Although the three men belonged in different business categories, all expressed common themes. For example, none had started out with any clue that their respective ideas would grow into actual businesses; in the beginning, they had only wanted to run something by themselves. Just because there’s not yet a market for a particular idea—whether streaming video on demand or delivering fresh food via the Web—doesn’t mean the idea itself is worthless; rather, you might be a pioneer.

But starting and growing a business is much more than having an idea. A positive mindset is essential for dealing with all the ups and downs that come with getting a company off the ground. Randolph described how Blockbuster executives laughed his team “right out of the boardroom” when they heard Netflix’s pitch for streaming video. Netflix, of course, would end up contributing mightily to Blockbuster’s eventual destruction.

It would take Netflix “ten years to beat Blockbuster at their game but during that time, we kept grinding on to get to the goal, which was to beat Blockbuster,” Randolph added. Reaching that point took a lot of hard work and more than a few disappointments—requiring everybody on the team to maintain their positivity.

In addition to positivity, entrepreneurs need to stomach risk. When Jain first began explaining the concept of Moon Express (“exploring the vast mineral resources of the moon as they become scarce on Earth”), people told him that he was insane. Now he’s laughing to the bank with a $30 million lunar-innovations prize from Google Lunar XPrize.

While every entrepreneur knows that perseverance is required to make it in business, there’s also a need for creative perseverance. Duchman described how he relied on Craigslist for chefs and kitchen space, as well as social media, when initially building his business. Craftiness with his resources allowed him to succeed. “Use all resources at your disposal,” he advised, “including in your network and those online such as Craigslist and through social media for the best pricing and leverage.”

Perseverance also requires an aptitude for quick shifts and pivots. Tech startups know all about this; if your product isn’t working with audiences, you need to retool it as fast as possible. Just look at Slack, the popular business-communications tool that rose from the ashes of Glitch, a defunct online game; when its creators realized that Glitch wasn’t going to make it, they focused on Slack.

Positivity, perseverance, and attention to detail won’t guarantee that your tiny startup will grow into an enormous enterprise, but they might help you grow a viable business. “In creating a company, one cannot be afraid to get into the best and also at times, the most mundane aspects of your business,” Duchman said, “and especially so if you’re starting off as a ‘one man show,’ as many startups begin.”