What if we could gather the most successful founders and investors on earth for a single panel? Gather the greatest business minds on the planet to hand their experienced point of view to first-time entrepreneurs and new startups. Like every great founder, we decided no mission is impossible and came out with a way to provide just that.
This is a different kind of article, we watched hours of interviews, speeches, forums, and panels with Jack Ma, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos. then, inspired by Plato's book ‘The Symposium’, we created an imaginary panel with a made-up interviewer. The situation is made up, but rest assured that the answers and opinions are all direct or simplified quotes from the giants themselves. Shall we begin?
Interviewer: “Let’s kick off even before step one, some readers are probably thinking about what should they pursue. Richard Barnson, in your point of view, what idea or skill is worth turning into a business?”
Richard Barnson: “well In most cases, you can turn your passion into a business, think about what frustrates you in that field, think of a gap you can cover. Remember that nothing is too simple, even if you think a hundred people already thought about this solution, there’s might be no one with the courage to actually go through with it, don't be afraid to act. Then, persistency is key, you will fail, question is, will you pick yourself up and try again? Only in a positive approach you can accomplish positive things, think of an idea that will make a positive change in people’s lives, and RUN! To be successful you have to hit the ground running”.
Jack Ma: “I couldn’t agree more, optimism is critical, an entrepreneur must always stay optimistic when thinking of the future. Jeff Bezos: “True, and never stop thinking in the matters of long term, it’s the only way to accomplish crazy things, if I will ask you to solve world hunger in three years you’ll tell me it’s impossible, but if I gave you a hundred years, you might come up with a plan that can be actually put to use”. Ma: “I would suggest staying down to earth tough, always know where you want to be in 10 years, that's the only way to make people follow you, but remember to count the pennies so you can survive this year as well”.
Ma: “And if you want to start, think about what problem you can solve, how will you solve it better than others? Different than others? And why can you do it better than others”? Jobs: “And as Branson said, you must run for it! Even people who want to get to heaven aren't willing to die to get there, the noise around you is just noise, believe in your passion and go all the way, it is not a certain way to success but it is the only way to get there”.
Interviewer: “Interesting, so your message to our readers is to ‘pick what you are passionate about, try to spot something that troubles you in that field that you think can be solved, and just go for it as hard as you can’. Very inspiring.”
“now let’s talk about something I think most of you will agree upon, it’s considered important to find co-founders to run alongside you. Is it true? Should entrepreneurs fly solo or find good co-pilots?”
Jack Ma: It is crucial to find people to work around you who believe in your cause with the same passion that you have. Bill Gates: “yes, and you should definitely find people who complete you, I needed to relearn what is a weekend only after I was really successful. So it’s very important to find a selected group of people to share this kind of sacrifice with you”. “only you know your weaknesses, with the right group of people, you have no weaknesses”. Musk: ”Abilities are important, but from my personal experience I came to the understanding that when you are looking for people the biggest mistake is to trust a person's skills rather than its character. Ma: “I agree with Musk. when you look for those people there is no such a thing as ‘the best people’ so find people you connect with and they will be the best, work with them, train them, let them train you”.
Interviewer: “Alright, I understand you all agree that it’s not a solo mission but rather to focus on abilities or personality remains a disagreement. Now, what would you consider as the most valuable resource for a company in its first steps?
Richard Branson: “I think, and it’s true for all companies not only first stagers, there’s nothing more important than investing in the people around you, the day that you will be down can come and they will be the only ones there to pick you up”. Ma: “Oh definitely, invest an equal amount of time with your clients and your employees. Don’t spend your time making the investors happy, if the employees will be happy and the clients will be happy, your investors will be happy”.
Bill Gates: “This is something I wish more founders will understand, employees were always on my mind, Always, even in my hardest times, I made sure to have enough money to pay all my employees for at least one year, this is the preferred amount of cash a company should always hold”. Bezos: “I take a different approach, business-wise, it’s also important keeping your key employees close, owners think in longer terms than renters. Don’t be afraid to allocate stock options to your star employees, keep them involved in the company to its core”.
Warren Buffett: “Let me add a tip from my personal experience: When recruiting, look for intellect, energy, and honesty. But remember that without honesty the other two are a threat, you wouldn't want a dishonest, brilliant, energetic star around you”.
Interviewer: “Thank you, Warren Buffett, for this important tip, and let me refer to you now. Among other things, you are known for smart investments in early-stage companies, Can you give us your input about what to focus on for a company aiming to improve itself?”
Buffett: “I believe, there is great importance in taking your competitors into consideration, the greatest danger for the leading business is to stop competing, the competitors will never stop and you are never too big to complete. Understanding capitalism is to realize that when you are at the lead it’s like having a castle”.
“Capitalism means that someone is always coming to take away your castle from you, what you need is a moat. It could be a cheaper manufacturer, better talent, or anything that will keep you better than the competition and ahead in the game. To make sure you stay ahead you should always put your effort into research, not only on the successful, read about those who failed, understand why they failed and what can you learn from it”.
“Hmm I think data is super important, and let me add something about collecting data”, interviewer: yes Elon Musk? “I recommend not using analogies to make conclusions, it’s useless to try and learn from ‘something that has been done and similar to my business’ trust data you gathered yourself”. Buffett: “I couldn't agree more, Give your attention to the facts, and not what you feel the market should be”. Musk: “yes and also give attention to your ability to overcome errors, a companies success is measured by the amount of time it takes her to correct an error, it’s never the issue if she makes errors because she does, everyone does - it’s the time it takes to fix it that counts”. Buffett: “Listen to what Elon said people, I can’t tell you how important it is to leave room for errors. You wouldn't drive a truck weighing 999 pounds on a bridge with a maximum capacity of a thousand pounds right? Leave a place for error and to correct those errors”.
Interviewer: Jeff Bezos, I see you’re nodding your head, Bezos: “So about room for error I don’t have anything to add, but personally, I don’t put that much of a focus on my competitors. Instead, I tend to focus on the clients, fighting the competitors is counterproductive in the long run, there will always be unhappy customers so focus on them”.
“Focusing your clients will help keep growing even if you are at the top, because if you focused on the competitors, once you’ve surpassed them, there is no one to beat. learn from your clients, actively look for feedback and recurring compliments, there you will find the way to get better. Look for the root of the compliment and don't patch things, solve the root of any problem you find”.
Interviewer: “Thank you for the input, it’s interesting to see that there are essentially two different perspectives when it comes to growing your company: one is to keep competing and always stay focused on your competition. The other is to invest the attention on the customers and work on the feedback from them as a way to keep improving”. “Is there anything anyone wants to add? any tip you think should be said?”
Musk: “Let me finish by saying that no matter what you do, love it, don’t like it - be in love with it, a business doesn’t always succeed so at least enjoy the path so you can learn from it better”. Remember that any company is first of all destined to fail, you need to accept those failures and push forward, don’t avoid failure, it is coming. You start with an idea, it's probably wrong, so listen to criticism and clear out the noise, look for ‘quality criticism’, it will often come from your friends, some won't share it with you but you must ask for it.
Ma: “Here we drift apart Elon, I think that If you believe the future is at what you do, don't listen to criticism. If someone claims the market is cold, you should be there before it gets warm, if everyone thinks you are going for a good investment it means you don't have a place there”. Especially If the government says ‘ok, we can facilitate this’ don’t go for this, move away” (*laughs).
Jobs: “Ma, not listening to criticism is very hard to accomplish but I can offer a way: there is a phrase ‘If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right’ Thinking your end is near can help confront this fear people have of ‘something to lose’ in life, so there’s no reason to avoid following your heart”.
Interviewer: “Incredible words for closing Steve Jobs (RIP), thank you all so much for inspiring people all over the globe. Your words help dreamers become entrepreneurs, and founders turn their startups into successful companies. And for our readers, let us finish this journey with one last quote: “There is no real doing in the world, without being first”. Oprah Winfrey.
*All quotes and information is gathered meticulously and has been said word by word or as a concept by the people mentioned in this article. Links are added here for the source of the information:
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