5 Killer Lessons I Learned from Interviewing World-Class Entrepreneurs

These founders have taken their businesses to the next level, and you could do the same by applying what they've learned.

learn more about Eric Siu

By Eric Siu

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Through the work I've done at Growth Everywhere, I've been lucky enough to chat with notable entrepreneurs such as Jason Lemkin (founder of Echosign, which sold to Adobe), Mark Organ (co-founder of Eloqua, which sold to Oracle) and others who are constantly pushing the boundaries of business success with their own companies.

But not only has this series of interviews given my followers plenty of inspirational material to help them take their businesses to the next level, it's inspired me as well. Here are just a few of the lessons I've taken from these conversations and applied to my work at Growth Everywhere and my company, Single Grain.

1. Success comes from handling difficult situations well.

Want to hear something inspiring? When Ron Klein, inventor of the magnetic credit card strip, was 16, he contracted hepatitis and spent almost two years recovering. During this time, he wasn't able to go to school or work, so he kept himself busy by reading 18 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. While his reading didn't directly contribute to his work with credit card strips, they do show how Klein was able to take what was a difficult situation and turn it into something positive.

Related: 3 Millionaire Entrepreneurs You Probably Haven't Heard Of (and How They Did It)

The truth is, we all hit roadblocks and obstacles. We all get frustrated by projects that don't go as smoothly as we like. But it's the way that you handle these challenges that separates those that will become successful from those that fail. Take a page out of Klein's book and be the entrepreneur that makes the best out of bad situations.

2. Never be afraid to pivot.

All entrepreneurs think they're starting out with a brilliant idea, but the reality is that businesses are often more complicated than they initially appear. Take the example of eToro, a social-investment network led by Yoni Assia.

Initially, eToro aimed to bring a social-gaming element to financial investing. But when the company's first patent wound up being too over-gamified and over-simplified with consumers, the company was quick to pivot to a more traditional alternative, and then to a happy medium between the two. Today, eToro has produced more than $30 million in revenue, despite its rocky start.

If your initial idea proves unsustainable -- whether due to a lack of product-market fit, limited consumer interest, incorrect pricing strategies or some other factor -- don't beat yourself up over it. Instead of giving up, look for the seeds of success that exist in all failed ideas and use them to move on to a stronger alternative.

3. Look for unexpected opportunities.

Yali Elkin was a pretty unlikely tech entrepreneur. Coming from a background in finance and data management, Elkin was inspired by the 2012 presidential debates to start LiveDial, a polling company that distributes surveys on any topic to an unlimited audience at a moment's notice. To date, the program has more than 7,000 downloads and is growing every day.

It would have been easy for Elkin, when the idea for a survey platform crossed his mind, to say, "I'm a finance guy -- what business do I have founding a tech company?" But he didn't. And you shouldn't let yourself be tied down by expectations either.

Related: From Oprah to the Kardashians: 6 Celebrity-Inspired Business Lessons

Look for these types of unexpected opportunities and don't let them pass you by. Capitalize on them by taking the action that other wannabe founders aren't willing to.

4. Surround yourself with good people.

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Finnegan Faldi, founder of TruEffect, which focuses on first-party cookie technology. Faldi has a serious sales and business development background, so I was surprised when he told me that he doesn't just believe CEOs should spend 25 to 33 percent of their time recruiting, he believes it should always be a top priority. Instead of posting jobs when he has open positions, he wants to have eager applicants who are ready, waiting and excited to work for him.

I've talked about what it takes to find a good CMO before, but don't limit yourself there. Every position at your company is critical, so follow Faldi's example and make constant recruiting a priority. A good team can make the difference between a company that barely gets off the ground and one that's a runaway success.

5. All you have to do is ask.

While I've been fortunate to be able to connect with some amazing entrepreneurs through my interview series, what I want to emphasize is that there's nothing special about me. I don't have tons of inside connections, and I haven't yet been admitted into any super-secret business-owner societies (if these exist at all).

I was able to learn great lessons that will save me a significant amount of time, money and energy, all because I was willing to ask for it. I get told "no" plenty of times by prospective interview subjects, but because I'm persistent, I'm able to chat with fascinating people doing amazing things in the business world. If there's something you want out there, ask for it. Even seemingly-impossible requests might be easier to fulfill than you'd imagine.

Related: Even With 20 Years in Tech I Learned These Lessons as a First-Time CEO

Eric Siu

CEO, Single Grain. Founder, Growth Everywhere.

Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency Single Grain. Single Grain has worked with companies such as Amazon, Uber and Salesforce to help them acquire more customers. He also hosts two podcasts: Marketing School with Neil Patel and Growth Everywhere, an entrepreneurial podcast where he dissects growth levers that help businesses scale. 


Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.

Business News

I Live on a Cruise Ship for Half of the Year. Look Inside My 336-Square-Foot Cabin with Wraparound Balcony.

I live on a cruise ship with my husband, who works on it, for six months out of the year. Life at "home" can be tight. Here's what it's really like living on a cruise ship.

Business News

American Airlines Sued After Teen Dies of Heart Attack Onboard Flight to Miami

Kevin Greenridge was traveling from Honduras to Miami on June 4, 2022, on AA Flight 614 when he went into cardiac arrest and became unconscious mid-flight.

Thought Leaders

The Collapse of Credit Suisse: A Cautionary Tale of Resistance to Hybrid Work

This cautionary tale serves as a reminder for business leaders to adapt to the changing world of work and prioritize their workforce's needs and preferences.

Business Solutions

Learn to Build a ChatGPT Bot for Only $30

If you want to see what AI can do for your business, grab this course bundle today.