The Entrepreneur's Game: What makes these five American entrepreneurs successful?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could take a trait like success and plot it out in a series of simple steps? Sadly, the nature of the beast varies from person to person, business to business, but one of the best learning exercises is to analyze businesspeople who have made a splash and ask a simple question: what made them successful?
Dana White and the Fertittas
Dana White started out at a promoter and part-time boxing coach before he decided to buy the UFC, and managed to convince his old school friends, the Fertitta brothers, to go in with him. This was the year 2001 and the UFC brand was on the verge of collapse, but the trio decided to take a $2 million punt.
Four years later, that decision had backfired. Having sunk millions into the product, mixed martial arts was still seen as brutal cage fighting and receiving none of the respect - or airtime - White thought it deserved. In fact, the Boston native was convinced it could be the biggest sport on the planet if only people would give it a chance.
Then the UFC caught a break. They decided to film a reality TV show, and Spike agreed to air it, so long as the Fertittas covered the cost of production. The Ultimate Fighter was born and it proved a hit, paving the way for the fastest-growing sport on the planet.
White’s conviction had been vindicated after four tumultuous years, and in July last year, WWE IMG spent $4.2 billion dollars to gain ownership of the brand. Not a bad return on the initial $2 million outlay. The Fertittas have subsequently cashed out while White remains as President of the company, charting a course to the top. His belief that mixed martial arts will eclipse all else has never wavered.
The takeaway: Have the courage of your conviction. If you believe in something, give it your all.
Few people embody the spirit of entrepreneurship like Mark Cuban and the Dallas native has never followed the pack.
“I always look at business as sport,” Cuban says. “In football you play 60 minutes, basketball 48 minutes. In business, it’s 24 by 7 by 365 and the whole world is trying to kick your ass.”
Cuban’s entry into entrepreneurship began as a young child. He was, as family members recall, “good at making money.”
At college, he borrowed $15,000 and started his own bar, Motley’s, which became the most popular establishment in town. Until the bar hosted a wet t-shirt contest, that is, and an underage girl emerged victorious.
This brush with the law proved the bar’s undoing, but Cuban had demonstrated a willingness to get stuck in and his first major venture was Broadcast.com, a live sports streaming site in the early days of the net. Cuban was determined to make not simply millions, but billions, and when Yahoo bought the company for 5.7 billion in stock, Cuban’s dream was realized.
He put that money to good use in 2000, buying his boyhood team the Dallas Mavericks and transformed an underperforming side into the 2011 NBA Champions. His famously hands-on approach and relentless drive for improvement were key factors.
Cuban has always been an outstanding moneymaker, but his vision sets him apart. As one associate puts it: “Is the glass half full or half empty. Mark’s the guy that’s gonna be asking - who’s pouring it?”
Cuban never wants to follow the pack, and from buying his own sports team to innovating in the online space, being different has always been at the heart of the Cuban way.
The takeaway: “You can look at things and say this is the way they’ve always been done,” Cuban says. “I like to look at it and say: ‘Well, if everybody’s doing it this way, that’s not where the future is - you have to look somewhere else.’
In 1994, web usage was going up a staggering 2300% year on year, something that just doesn’t happen in normal industries. Jeff Bezos, a computer scientist on Wall Street, wanted in.
He decided to found Kadabra, an internet portal selling books. Why books? Because there are more books in the world than almost any other creative product and no physical bookstore can ever hope to accommodate more than a few thousand. Here was a chance for a website and its algorithm to not only sort, order and categorize books better than any shop or library could, but to free itself of the restraints of a store and offer a wider selection too.
There was only one catch. No one liked the name Kadabra, so Bezos changed it to Amazon and the rest is history.
His advice? Spend your energy and money building a great product rather than marketing one straight out the gate. A great product will generate the word-of-mouth traction you want. And this comes down to worrying about the consumer who will always want good value and fast service. Put them first.
The takeaway: A few things here; get your company name right, think of a way you can solve a real-world problem, and make sure your consumer is front and centre.
It took almost no time at all for Tory Burch to generate attention for her new fashion entity, due in part to an endorsement on the Oprah Winfrey Show that netted her a cool 8 million website hits in one day.
But Burch’s enduring legacy and billion dollar fortune far extends a simple piece of luck. The former advertising copywriter has graduated to CEO of a business empire, and in thirteen short years, she has more than 100 Tory Burch stores around the globe. How did she do it?
Like many of the entrepreneurs on the list, she was trying to fulfill a niche: namely, beautiful clothes that didn’t cost a fortune. By working 4AM evenings, Burch built up her network and expanded her reach, all while balancing children.
Her advice to other women is frank: have more confidence and don’t shy away from appearing ambitious.
The takeaway: Too many women feel embarrassed by their success. They should be proud, Burch says.
You almost certainly haven’t heard of Proud, and nor should you. He’s barely out of his teens, yet this pint-sized pioneer is the founder of his own technology firm in San Francisco, Hello, whose tentpole product is Sense, an innovative solution that aims to improve everyday seep.
Originally born in England, Proud shirked formal university education in order to pursue his dream of building Sense, the 21st century alternative to the alarm clock, one the measures the way we sleep and suggests improvements. Around the same time, he decided to enter the Peter Thiel fellowship, an initiative designed to help entrepreneurs under 20 pursue their business goals in lieu of tertiary education.
To Proud’s surprise, he was successful and not only received $100,000 dollars to work on the project, but was able to move to San Francisco, the tech capital of the world. Then, heading on to Kickstarter, he secured a further 2.4 million dollars from 20,000 backers and ramped up production on Sense.
Today, he presides over Hello in the Mission District of San Francisco, and he’s not yet 25.
The takeaway: Even if you’re young, dream big and believe in your vision