5 Business Building Lessons From 5 Unique Entrepreneurs

This is a guest post by David Siteman Garland.

Ahhh the wonderful world of entrepreneurship
. The funny thing about giving advice to entrepreneurs is that many of us are entrepreneurs because we want to do things our way. Therefore, a “this is what you need to do to be successful” article would probably fall on deaf ears (I know I wouldn’t listen to it). Because experience and stories are the best teachers. I’ve been lucky to interview over 150 successful entrepreneurs over the past few years. Some extremely well known. Others a bit under the radar. All with great stories, ideas and moments where they really make you think about you and your business.

Here are a few fluff-free lessons from a smattering (yes, smattering!) of extremely successful entrepreneurs I got to pick the brain of for all of us:

1. Dave Steward: Founder of the 3-Billion-Dollar-Plus World Wide Technology

The Story: When Dave started WWT, in the middle of exotic St. Louis, Missouri, he had the gumption to name it World Wide Technology even though it was far from worldwide. In fact, it was just Dave in a building calling it World Wide Technology. But, the name caused interest and allowed room for him to grow. It would have been logical to call the company St. Louis Technology or Missouri Technology or heck even United States Technology, but Dave’s goals were bigger…and he has achieved them.

The Lesson: Naming matters. Branding matters. But, more importantly, branding for where you want to go and not where you currently sets the tone for success.

2. David Heinemeier Hansson: Partner at 37Signals and creator of software Ruby On Rails

The Story: 37Signals, the creators of numerous online management tools with now millions of customers, built the brand brick by brick. In fact, they started with a blog, not a product. Instead, the focus was on community. Bringing together people interested in technology, design and the other core values and interests in 37signals. When their first product launched, Basecamp, there were already ravaging fans ready to purchase.

The Lesson: You can start building a brand with a passion and interest as opposed to a product. Sure, you can start with a project, but leading off with building community creates the foundation for the future.

3. Jessica Kim: Founder of inspired baby products company BabbaCo

The Story: Jessica’s successful baby products company has her at the helm. Sure, she has other people working for her, but Jessica is the face. The leader. The trusted resource. Her personality is all over the website, in short tip videos she makes for Moms and online. It isn’t a PR company or a spokesperson…it is her.

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The Lesson: You matter. The entrepreneur. The founder. The leader. Your personality (quirks and all). Injecting your personality (and face!) into your brand can lead to trust.

4. Tony Hsieh: CEO of billion dollar online show retailer and customer service company Zappos

The Story: Why did Zappos name itself Zappos and not “Online Shoe Retailer” or “Really Cool Online Shoe Retailer”? Because it would have limited the brand to just online shoes. Sure, it would be descriptive, but limiting. Because, according to Tony, Zappos is a customer service company…that happens to sell shoes. In the future, you will most likely see all kinds of other products from Zappos, and a name change won’t be necessary.

The Lesson: Is your brand broad enough where you can go in a completely different direction and not have to start from scratch? Often the best brands are just that…brands and not “just” a product.

5. Peter Shankman: Founder of Help A Reporter Out

The Story: Peter grew (and recently sold) HARO which has become an iconic online brand when it comes to public relations with over 100,000 people on an email list hungry to connect with journalists looking for sources. The secret to his brand building success? Creating the ultimate win-win-win situation (cliche as it sounds). Journalists get matched with experts and sources (win!). Sources and journalists get matched up with experts (win!!). And sponsors get to reach the community of sources and journalists (win!!!).

The Lesson: Building your business can happen even faster if you enable others to spread it for you. How do you do this? By creating a win-win-win situation, people want to spread the good news for you.

Wrapping It Up: There is no road map for entrepreneurship. If there was, that would probably be pretty darn boring. But, there is a WEALTH of knowledge out there of people doing it and applying it to your business and situation can be one of those elusive keys to success.

What are your thoughts? What types are entrepreneurs do you enjoy learning from?

David Siteman Garland is the Founder of The Rise To The Top, The #1 Non-Boring Resource For Building Your Business Smarter, Faster, Cheaper. He hosts RISE, a web show for entrepreneurs featuring unique interviews and advice, and The Rise To The Top TV show on ABC. He is the upcoming author of Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: Non-boring, Fluff-free Strategies for Marketing and Promoting Your Business (Wiley 2010).

  • Great write-up, David! my favorite lesson was David Heinemeier Hansson’s. It’s absolutely critical that your have your community in place before you actually need them. It’s amazing how some entrepreneurs continue to “pitch products” to a community without ever building a community of their own. Good job man.

  • Awesome input.:) These are the pointers that everyone should learn about.

  • Thanks, Rod. Glad you enjoyed it and great pick up.

    Thanks, Marketing Nottingham :) That is an interesting name.

  • These are really great examples. I especially agree with allowing others to help build the business for you. That is why I am going to get the new book on persuasion coming out in September called, “27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences & Win Allies,” by Chris St. Hilaire. The author teaches you how to assess your own ego and make your weaknesses your strengths while at the same time showing you the most effective way to deal with opposition. I am in the sales world and this book should prove to be a powerful and effective tool in making more connections that last.

  • Great post. Enjoyed reading it a lot. I personally liked the story of Peter Shankman. Very inspiring.

  • Great post David – lots of good tips – especially around brand. One other one that might be worth adding to the list is around failure and perseverance. In at least a few of the above examples, the entrepreneurs never gave up and continued to believe and work towards their vision (or got back up after a failure or mistake).