Few stories have the mystique and excitement of an entrepreneur’s journey, as bestseller lists, shows, and blogs have shown again and again.
But what does it really mean to be an entrepreneur, and why do people set out on the path in the first place? We talked with some successful current business leaders on the subject, and these were their answers.
Legacy of Greatness
Some entrepreneurs know from a very young age that they have a legacy to uphold, whether it’s a family business or just a tradition of leadership.
“To me, being an entrepreneur has meant carrying on my family’s legacy through our business,” said Raul Porto. “As Owner and President of Porto’s Bakery and Cafe I have been able to carry on the vision my mother had when she first began baking for friends and family out of her home in Cuba in the 1960s. I chose my path because I wanted to honor our family’s legacy and tradition by sharing it with the world.”
Maybe your family doesn’t own a company, but you can be the one to plant the first flag.
From a young age, we’re told that there are only a handful of potential paths in life. Entrepreneurship is rarely mentioned, however, so pursuing that route requires a real open mind.
“To be an entrepreneur means being a free thinker in the truest sense of the word,” said Sunny Mills, Design and Production Director at Yoga Club. “Many people see themselves as free thinkers, and that’s great, but to start a business from nothing and make it into something great, that requires imagination, creativity, and originality of thought like nothing else.”
Thankfully, startup culture is becoming more mainstream, but taking that leap is still a feat.
The real meaning of an entrepreneur has been debated forever, but at the end of the day, it’s the person who had a bright idea and decided to do something about it – quite simple!
“A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action,” said Author, Entrepreneur, and Life Coach Tony Robbins. “If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.”
If you’re on the fence about pursuing a new venture, just know that action is the only route forward – everything else is speculation.
Going by Instinct
Many business leaders share a passion for freedom and self-determination, but for others, starting a business was simply the best option on the table for them at the time.
“Being an entrepreneur made sense in my career choices,” said Alex Czarnecki, CEO of Cottage. “I wanted to help others with creating safe, legal Accessory Dwelling Units on their property. This is not a traditional 9 to 5 job, but entrepreneurship instead. I enjoy the flexibility of being an entrepreneur and the work-life balance it offers me. Sure it may not be traditional, but it’s instinctual for me.”
The more we begin viewing entrepreneurship as a viable career path, the better.
We want a magnificent story to go along with every business and the people who founded it, but oftentimes, it is simply a tale of someone seeking a creative solution to a common problem.
“Being an entrepreneur means finding solutions to daily problems that make people’s lives better,” said Meghan Maupin, CEO of Atolla. “I am passionate about leading a sustainable low-impact lifestyle, and have also dealt with tricky, sensitive skin my whole life. I was continuously experimenting with different skincare products, and disliked how the trial and error was so wasteful. That’s how I got the idea for Atolla: a skincare system that does the heavy lifting of picking out your ideal ingredients and routine, so you don’t have to.”
The most impactful businesses change the world in small but meaningful ways with useful products, services, and a message that resonates with the public.
For many folks, the passive nature of traditional employment is just uninspiring. These are the people who want to control their destiny and maximize their potential in every way.
“Being an entrepreneur means being able to set your own goals, control your progress, and be your own boss,” said David DiLorenzo, President of Valentino Beauty Pure. “Sure it is a lot of work, but it is worth it because this is the freedom to run the kind of business you have dreamed of. A successful entrepreneur knows that their success or failure lies with them. I would say that this path chose me. I saw an opportunity to fill a void in the beauty industry and I went for it.”
Maybe you’re itching to start something new and get out of the 9-to-5? Starting a business is a valid alternative worth considering.
Countless businesses have been started by folks who are highly experienced in a certain area, and believe they have a better approach to an existing product or service.
“I co-found and serve as Chief Commercial Officer at R3SET, a nutritional supplements company focused on stress management,” said Harris Rabin. “My history of brand building has helped me navigate the challenges of launching a company.”
Skill sets and expertise build over time, and eventually merge to create a perfect opportunity for a successful startup.
It’s too easy to just drift from one job to the next and collect paychecks along the way. Entrepreneurs know that there is more to life, and pursue that vision relentlessly.
“To me, entrepreneurship means having a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and working hard to achieve that end goal,” said Ajay Mehta, CEO of Birthdate. “You must truly believe in your product or service to succeed. I chose entrepreneurship as a career path because I had a vision that I wanted to bring to life. Entrepreneurship is my purpose in life.”
Not everyone shares the same life purpose, but there is certainly a legitimate idea for a business or brand within us all.
Eyes on the Prize
It’s no secret that many people enter the startup scene with dollar signs in their eyes. This is just part of the deal, and financial achievement is a perfectly valid reason to get in the game.
“Choosing the entrepreneur career path is what I believe would lead me to financial success,” said Tri Nguyen, CEO of Network Capital. “It’s a path filled with hard work, dedication and flexibility. In the beginning, entrepreneurs must work tirelessly to build their business, but the payoff for that work is paramount. A true entrepreneur is willing to take the risk and put in the hard work to achieve success.”
If money is your main motivator, that’s fine – but it can’t be your only goal.
Never Slow Down
We’ve all heard stories of the one-hit-wonder musician or the athlete who only wins a single championship. The same thing can happen to entrepreneurs if they don’t remain focused.
“Just because you are CEO, don’t think you have landed,” said Indra Nooyi, Former CEO of PepsiCo. “You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization. I’ve never forgotten that.”
When you get your first taste of success, let that be a motivator to keep going.
Focused on Results
Product development, marketing, sales, service… it’s all for nothing if you don’t actively track your results and aim a little bit higher each day.
“Entrepreneurship requires a passion for the company you are trying to grow, as it can be a difficult learning curve to start,” said Eddie Huai, CEO of Luna Blanket. “When I co-founded Luna Blanket, I was trying to find a better solution to my sleep problems, like many others who live a busy life. When we found studies that have shown the effectiveness of weighted blankets, we got to work on a weighted blanket that was high quality and affordable to promote healing and restful sleep. Because of the passion we have at Luna Blanket, we were able to grow continuously throughout the years.”
It’s so important to stay hungry even after reaching your initial goals, because there’s always more to accomplish.
Good Old Grit
Not all solutions to life’s problems will present themselves immediately, and that’s eternally true in the world of business leadership. Decisions must be made, even if the best choice isn’t apparent.
“Having the grit to be able to solve problems is key to being successful as an entrepreneur,” said Cody Iverson, CEO of VisCap Media. “In an industry as competitive as digital content, we work with talent and brands tirelessly to ensure that their content is leading to more sales and brand recognition. Being creative and finding what works for one brand compared to another is key at VisCap Media.”
You won’t know grit until you experience and cultivate it for yourself, and starting a business is truly the best teacher.
Something to Prove
You might know some lighthearted business leaders in real life, but these people often have a deep drive within them to prove something to the world and make it a better place.
“To me, being an entrepreneur means having the courage to make it your professional mission to solve a problem that is personal to you, but important for the greater good,” said Annabel Love, Co-Founder and CEO of Nori. “Being co-founder and CEO has afforded me the privilege of being able to take on the mission of making a difference in households across the country.”
As you’ll learn from so many startup stories, it always goes far beyond personal achievement.
You could be working tirelessly on your next big startup idea for your own purposes, but how will your company help others along the way? It sounds like a cliché point, but it’s so crucial to assess the viability of a brand long term.
“Being the CEO and Co-Founder of Thrilling has taught me that as an entrepreneur, you must have the courage to pursue your passion in a way that serves your community before it serves yourself,” said Shilla Kim-Parker. “Providing a platform for small and primarily women of color-owned businesses to succeed has been my greatest professional accomplishment. I chose this career path because I wanted a way to uplift parts of the community that are often overlooked, and through Thrilling I have been able to do just that.”
These days, community is everything, and strong public support is key to drive your business forward. Put others first and good things will happen.
There’s something appealing about working a normal job, punching the clock, and not worrying much about how the business performs when you’re logged out.
Business leaders have a completely different mindset, and this can be hard to wrap your head around at first.
“Entrepreneurs are in charge of their own destiny,” said John Levisay, CEO of The Pro’s Closet. “Shaping it to be exactly what they are seeking in life. Whether that be financial success, flexibility, work-life balance, legacy, or all of the above. A good entrepreneur will be able to work across disciplines and network with ease. With the desire to help others, I was led down the path of entrepreneurship.”
When your business and life goals combine into one big picture, it all becomes clearer.
Everyone talks about their passion, but how often do you actually meet someone who has 100% certainty what that passion is? It’s not as common as you’d think, but in the entrepreneur’s world, it’s just the status quo.
“Being an entrepreneur is about being so passionate about what you’re doing that you can’t imagine doing anything else,” said Cisco Adler, CEO and Founder of NoCap. “For me, NoCap is a culmination of everything else I’ve done in my life. I was an artist – which itself is very analogous to being an entrepreneur – and then I started several businesses before this one. But everything I did – all the knowledge and relationships and battle wounds, have been the best preparation for what we’re doing now. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Searching for passion is a challenge for sure, but when you find it, don’t let it go.
Breaking through the negativity and social conventions of our world is arguably the toughest part of entrepreneurship, especially when starting out.
However, when you burst through those barriers, the world is truly your oyster.
“It’s so important to take on a fail-proof mentality when setting foot on the entrepreneur’s path, so that you can reframe tough situations and always see the silver lining,” said Aidan Cole, Co-Founder of TatBrow. “That way, you’ll be able to endure even the most difficult moments and come out on the other side a stronger, smarter version of yourself.”
Once you realize how many obstacles are purely mental in nature, everything becomes easier.
No business leader got very far on technical or financial skills alone. It takes a healthy dose of creativity to build a vision in your mind and make it a reality that sparks interest in others.
“Having a creative mindset is key to being an entrepreneur,” said Brandon Kim, Co-Founder, Creative and Strategy at Brevite. “When Brevite started out, we were sewing backpack prototypes for years before releasing the official product. We definitely had humble beginnings as three brothers with an idea, and it took a lot of time, creativity, and ingenuity to make Brevite what it is today.”
You don’t need to be the next Jobs or Musk to build a viable business, but that creative spark is certainly vital.
Your Own Path
We form identities based on signals from others who have walked before us, and this definitely applies to the decisions we make in our careers.
“Be cautious of modeling your own career path or trying to follow in someone’s footsteps just because they’ve achieved a certain level of success,” said Darren Litt, Co-Founder of MarketerHire. “Entrepreneurship isn’t like getting a degree or a certification. There are no strict criteria. It’s about moving at your own pace and hitting the goals you set for yourself.”
How much are you imitating others in your career choices, and how much are you really thinking on your own terms?
One amazing aspect of entrepreneurship is the ability for a brand to introduce people to new ideas, cultures, and concepts – even if they have ancient or foreign origins.
“A year after our founding, De La Calle’s Tepache is sold across the United States and I have loved sharing a part of my culture around food and drink with so many people,” said Rafael Martin del Campo, Founder of De La Calle. “The probiotic beverage trend has increased in popularity, but De La Calle’s Tepache – a probiotic drink made of spices and fermented pineapple juice – is historically rooted in ancient Mexican culture. I grew up making the traditional drink with my grandmother and later studied culinary arts and food science technology because of my passion for the Tepache fermentation process.”
Our culture is so much richer and interesting thanks to the work of entrepreneurs, so give them credit where due!
While the internet serves as a fairly basic network for people to connect, it is constantly improving and evolving in so many ways. Great startups build communities that thrive on their own and facilitate connections that last a lifetime – definitely worth the effort.
“When my co-founder Dan and I were developing the app, we took lessons from previous experiences and chose to have fewer vanity metrics, one specific was not including subscriber counts to the community profiles,” said Tyler Faux, CEO and Co-Founder of Supergreat. “We wanted the users to feel like they are a part of a community and not pitting against each other for views and follows. Since beauty trends cycle almost quarterly, we leaned on growing our Supergreat community through word-of-mouth concepts and organic reviews to help consumers make purchasing decisions.”
Everyone has their own reason for taking the path of the entrepreneur, and we all have a different vision of what it means to be one. Decide for yourself what you want to accomplish for yourself and your business, and let nothing hold you back from getting started.