Being that I personally am in the midst of this uphill battle called entrepreneurship, I often try to find comfort in learning about other successful businesses that at one point were in the same boat I am in today. It gives me a sense of hope that I, too can be one of those that came through on the other side a successful business leader. In the following three stories, the common element is that they all just said "screw it," and took risk, after risk, after risk...until finally, they became a household name.
Frederick W. Smith, Founder of FedEx
Do you know who he is? Probably not. He is the guy who started FedEx.
While attending Yale, Fred wrote a paper for an economics class, outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age. Fast forward many years later to when Frederick received an inheritance of $4Million dollars. He knew exactly what to do with it!
With that money, Smith started Federal Express and grew into 24 cities. What no one discusses is that in the early days of FedEx, Smith had to go to great lengths to keep the company afloat.
One time, he took the company's last $5,000 to Las Vegas and made enough gambling on blackjack to cover the company's $24,000 fuel bill. Taking that risk literally fueled his company to stay in business.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
When Zappos was starting off in 2000, Tony didn't have the money to maintain the vast inventory to offer a healthy selection to online browsers. So, he would literally go to a shoe store, select a pair of shoes, take a picture of them, and then post them on the Zappos website.
When someone would purchase those shoes, he would go back to the store and purchase the size the customer wants and ship them. By 2009, revenues reached $1 billion.
Sara Blakely, Creator of SPANX
Her original prototype was a pair of control top pantyhose with the legs cut off. Based on a gut feeling, Blakely spent two years saving up $5,000, researching hosiery patents, and visiting craft stores to find the right material for her product.
She successfully pitched her idea to Neiman-Marcus by personally taking the buyer to the ladies restroom to show her the benefits of Spanx in person. She handled all aspects of the business from marketing, logistics, and product positioning.
In November 2000, Oprah Winfrey named Spanx her favorite product of the year. Sales took off. When they came to her home town to tape them for the show, Oprah wanted to meet with Blakely and her staff.
Since she had no staff she called all her friends and the lady who worked at the post office to come to her apartment and act like they were having a meeting. They all sat criss-cross on the floor while Oprah's people taped them. After that, Spanx had $4 million in sales in its first year and $10 million in sales in its second year.
Three More Things
If you are an entrepreneur and struggling to get your idea off the ground, I hope these stories make you feel somewhat better and put things in perspective for you.
EVERY entrepreneur struggles, questions their business, and at some point feels defeated. I know I sure have. I just try to put one foot in front of the other and not lose hope or faith in myself. In my mind, failure is simply not an option.
You have heard the saying "if it was easy, everyone would do it." That couldn't be MORE true. Here are three things I have learned in a very short amount of time.
- Starting a business is not easy.
- You will not know or be a specialist in everything. Listen to advisors/mentors.
- Lastly, you have to take risks.
My dream is to one day get the Brobe off the ground enough that I can spend my days traveling the world and speaking to people about exactly what challenged a budding entrepreneur is faced with. It's hard taking risks but hey "If it was easy, everyone would do it."