Startups and entrepreneurs can easily find inspiration by looking at those who have come before them. Today we discuss three entrepreneurs and the lessons we can learn from them.
Madam C. J. Walker: Ingenuity
You see a problem, so you fix it: this belief is in the heart of every entrepreneur. Sarah Breedlove (1867 – 1919) was the first child in her family to be born free, just a few years after the end of the Civil War. Walker (the name “Madam C. J. Walker” referred to her husband, Charles Joseph Walker) had a problem that was shared by every African-American woman at the time: most available hair care products were so harsh and caustic that they destroyed the hair itself. Walker wanted something better, so she began working for manufacturer specializing in African-American cosmetics, and soon decided to create and sell her own. Her legacy was far more than cosmetic, however: she was a pioneer for both her race and her gender. Women not only acted as her sales force, she routinely appointed them to high-level staffing positions. Madam C. J. Walker found success because she saw a problem, and then developed a solution. Walker summed up her life thusly: “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there, I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there, I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory on my own ground.”
Jeff Bezos: Diversity
Jeff Bezos (born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen in 1964, he assumed his stepfather’s surname when the latter adopted him) could have made millions working in the financial industry, but decided to quit his corporate job in favor of founding an online bookstore in his garage. Amazon.com was an early e-commerce site, and he warned investors that their future was uncertain. However, as brick and mortar stores failed to adapt to the online world, Amazon’s success rose. Bezos saw possibilities beyond books: he insisted Amazon expand its offering to music and movies, and eventually groceries and everything else. His love for technology (he graduated from Stanford with a double major in electrical engineering and computer science) drove him champion development of an e-reader, which became the Amazon Kindle. He continues to diversify his holdings with acquisitions in technology and media, proving that measured expansion can lead to success. Bezos has never forgotten the core of his business model, however, remarking, “If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right.”
Estée Lauder: Tenacity
Josephine Esther Mentzer (1908 – 2004) had been called “Estee” since her birth to Hungarian immigrants in Queens, NY. Although she frequently helped out her father in his shop, Estee became more interested in her chemist uncle’s cosmetics business. Estee was a relentless salesperson: she took every available opportunity to push her products. She and her husband Joseph Lauder began Estee Lauder Companies with a line of four products, steadily expanding over the next several years. Lauder believed her dedication led to her success: “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”
All of these people embraced their visions wholeheartedly. They all stuck with their plans, adapting as necessary, to achieve their goals. How can you emulate these trailblazers? What can you do to take your business to the next level?
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