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Businesswise | 3 big lessons from the Global Entrepreneurship Summit

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 7:00 AMYaneek Page
Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky.

How does a visionary entrepreneur desperately in need of a high-flying corporate executive to head a little known four-year-old company recruit one?

And not just any one, the ideal one specifically, a leading professional with the right networks, connections, know-how and experience to help catapult your emerging game-changer into the big leagues.

The answer may appear simple. Identify the best prospect, meet face-to-face and pitch your transformational vision and business model. Then, even after being firmly rejected, you lean in, look your prospect squarely in the eyes and ask a deeply philosophical question like: Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?

That's exactly how legendary innovator Steve Jobs convinced Pepsi's former President John Sculley to become Apple's CEO in 1983.

I know you may be thinking it can't possibly be that easy to lure a renowned, well remunerated CEO from a dream post to the unknown. Perhaps so, but you can't say for sure until you've tried, and at this point it's more important for entrepreneurs to consider the possibilities of what can happen when bold vision meets determined action.

This encapsulates the invaluable lessons from US President Barack Obama's flagship entrepreneurship initiative, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), which brought together 700 US-based and international entrepreneurs and 300 leading investors, to collaborate, share, learn, become empowered, inspired and connected to the right opportunities and resources for them to thrive.

The first big lesson from GES 2016 held at Stanford University the same campus that Steve Jobs would invite his CEO John Sculley to take a trek around when he had a big idea he wanted to flesh out is this: How your business impacts humanity and the legacy it creates far outweighs its profit potential.

In simple terms, money is important but it is not all, and should never be your driving force. It's a view echoed by Mark Zuckerberg who shared on a panel of entrepreneurs moderated by President Obama at the summit.

As I sat in the audience, a few feet from the stage, watching and listening keenly to Zuckerberg and other entrepreneurs who shared how Facebook and other innovations had transformed their businesses, families, communities and even national social order, I reflected on how radical a departure this thinking was from our local mindset.

In my experience the focus in the private sector is almost exclusively on the size of your annual turnover and how much profits you make. Money for many companies is the driving force and exclusive yardstick.

The second big lesson for me was that founding entrepreneurs should be willing to let go the reins of power if it's in the best interest of the company.

I know for many entrepreneurs that's akin to blasphemy.

Hire someone else to be the CEO of the business I started? Why? The reason is that in any business, leadership is paramount, and not all entrepreneurs are good company leaders. Frankly many of them make lousy managers and hold the business back.

 

BIGGER COMPANY VISION

 

Recognising the value of having the best person lead, knowing the characteristics, experience, profile and track record that person should have, and ensuring such a person is at the helm is a transformational lesson. Abandoning ego in pursuit of the bigger company vision is a something every smart entrepreneur should be willing to do.

The third big lesson came from Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, whom I was fortunate to meet and who took the opportunity to quiz me about my experiences as an Airbnb guest. While sharing his inspiring story of overcoming draining setbacks, launching his service three times, going for broke and maxing out every credit card to get the company off the ground, he gave the GES 2016 audience this gem: It is better to have 100 people love what you do than one million who just think it's okay.

Scale is critical, of course, but when you focus on the quality of what you do and really get it right, that's when you are best poised to scale.

Too many people want to expand with what is essentially mediocre offering. It's not sustainable and won't give the competitive edge needed. Put another way, it's not enough to have customers who are barely satisfied or are simply okay with your products or services. People must love you, almost fanatically.

Entrepreneurs should therefore aim to make customers fans, enamoured with what you do to the point that they can't see themselves functioning without you. You grow from there.

Chesky even offered this advice to investors at the summit: Don't just look at numbers and risk; assess how customers are responding to business, the enthusiasm, passion, satisfaction and that's how you can predict a winner.

One love!

Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer, and creator/executive producer of The Innovators TV series.

Email: yaneek.page@gmail.com

Twitter: @yaneekpage

Website: www.yaneekpage.com