5 Odd Ways Top Entrepreneurs Found Success Going Against the Grain
In the noise of business, you need guts to stand out from the crowd. Maybe it’s attending a black-tie event wearing a golden suit to attract the attention of a titan dealmaker.
These five entrepreneurs and members of The Oracles share how they were different—with explosive success.
1. Show bravado.
Here’s how I achieved my dream of meeting Sir Richard Branson. When he spoke at the Direct Marketing Association in San Francisco, I dressed up as security to get backstage. I walked up to Branson with $20 wrapped around my business card. I shook his hand and said, “This is the first $20 we’re going to make together.” He laughed, pocketed the $20, gave me his personal email, and we posed for a picture.
Fast forward years later, when my business was taking off, I was invited to Necker, his private island, for a week. He remembered that interaction when I asked him about it. I joked about him taking the $20. He replied, “I didn’t become a billionaire by refusing money when offered to me.”
Since then, I've visited Necker half a dozen times with multiple successful entrepreneurs. Learning from this incredible network has helped my business and more importantly, created a meaningful life by mirroring some of Branson's values. — Craig Handley, co-founder and CEO of ListenTrust
2. Teach yourself.
Years ago, I understood the saying, “A formal education can make you a living, but self-education can make you a fortune.” When all my friends went to college, I did an in-person, hands-on apprenticeship under a farmer named Joel Salatin.
I’m not completely against college; there are times when you should go. But a lot of people blindly follow the masses and go to college because their friends are. They don’t know why they’re going. They have no direction. They don’t know what classes to take. They switch majors and usually forget what they learned.
I took a different path of self-education. Even though I learned from others, I was in control. I was able to pick and choose who taught me. I learned from people who had accomplished and actually done it, as opposed to people with theories and book smarts. —Tai Lopez, investor and advisor to many multimillion-dollar businesses, who has built an eight-figure online empire; connect with Tai on Facebook or Snapchat
3. Defy the masses.
I’ve made decisions on what I thought was the right approach, against common wisdom. Often, I’m wrong. But when I’m right, wow.
We were among the first Silicon Valley venture capitalists (VCs) to focus on the internet—many investors didn’t fund us as a result. But our returns were extraordinary. We were the first VCs to invest in China. All of Sand Hill Road—known for its concentration of VC companies—thought we were crazy. We got some battle scars, but it brought us many successful companies like Baidu, one of the world’s largest internet companies. We were the first VCs to establish a global network; while other VCs were laughing, we got Skype and many others.
The lesson is: sometimes, the masses are wrong. Conventional wisdom isn’t often wisdom. The masses once believed the world was flat and that no one could break the four-minute mile or the speed of sound.
The masses now believe that we need land-based governments. What if virtual governments are more efficient, effective, and peaceful? The masses believe we need banks, accountants, and lawyers to check our work, but blockchain technology achieves a far more honest and efficient job. —Tim Draper, founding partner of legendary VC firm DFJ
4. Go where you’re afraid to go.
When pitching "Star Trek" to actor Leonard Nimoy (Spock himself!), I explained that I wanted to destroy Vulcan, Spock's home planet!
My heart was racing, but I knew that destroying Spock's home world was right for the story. His reaction was amazing. He raised his famous eyebrow and said, "Interesting."
At the end of the pitch, I told him, "Look, we can't do this without you! There is no Plan B. If Mr. Spock doesn't approve of this, I don't have another 'Star Trek' script in me." Shockingly, I saw a tear well up in his eye. Our passion moved him. He agreed to read the script and the rest is history.
I turned into the fear. If something feels too comfortable, fear is usually the place you need to go. — Roberto Orci, Hollywood super producer and screenwriter whose movies and TV shows have grossed over $5 billion worldwide
5. Get your hands dirty.
I clearly remember watching the news when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. Five minutes later, my phone rang off the hook as clients put their landscape projects on hold.
Things got rough. I couldn't even sell a bag of mulch. Landscaping your home is a luxury service. Folks were so concerned with paying their mortgage that they didn’t have much interest in planting flowers. Facing foreclosure on my house, massive amounts of debt ($80,000 to Amex and months behind on car repayments), I had to recoup and rethink.
I started pushing. I bartered landscape services for advertising. I dusted off my work boots, got the shovel, “jumped in the hole,” and went to work. Competitors tried to undercut me, so I offered a lifetime warranty on my work when everyone else just offered a year. (I still do this and it crushes the competition.) I gave out my personal cell number to become fully accessible and accountable. I stopped flying under the radar and started blowing my own horn. Massive action created unstoppable momentum: sitting around thinking too much was the worst thing I could have done during that crisis.
When people complain about “working too hard,” I remind them: remember in 2008, when we couldn't even sell a bag of mulch? Never give up. If I could do it, anyone can. — Steve Griggs, founder and CEO of Steve Griggs Design; designs and builds custom residential backyards for affluent clients who want fast results
Want to share your insights like those above in a future column? If you’re an experienced entrepreneur, please get in touch here.
Want to suggest a future topic for these entrepreneurs to answer? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and it’s very possible we’ll make your suggestion the focus of a future article!