“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to do what you love.”
– Steve Jobs
Across sectors, the above quote rings true, and it’s safe to say that Steve Jobs is not the first person to have dispensed this advice. The age-old counsel to follow one’s heart has led many people to launch successful companies focused on a product or service about which they are passionate.
But despite the fact that doing well often follows doing what you love, many founders say that some of the best counsel they received when launching their ventures was actually somewhat off-putting to them at the time.
Jack Diebolt, founder of Diebolt Brewing in Denver, which runs a local taproom and distributes beer, said the best piece of advice he received was also one that he chuckled at at first.
“[It] was, “If you want to make a million dollars, you better start with two [million],” said Diebolt. “I can’t specifically remember who said this [to me] at first, but many people have tossed around this phrase over the last few years. Unfortunately, it’s more true than funny.”
Diebolt said that he learned this lesson the old-fashioned way – through experience. Food and beverage companies often start out underfunded, which “can be detrimental to your timeline to profitability.”
“As the old adage goes, you have to spend money to make money,” he said.
Annie Liao Jones, founder and Principal of Rock Candy Media in Austin, Texas, said it wasn’t so much the nuggets of tried-and-true advice that have stuck with her since launching her marketing and advertising firm, but rather some of the more unsolicited comments.
“Anytime advice has been helpful to my career, it’s actually been the negative kind. For example, I’ve been told, “You’re pretty, it must be so easy for you to get meetings.” Except as a woman you have to work harder to prove yourself, and you have to be good regardless of gender if you want to build a lasting business and have an accomplished career,” she said. “When a [former] boss told me I’d never make more somewhere else because I was a journalism major [in college], it had the effect of driving me so I could prove him wrong…I took it as a challenge.”
Alex Morse, founder and CEO of Hopsie, a for-profit donation and branding platform for nonprofit organizations based in New York, said that he now holds tight to a perspective he was given as a “wet-behind-the-ears salesperson working in a boiler room in Brooklyn.”
“My boss [at the time] told me, ‘Never surrender. You keep calling and emailing until you get a “yes”, a “no”, or a letter in the mail from a lawyer telling you to stop,’” he said. At the time, Morse felt this attitude was a bit on the “bloodthirsty” side.
“I was raised by a tea-drinking, pacifist mother who sent us to etiquette classes, so the thought of pestering people relentlessly made me feel all sorts of strange,” he said. But eventually he began to see things differently in that success comes from clear communication and persistence. Morse has honed his skills in this area by becoming a better listener.
“My advice to someone now would be that not just in business, but in any situation where you are trying to accomplish something, it pays to never give up and to make sure you find the decisive answer in what you seek,” he said. “All of the people in the nonprofits we work with today at Hopsie teach me this constantly. They are some of the most skilled and accomplished salespeople out there, working tirelessly to get their yes’s or no’s, to make the world a better place.”
This rings true to the best piece of advice David Cohen, founder and managing partner of Techstars in Boulder, Colo., says that he has received and the one that keeps him moving forward every day with an eye on the prize. “Don’t look back!” he said. “Focus on what’s in front of you and what you control.”
It’s natural that most budding entrepreneurs will look to others more experienced for wisdom as they navigate the grueling waters of launching a startup. But it’s not always the case that the best advice will be dispensed with the eloquence and gravitas of an Andrew Carnegie quote. Most successful businessmen and businesswomen agree that the most valuable lessons learned were hard-earned and unexpected. And when the day-to-day daily reality of your business can be extremely uncharted, it’s crucial to keep your sense of humor on deck.
But despite the tones in which they were delivered, when distilling the lessons received by Diebolt, Jones, Morse and Cohen, timeless principles rise to the surface. To be successful, entrepreneurs need to be prepared, positive, and persistent.
And, of course, do what they love.