"Victory belongs to the most persevering." -- Napoleon
Perseverance is a trait that many hold in high regard. But developing it requires a commitment to deeply held beliefs. Many great entrepreneurs did not see overnight success. They struggled, and stayed focused on their goals. They persevered by making their endeavors their mission in life. Here are three examples:
Jan Koum was so poor when his family immigrated from the Ukraine to the U.S., he had to live on welfare and food stamps. However, the family thought of themselves as lucky. Not everyone was able to escape the oppressive and tyrannical Soviet Union during those times. A self-taught programmer, Jan worked for years in unglamorous roles at major tech companies in the Bay Area.
A huge fan of Skype, because it allowed him to make long distance calls for free, gave him the idea to make something similar. Jan decided to develop a $1 iPhone app that could be used to send free text messages to anywhere in the world. The app’s popularity at first wasn’t clear. There were lots of free texting apps. But he kept at it, growing the business, staying true to the mission of providing free texting for $1. After nearly five years of hard work, Jan sold his company, WhatsApp, to Facebook for $19 billion dollars.
Henry Ford toiled away for six years on automotive experimentation in his free time, while in the employment of Thomas Edison at the Edison Illuminating Company. His first company, the Detroit Automotive Company, failed. His second company, the Henry Ford Company, a success, was taken over by shareholders and Ford was forced out. It was renamed Cadillac Automobile Company. His third attempt resulted in a new partnership with investors to build another car.
This was nearly five years after leaving his fulltime job at Edison to pursue his dream. Sales were slow. The company almost failed when the Dodge brothers demanded payment for parts Ford had purchased. Ford was forced to bring on another group of investors to pay the Dodge brothers and this new company formed in 1903, becoming what we now know as the Ford Motor Company.
Milton Hershey grew up in rural Pennsylvania and dropped out of school in the fourth grade. He tried various trades, eventually becoming an apprentice candy maker. He then attempted to start his own candy business in Philadelphia. Despite six years of hard work, it failed. He moved to Denver and New York City, starting new candy companies. They all failed.
He eventually returned to Lancaster, Pa., and started the Lancaster Caramel Company, which he went on to sell for $1 million ($25 million today) in 1900. With the new funds, he continued his work, creating the Hershey Chocolate Company and the Hershey bar, now an American icon.
It’s easy to tell stories of perseverance and even easier to read them. But to actually persevere, when you face bankruptcy or your company fails -- that’s hard. So how does one do it?
There is no five-point program, or simple set of principles, that can provide the conviction necessary to truly persevere. That type of resolve requires a mission. A simple, but unwavering belief in what you’re doing. It can be derived from faith in God, or a deeply held belief in the triumph of science and reason. What the belief system is isn’t as important as the depth of the belief. However, the more one believes in a mission, the more resilient an individual or company will be when it’s tested.
For Jan Koum, his mission was to bring inexpensive communication to every smartphone in the world. For Henry Ford, he believed an affordable car should be available to all Americans. And for Milton Hershey, his mission was rather simple, he just wanted everyone to enjoy his chocolate bars.
When all of these entrepreneurs faced challenges, it was their unwavering belief in these missions that gave them the strength to persevere.