Leadership

27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Answers ranged from a parent, a mentor in their field, an investor, a co-founder or even someone they have never met.
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences
Image credit: Thomas Barwick | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
13 min read

Entrepreneurs have different backgrounds and philosophies and work in a variety of industries, but what they have in common is that they each have a person whom they look up to that affects and inspires their work ethic.

Whether it is a parent, a mentor in their field, an investor, a co-founder, even someone they have never met but whose life and ideas resonate with them, you never know who will profoundly shape how you approach your work and career.

We asked these 27 entrepreneurs, "Who influences you the most in your work?" Here are their responses.

 
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Chieh Huang

Chieh Huang
Image credit: Chieh Huang | Twitter

Company: Boxed

Influence: I think it would be my mom. My mom started off as a cashier at a fast-food restaurant and ended up being an EVP of a decent sized company. Throughout that time, she never complained once. She just got up and did what she needed to do. In the morning if I’m sluggish, I think, if my mom could do that, I could do this.

Read more about Huang: The Surprising Reason Why This Founder Says Not to Be Afraid of the Competition

 
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Merrill Stubbs

Merrill Stubbs
Image credit: Food52

Company: Food52

Influence: My co-founder Amanda. I learn from her every day. One of things she is really good about is communicating directly with people about their performance and their strengths and weaknesses without it feeling like an onslaught of criticism. She's really good at balancing those conversations and people respond well to that.

Read more about Stubbs: The Life-Changing Book That Helps This Entrepreneur Think Big

 
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Jennie Ripps

Jennie Ripps
Image credit: theowlsbrew | Instagram

Company: Owl’s Brew

Influence: My father has influenced me the most. He would always ask questions. Even when he had expertise on a certain topic, he would ask questions of people who weren't necessarily experts in the field. Through doing that he would question his own assumptions. I think asking questions, examining things from multiple levels and getting feedback from my business partner is something he taught me.

Read more about Ripps: The One Thing This Entrepreneur Does Each Day to Stay Productive

 
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Oren Frank

Oren Frank
Image credit: Talkspace

Company: Talkspace

Influence: I read a study once that interviewed people who worked in hospice care. The study quoted the top five regrets of people who were about to pass away. The regrets were very common, but none of the patients said, 'Wow, I'm sorry I didn't work enough.' That idea influences my approach to work.

Read more about Frank: This CEO's Favorite Productivity Tips Are Surprisingly Simple

 
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Tim Chen

Tim Chen
Image credit: Nerdwallet

Company: Nerdwallet

Influence: Coming out of that [hedge fund] environment, I thought it was the right way to run a company, and I was proved very wrong. Over the years, I’ve learned a ton from a lot of the people at NerdWallet. I’ve learned to approach things with more of an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, each of them is bringing something to the table that I don’t have.  

Read more about Chen: Nerdwallet's Founder Shares the Worst Advice He Ever Got

 
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Heidi Zak

Heidi Zak
Image credit: ThirdLove

Company: ThirdLove

Influence: I think my dad is my biggest influence. He grew up on a small farm outside of Pittsburgh. Through a lot of hard work and by focusing on education, he has been really successful in business. I think it's true in life that when you work hard, things will work themselves out for you. That work ethic is also something that I look for when I'm hiring.

Read more about Zak: This Founder's Best Advice for Entrepreneurs: To Succeed, Entrepreneurs Need to Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

 
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Oliver Kharraz

Oliver Kharraz
Image credit: Zocdoc

Company: Zocdoc

Influence: My mother. She taught me about discipline, and if you say you're going to do something, you have to do it. She taught me about what it means to live up to my worth.

Read more about Kharraz: This Founder Says to Succeed You Need to Question Everything
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Gavin Armstrong

Company: Lucky Iron Fish

Influence: Paul Polman the CEO of Unilever. He's been such an inspiration as far as leading a multinational company with a social impact. He put an ambitious socially-thinking strategy in place, because he felt it was the right thing to do, and he did it by going against the traditional approach.
He had to convince shareholders to eliminate quarterly thinking and focus on long-term success. He believes companies should embed value throughout the supply chain, which I believe is the future. And it’s paying off. Their sustainable living brands have increased in performance. He cares and shows his care through his work.

Read more about Armstrong: This CEO Has Helped Thousands -- and He's Just Getting Started

 
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Jeff Chapin

Jeff Chapin
Image credit: Jeff Chapin | Twitter

Company: Casper

Influence: My parents. They were builders. It was their passion and hobby to always be making things and fixing the house. It was this notion to not overthink something and just take an initial idea, build it and improve it over time. Nothing is permanent; you can make it better later.

Read more about Chapin: Behind a $100 Million Mattress Startup, Casper Co-Founder Shares Advice on Finding Success as an Entrepreneur
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Angie Hicks

Angie Hicks
Image credit: Courtesy of Angie Hicks

Company: Angie’s List
Influence: My co-founder Bill Oesterle. I always admired his ability to stay calm and assess the situation and manage with the hand you're dealt. I hope that over the years of watching him do that, a little bit of that's rubbed off on me.

Read more about Hicks: This Introvert Founder Swears by This Management Tip

27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Whitney Wolfe

Whitney Wolfe
Image credit: Courtesy of Bumble

Company: Bumble
Influence: My business partner Andrey Andreev. He has had a profound impact on how I approach my work. He is extremely pragmatic. He's very realistic, and he's visionary in the sense that he can take a problem that might be there right now and can guide me on how to look at the long-term implications. It comes back that rule of nine. It's important to look at something down the road and not just in the immediate sense. I've been very fortunate to have him as a partner, because he's truly brilliant.

Read more about Wolfe: The Founder of Bumble Reveals How the 'Question of Nine' Can Help You Stay Focused

27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Kara Goldin

Kara Goldin
Image credit: Courtesy of Kara Goldin

Company: Hint
Influence: Someone who I've always admired is Steve Jobs. I love that he always focused on the consumer experience and built a product that was seemingly simple in design and functionality. At the same time, he was always innovating and doing things in ways that have never been done before.

Read more about Goldin: The Entrepreneur Behind a $90 Million Company Shares How You Can Get Past the Naysayers to Build a Successful Business

27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

John Zimmer

John Zimmer
Image credit: Courtesy of Lyft

Company: Lyft
Influence: In my personal life, my wife. She has helped me in the constant strive to find balance between home life and work. She's had a positive influence on me.

In the work world, I'd say Howard Schultz of Starbucks. He has been really helpful. A year or two ago, we had a conversation about values. The first time I ever spoke to him, we spent the entire phone call just with him interested in our values.

He asked me how did we think about making decisions? How did we treat the people? It was just reinforcing the idea that values matter, and that you should never veer off the path of your own values. Him reinforcing that with every interaction we have had since has been helpful and influential.

Read more about Zimmer: Lyft Co-Founder John Zimmer: 'You Should Never Veer Off the Path of Your Own Values'

27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Jen Rubio

Jen Rubio
Image credit: Masha Maltsava

Company: Away
Influence: My co-founder Steph [Korey] has taught me a lot about discipline. Because she is so disciplined and operational, it has let me be so much more creative. But it also taught me to better harness my creativity and be more disciplined in the things that I'm doing.

Read more about Rubio: Use This Founder's Top Tip To Make Your Meetings Work For You
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

David Bladow

David Bladow
Image credit: Courtesy of BloomThat

Company: BloomThat
Influence: My dad. He taught me the value of tenacity and perseverance. He's an entrepreneur. I observed firsthand the swings of owning your own business and the ups and downs of owning a business. You have to be smart and work hard, but often it is simply the sticktoitness you need to fight through the darkest days. That's what makes a difference. Just don't quit.

And then my wife, who I recruited to work for BloomThat, is a huge inspiration to me because she is a total badass. She has a work ethic and tenacity that is unmatched. I have to match her level. She's a really unique person.

Read more about Bladow: This Founder Has 3 Simple Tips to Achieve Maximum Productivity
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Randi Zuckerberg

Randi Zuckerberg
Image credit: Courtesy of Randi Zuckerberg

Company: Zuckerberg Media
Influence: I'm so lucky to have a great mentor in Kathleen Kennedy, who is the president of LucasFilm. She's given me great advice on what happens when you're the only woman in the room, and how to find mentorship and peer guidance around you even if you have to look in other industries.

We've definitely spoken about the fact that sometimes your best mentors are right around you, and you don't even know. A lot of times we look for someone high above us to be a mentor, but often peer-mentor groups are actually going to be the most effective and helpful.

Read more about Zuckerberg: Why Everyone Can Use Randi Zuckerberg's Number One Focus Tip
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Jordana Kier

Jordana Kier
Image credit: Stephanie Geddes

Company: Lola
Influence: My dad. He is just a relentless, tireless worker. My grandparents and my dad were born in Cuba and then emigrated to the United States in the 1960s.

My dad has been part of this American dream story of running a business, building it into something incredible. He's 55 and still tells me stories about how he called people up numerous times a day to get them on the phone. He showed that you should never stop trying your hardest and giving it your all -- and never accepting no as an answer. It is something I hope to emulate well into my 60s

Read more about Kier: How You Can Use Your Computer Password to Make Your Aspirations a Reality
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Katrina Lake

Katrina Lake
Image credit: Courtesy of Katrina Lake

Company: Stitch Fix
Influence: Sukhinder Singh Cassidy. She's the founder of Joyus and was the CEO of Polyvore. She was somebody who really felt like she was embracing being a woman and a mom, but at the same time being a strong leader. You can be your authentic self, and you don't have to try to pretend to be anything else.

Read more about Lake: Stitch Fix Founder Explains Why the Worst Piece of Advice She Ever Got Was to Raise A Lot of Money
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Luis von Ahn

Luis von Ahn
Image credit: Courtesy of Duolingo

Company: Duolingo
Influence: I got a Ph.D in computer science, and I had an awesome advisor, Manuel Blum. He won the Turing Award, which is basically the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for computer science. I learned so much from this guy; he was just so humble and thought about everything so deeply.

I spend most of my weekends thinking about things that other people might not think much about, but I think about them over and over again. It's kind of obsessive, but from that, a lot of good stuff really comes out.

Read more about von Ahn: Why This Founder Says the Worst Advice He Ever Got Was to Listen to His Users
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Bruce Poon Tip

Bruce Poon Tip
Image credit: Courtesy of G Adventures

Company: G Adventures
Influence: My folks. My parents are immigrants. They sacrificed to give their kids the gift of opportunity. They moved to North America with seven children.

Also, the philosophy of the Dalai Lama of creating happiness has guided the whole principles of my business, how happiness drives human behavior, excellence and performance. The Dalai Lama believes that our only purpose in life is to achieve happiness. And if you want to create a purpose-driven business model, that's a pretty powerful statement.

Read more about Poon Tip: I Was About to Shut Down My Business but I Changed My Mind. Here's Why.
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Ayah Bdeir

Ayah Bdeir
Image credit: Courtesy of Ayah Bdeir

Company: LittleBits
Influence: My mom; she was always a career woman. She was just endlessly inspired by things around her. She would always learn from different things and people and try to think about how it applies to her work.

Read more about Bdeir: This Successful Entrepreneur Explains Why Revenue Is Not the Most Important Thing (and What Is)
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Dr. Katie Rodan

Dr. Katie Rodan
Image credit: Courtesy of Rodan + Fields

Company: Rodan + Fields
Influence: My father. As a young girl in the 1960s, I was lucky to have spent a lot of time with him when my mom went back to graduate school. Our dinner time conversations and the words of wisdom he gave me through stories of his extraordinary life as a depression era kid, a UCLA student body president, a Marine in WWII, and a federal judge, guide me until this day. I learned from him "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." I was encouraged to "be my own boss, make my own money and determine my own destiny." And, I was inspired by his work ethic, compassion and indefatigable determination to help those in a less fortunate or powerless position.

Read more about Dr. Katie Rodan: Want to Build a Billion-Dollar Business? Here Are 2 Simple Ideas That Helped These Two Skincare Heavyweights.

27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Alexa von Tobel

Alexa von Tobel
Image credit: Courtesy of Alexa von Tobel

Company: LearnVest
Influence: My mom has worked close to every day of my life. She is 69 years old and works as a pediatric nurse practitioner. She has somehow also raised three kids without any help, while working full time. She made breakfast, packed our lunches, made a home-cooked dinner and ironed everything including boxers and jeans.

She did it all with a smile and grace. I think the kind of the core takeaway is just an extreme work ethic and always making time for your family. You don't make excuses and you find the time to make things work.


Read more about Tobel: This Entrepreneur Shares Her Surprising Secret to Fighting Decision Fatigue
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Gunnar Lovelace

Gunnar Lovelace
Image credit: Courtesy of Gunnar Lovelace
Company: Thrive Market
Influence: It sounds clich?, but it's my mom. We immigrated here when I was 2, very poor Latino immigrants. She's just been incredibly courageous, creative and persistent in the face of very difficult challenges..

Read more about Lovelace: This Successful Entrepreneur Was Turned Down By 50 VC Firms. Today, His Company Makes Millions.
27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Amanda Bradford

Amanda Bradford
Image credit: Courtesy of Amanda Bradford

Company: The League
Influence: My mom. Not only does she have good ideas, she figures out what needs to be done and then does all the execution work needed to take her idea across the finish line. She is constantly learning, and I've never once heard her say, "I don't know how to do that."

Read more about Bradford: This Successful Entrepreneur Explains Why You Shouldn't Put Time Limits on Creativity

27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Kathryn Minshew

Kathryn Minshew
Image credit: Courtesy of Kathryn Minshew

Company: The Muse
Influence: Probably my parents. My father is brilliant with numbers and has enabled my brother and me a lot of opportunities. My mother is incredibly intuitive and thoughtful about people and relationships, and what drives people.

Read more about Minshew: Use This Successful Entrepreneur's Scheduling Secret to Have Your Most Productive Day

27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences

Tracy DiNunzio

Tracy DiNunzio
Image credit: Courtesy of Tracy DiNunzio

Company: Tradesy
Influence: John Doerr [an investor], who is on our board. He is just an incredible, remarkable leader who has figured out how to scale himself in ways that I've not seen up close with anybody else. I think that he has influenced me to let go and learn how to scale -- meaning let other people do the work and keep offloading things you used to do so that you can gain more capacity.

Read more about DiNunzio: This Successful Entrepreneur Shares The Trick That Helps Her Tell The Difference Between Being Productive and Being Busy

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  • 27 Entrepreneurs Share Their Greatest Influences
  • 1. Chieh Huang
  • 2. Merrill Stubbs
  • 3. Jennie Ripps
  • 4. Oren Frank
  • 5. Tim Chen
  • 6. Heidi Zak
  • 7. Oliver Kharraz
  • 8. Gavin Armstrong
  • 9. Jeff Chapin
  • 10. Angie Hicks
  • 11. Whitney Wolfe
  • 12. Kara Goldin
  • 13. John Zimmer
  • 14. Jen Rubio
  • 15. David Bladow
  • 16. Randi Zuckerberg
  • 17. Jordana Kier
  • 18. Katrina Lake
  • 19. Luis von Ahn
  • 20. Bruce Poon Tip
  • 21. Ayah Bdeir
  • 22. Dr. Katie Rodan
  • 23. Alexa von Tobel
  • 24. Gunnar Lovelace
  • 25. Amanda Bradford
  • 26. Kathryn Minshew
  • 27. Tracy DiNunzio
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