Legend Entrepreneurs Talk about their Startup Days

Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder

Gordon Segal on Salesmanship When Gordon Segal appeared in Inc. in 1985, the founder of the furniture retailer Crate and Barrel was literally running around his store, dashing from associate to associate, preaching they were in the business of selling, not distribution. “This is a business built on personality. Personality and imaginative merchandising,” he told his floor staff. “You’re selling a candlelit dinner by poolside, not a piece of wax on a stick. You’re selling romance, not flatware.” Segal knew getting consumers to buy your plates or wine glasses would take a lot of persuasion, which demands passion and panache from everyone in the company.

Cranium’s Founders on Focus Richard Tait and Whit Alexander, makers of the board game Cranium, needed a way to get their entire company on the same page about the brand. How did they do it? They created CHIFF, an acronym””clever, high-quality, innovative, friendly, and fun””conveying everything they stood for. And it worked like a charm. A recent hire once pulled the plug on French-Canadian marketing materials using the phrase Épatants talents–“splendid talents” because the concept was too dry and the wording too clunky. Instead, they went with Époustouflants: “mind-boggling.” This level of attention to detail was endemic. As Tait told Inc. in 2002, “We’re so focused on our company’s success we could pee through a straw

Frank Perdue on Why Advertising Isn’t a Cure-all Frank Perdue, of Perdue Farms, became famous for his entertaining ads, which focused on his dedication to the product and declared, “It takes a tough man to make tender chicken.”But despite the catchy slogan and clever campaigns, Perdue insisted in a 1984 conversation with Inc. that no company can survive on marketing alone. To thrive, a business must commit itself to quality. “Too many people take a mediocre product and fail. Eighty percent of all newly advertised products fail,” he said. “The manufacturer decides the consumer is a fool. That’s why it fails. They think advertising is a cure-all.”

Elon Musk on Silicon Valley To the untrained eye””or any other eye, for that matter””Elon Musk’s ambitious raft of projects might seem mismatched. He’s the CEO both of electric-car maker Tesla Motors and rocket start-up Space X, as well as chairman and controlling shareholder of solar-panel installer SolarCity. But Musk has made a name for himself as someone who brings Silicon Valley style to old-line industries, whether it’s putting people in space or moving them around the Earth’s surface. In 2006, he explained his confidence to Inc.: “I’m a Silicon Valley guy,” he said. “I just think people from Silicon Valley can do anything.”

Robert Redford on Creativity The name Sundance is synonymous with independent filmmaking, thanks to the efforts of actor and entrepreneur Robert Redford. His resistance to movies that were focus-grouped to the point of blandness gave birth to the Sundance Institute, the spiritual home of the independent film movement, as well as for-profit offshoots like the Sundance Channel. Sundance Institute fellows aren’t selected for ideas with commercial potential, but artistic and narrative merit. For Redford, growth isn’t a matter of crunching numbers. It’s a creative process. “Do you think the earth was created by an accountant?” he asked a reporter in 2003. “No! The earth was created by the combustion of a creative explosion. Fire and chaos are what started everything. Then order came on top of that.”

Mary Kay Ash on Support from Friends and Family When Mary Kay Ash came along, it was accepted wisdom that women weren’t cut out for business””sales in particular. Proving the naysayers wrong, Ash built her company, Mary Kay Cosmetics, into a bright-pink empire by giving women the chance to run their own small businesses as they saw fit. She didn’t do it alone, though. Her 20-year-old son handled administration, and she roped several friends into helping, too. All were well-rewarded for taking a chance on Mary Kay. “I often say I started with nine people, friends of mine, really, who just didn’t have the nerve to say no,” she told Inc. in 1985. “They didn’t intend to stay around, but they were going to help me get it started. They were very kind and sweet””and last year one of them made $325,000.”

Ben and Jerry on the Limits of Social Entrepreneurship Even a worthwhile product can’t sell itself, as ice-cream moguls Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield found when they introduced their “Peace Pop” in the early nineties. They hoped it would diversify their product line and boost awareness of their “1% For Peace” initiative. But the company pushed the product into the wrong stores, and their low-key ad campaign left the market cold. “We learned that a product doesn’t sell just because you’re trying to do good in the world,” Jerry told Inc. “You still have to have a healthy distribution, a good marketing strategy, and price the product properly.”

Jerry Yang on Being Alone at the Top Over the years, Inc. has received many a visit from entrepreneurs. Before our move to the Big Apple, they’d often stop by to chat at our office on Boston’s Commercial Wharf. At a 1998 lunchtime meeting, Yahoo founder Jerry Yang talked about how much people associate entrepreneurs with the companies they start””and how odd it sometimes feels. He mused, “It’s strange being a founder. No headhunters call me. They call everyone else in the company, but not me.”

The King of Time Management Hyrum W. Smith knows something about time management. The founder of Franklin International Institute (which is now known as Franklin Covey) offered busy people””including entrepreneurs trying to get start-ups off the ground””guidance organizing their lives with his signature product, the Franklin Day Planner. According to Smith, time management is a matter of prioritizing. If you don’t set out to accomplish specific goals, day-to-day and long-term alike, they won’t get done. “I once asked a group of business owners, “˜Who here would like to spend more time reading?’ All the people in the room raised their hands,” he told Inc. in 1991. “”˜Then why don’t you?’ I asked, to which one guy replied, “˜because books don’t ring.'”

By 1984, even as Microsoft was already raking in the cash, Bill Gates exuded pure passion for the software that would turn his company into one of the world’s most successful and well-known enterprises. He was well on his way to becoming the world’s richest man, but the Harvard drop-out was still a hacker and hard-core tech geek at heart. So forget picking up stereotypical wealthy businessman hobbies. As Gates confessed to Inc., “My house is full of microcomputer magazines, and I still come home every night to my IBM-PC. I don’t play the violin, you know.”

Source : Inc.com

Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

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