Greatness Begins With Understanding the Basics of Business

Entrepreneur's must parse the difference between one hit wonders and companies with longevity.

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By Cynthia Johnson

Willie B. Thomas | Getty Images

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I recently spoke at the Get Global Conference in Los Angeles, where I was given a chance to talk with influential entrepreneurs who are interested in fueling international growth, not only for their own companies but for the economy as well. As an entrepreneur who travels quite a bit and works with many global organizations, I am always fascinated by the "mega success" stories that can be found all over the world.

The most prominent name at the event was Noel Lee, creator of Monster Products. Lee, the 'head monster,' emphasized the importance of building not only a great product but a company with longevity. When I sat down with Lee, we discussed how to be a worthy competitor in a crowded industry and how vital creativity is for personal branding.

Related: 8 Reasons a Powerful Personal Brand Will Make You Successful

"There are many budding entrepreneurs and tons of new businesses that evolve and don't have the basics, but they do have a product or an idea. It takes more than just the product or idea. There are lots of ideas, lots of products. How do you differentiate? You differentiate by the culture and connecting with pop culture. You can be a one-hit wonder, and there are lots of people that will be one hit wonders. But to stay, you must have a plan to create a brand as opposed to a product," says Lee.

A 3-point initiative.

Lee's "basics of business," as he calls them, distill to "culture, perception, and connecting with pop culture. These basics are irreplaceable to ensure the future and longevity of your business," Lee says. Though none of that happens overnight.

Lee discussed the long process of creating a business like Monster. "For the entrepreneurs who want to build a brand for the long run, you have two options. One is you build a company so you can merge it and sell it, another is building a brand with longevity that you can call your own," he says. "So, I'm on the latter."

When he started Monster, it was really about creating a legacy. "And that is why I created the culture involved ... and that doesn't happen quickly. What you want to do as a young entrepreneur is plan what you want to be. Do you want to be a one-hit wonder? That's a different mentality and different mindset on how you spend your money, as opposed to building a brand and building a company. Figure it out, because it's hard in a noisy environment to differentiate what you want to be," says Lee.

"For young entrepreneurs must figure out what they want to be, figure out their exit strategy, figure out what they're going to do for shareholders, then figure out how to build the organization," Lee says.

Lee visits a concept that we have heard from successful athletes such as Serena Williams: Competing with yourself, not just with other companies.

"You must know how to market your product in a position against competitors, but also positioning against yourself," he says. If you have a VR product, but you have three different models. How do you differentiate between each model? How do they compare to one another? How would you market one of your models against another of your models, as though it were from another company?

Business vs. art vs. engineering.

Lee started Monster in the 1970's by building cables in his garage. Luckily, Lee had a background as a musician, so he automatically possesses the mind of an innovator and an artist. "You have to have the machinery to make it work, and that's where the engineering comes in, and that's also what you don't learn in business school," says Lee.

Related: My Company's Business Model Was Holding Us Back From Bigger Opportunities, So We Evolved. Here's What We Learned.

Lee understood the importance of branding his business, but not just as a high-minded entrepreneur, he also valued the artistry of business. There is a reason why we recognize famous artists' work, or notable directors films, and Lee has become successful because his way of differentiating his brand is the same way we look at a piece of art and say, Now that is a Basquiat piece.

I asked Lee if he considers himself an artist, an engineer or a businessman first. "Usually engineers are not artists," he said. "They don't have that creative gene like a painter or musician. I view it as having engineering chops for the fundamentals to create art. I sometimes ask people (regarding business), 'Are you classically trained or are you a jazz musician?' Classically trained means, you paint by the numbers, or you have your process, and you don't veer from it," he says. "There are a lot of great companies who do that."

The culturally relevant companies are jazz musicians, Lee says. "You make it up as you go along. You have an ability to go in and out, and up and down, the highs, the lows. So, the ability to play jazz is kind of where I am" he says.

"That is the creative, art form part of it," he says. "We don't need the sheet music because the sheet music was composed by someone who has been there, done that and you replicate it. But, that is 'always follow, never lead,' and we are the, 'always lead, never follow.'"

Related: How Jazz Music Prepared Me for Life as a CEO

Lee said the company will be announcing significant news about Monster in January 2018, including new plans to further the brand.

Cynthia Johnson

Co-founder and CEO of Bell + Ivy, marketer, speaker and author

Cynthia Johnson is co-founder and CEO of Bell + Ivy. She is a marketer, speaker and author.

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