5 Lessons to Learn from Leading Entrepreneurs | Top Universities

5 Lessons to Learn from Leading Entrepreneurs

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated March 26, 2021 Updated March 26, 2021

This article is sponsored by EMLYON Business School.

Entrepreneurs come from many different walks of life and span every industry, product type, generation and culture. But what all of these entrepreneurs have in common is the steep learning curve to success, with many lessons being learned along the way. So what wisdom can we learn from some of today’s leading entrepreneurs?

1. Accept failure as part of the journey 
Accept failure as part of the journey

Hiten Shah, co-founder of the hugely successful analytics platform KISSmetrics, launched many failed products. He states his biggest failure was spending $1 million of his own money on a web-hosting company that never even launched. Hiten says, “My co-founder and I were perfectionists so we built the best thing we could without even understanding what our customers cared about.”

Take-away: Accept that failure is par for the course, but accepting and learning from your failures is paramount.

2. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities

Dr Barry Nalebuff, founder of Honest Tea, launched his business when he saw a gap in the beverage market. He found water to be boring, soda to be too sugary and diet drinks to be unhealthy, so teamed up with a former student to launch a new venture.

The company’s popularity took off when Nalebuff was at a yoga retreat and spotted Oprah Winfrey. He offered her a sample and Honest Tea subsequently featured in her magazine. Nalebuff notes: “When opportunity strikes, you have to be prepared for it.”

Take-away: Many new ventures are created out of existing consumer problems, so keep your eyes open for business opportunities at all times. You never know when you’ll bump into Oprah!

3. Never stop creating 

Jack Nickell, founder of Threadless, a community website that votes for designs uploaded by artists, launched the company due to his passion for being creative. Threadless was a side-project for Jack for four years during college before it became his full-time job. Jack says: “You can’t predict the results of what you make, what it’s going to turn into. Threadless was never supposed to be what it is today, it was just about making things and putting myself out there. ” Despite employing hundreds of employees and working with millions of designers around the world, Jack still likes to use his creativity every day, on tasks such as coding the company’s website.

Take-away:  Do what you love. Make things. Pursue your hobbies. You don’t always need to have a plan about where it’s going to lead, or be good at it, just as long as you enjoy the process.

4. Believe in yourself

Sarah Wood is co-founder of Unruly Media, the world’s leading video advertising platform. Thanks to the results the company has achieved working with top global brands such as T-Mobile, Dove and Renault, company sales have increased five-fold in the last two years. Sarah was voted UK Female Entrepreneur of the Year by the Growing Business Awards.

Despite these successes, she believes women in top leadership positions still worry too much about external perceptions. She says: “There are many extra layers of judgment that are applied to women. It’s not enough to be smart, driven, successful, people also expect you to look fantastic. So, all these additional layers of expectation can wear you down if you let them. We all can just choose not to respond to that and not to care about those judgments and layers of perception.”

Take-away: Always believe in your own strengths and abilities, no matter what external expectations exist.

5. Give something back to the world (and reap the financial rewards) 

Blake Mycoskie is a social entrepreneur and founder of TOMS, the shoe business that gives a pair of shoes to a child in the developing world for every pair sold. The business model, which he has trademarked as the ‘one for one’ concept, continues to support socially minded entrepreneurship ventures and is currently expanding into eyewear.

Recently valued at $625 million, the brand knows that social enterprise is big business. “I recognized very early on that when you incorporate a purpose beyond profit in your business, your customers will become your biggest marketers,” says Mycoskie. He also says the brand has worked with many partners such as Ralph Lauren “not because they love our business, but they see that they can connect to their customers in a new way.”

Take-away: Look for opportunities where you can make a positive change in the world whilst developing a profitable business.

Start your career with global reach and an entrepreneurial mindset

The Global Entrepreneurship Program combines the world’s best entrepreneurial teaching across three diverse global markets, preparing you to be a successful entrepreneur in a global context. You take courses on New Venture Creation, Social Entrepreneurship, Family Business and Corporate Entrepreneurship, studying at EMLYON Business School in France, Zhejiang University in China and Purdue University in the United States.

Inherent to the program is a great emphasis on integrating the theoretical and practical aspects of entrepreneurship. You are exposed to real-life situations that you are likely to face as a manager in order to sharpen your analytical and questioning skills. In all three phases of the program in France, China and the US, you work on entrepreneurial business projects within start-ups or incubators, or for an established company.

See what graduates have to say about the Global Entrepreneurship Program

“I can clearly say that the experience I gained over the 12 months made me a better person and helped me interact with people from all parts of the world and all walks of life. The presentations and real-life pitches have come in very handy as I developed my own startup in the transport tech industry (which started as my final thesis) and in my pitches to investors. The guidance I received from the faculty at EMLYON even after graduation has been immense and truly resonates with the EMLYON Forever spirit.” – Abhinandan D., program graduate working for his family’s business in India and developing his own start-up aimed at bringing dynamic carpooling to Asia.

“It’s great to see the different ways of thinking and experience from the lecturers, as well as the impact of how Western and Eastern mindsets and values can change how we look at entrepreneurship. This helps prepare us for our future careers because it allows us to understand how to do business in these countries.” Tiffany Hsu, program graduate.

“Having to live, travel, study and work with the same people for a whole year was a big learning experience and challenge, which made me more adaptable, resourceful, tolerant, and stronger to face new circumstances and  pursue my ideas. Getting this master’s degree by studying at three different universities abroad, exploring an international perspective of business and learning by hands-on practice, along with my belief of contributing to society led me to successfully realize my goal of establishing my own social enterprise.” Helga Quijano, program graduate who has recently launched social enterprise NGESO in Colombia.

Follow program news and events on Facebook,  on Twitter @EMLYON_GEP, or on YouTube.

This article was originally published in November 2015 . It was last updated in March 2021

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