While it may seem like killing it came easy for them, everyone from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to Spanx founder Sara Blakely insists their paths were paved with plenty of mistakes, trial and error, clean living and, most of all, perseverance.
Here are their secrets.
1. Tune out the haters.
Just because your idea has never been done doesn’t mean it won’t spark a revolution. Before body-shaping Spanx hit the market, women (and men) just let their jiggles hang out or settled for the kind of loose-fitting outfits that flatter no one. But thanks to Sara Blakely’s curiosity and willingness to try a new concept, we all look a little better — even after gobbling down a cheeseburger.
“Believe in your idea, trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to fail,” the self-made billionaire told Forbes. “It took me two years from the time I had the idea for Spanx until the time I had a product in hand ready to sell into stores. I must have heard the word 'no' a thousand times. If you believe in your idea 100%, don’t let anyone stop you! Not being afraid to fail is a key part of the success of Spanx.”
2. Follow your passion — even if it's geeky.
You're much more likely to be successful at the things you're passionate about, whether it's baking or — in the case of Patrick and John Collison — finding ways to streamline how money moves online. The Irish-born founders of Stripe, which lets businesses add payment options to their apps with a few simple steps, have raised some $460 million for their idea to date. "Patrick and I are almost suspiciously passionate about this," John told Inc.
3. Be deliberate and focused.
"I hate downtime!" Charlie Chanaratsopon, founder and CEO of Charming Charlie handbag and accessory company told Forbes. With some $400 million in annual sales, the Thai-American CEO credits his success to his intense focus and drive: "We've spent years brute-forcing things across the finish line."
4. Kill your TV.
Drew Houston, chief executive at Dropbox, credits reading as part of the gumption behind his company’s launch. “Reading has been essential. I have always wondered why people put so much energy into trying to have coffee with some famous entrepreneur when reading a book is like getting many hours of their most crystallized thoughts,” he told the New York Times.
5. Be proactive, not reactive.
Instead of spending your entire day putting out fires, set goals and aim to achieve them. Proactive management, rather than waiting for everything to hit the fan at work (or at home), is what helped Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook take flight. Zuckerberg told CNBC that you shouldn't dwell on your mistakes. "People spend a lot of time focusing on not making mistakes or regretting them." In other words, you don't have to be right about everything.
6. Don't go it alone.
“Surround yourself with champions,” tech entrepreneur Neha Sampat of Built.io told Forbes. “Every entrepreneur has her own ecosystem made up of colleagues, customers, partners, friends and family — almost like a personal board of directors. I believe there to be a direct correlation between success and the extent at which members of your core ecosystem are your champions.”
7. A healthy body is good for your mind.
Regular exercise isn't just good for your body, it can improve memory, too, according to a 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“I try to run every day, and science now shows a positive correlation between running and creativity,” Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway Foods, told Time. “It has helped me maintain a sense of balance. It grounds me and offers an outlet on my most stressful days, and allows me to lean into risk and uncertainty.”
8. Network like a ninja.
All Ryan Graves did was reply to a tweet from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick asking for ideas on how to help launch his company, Business Insider reports. Now he's a billionaire. Here's their first exchange:
Graves became the first employee at Uber — and was briefly CEO. Today he heads global operations and is on the company's board.
9. Respect your team.
Everyone hates a micromanager. Joy Ajlouny, co-founder of shipper app Fetchr, told Inc that delegating to trusted lieutenants frees her time — and energy — to focus on strategy instead. "I delegate, let go and trust in the talent I hired."
10. Don't be a quitter.
If something doesn’t work the first time, don’t pack up your toys and go home. Rally and try something else. That's the thinking that helped Sophia Amoruso propel the Nasty Gal fashion retailer to a higher stratosphere. “Success is about resilience and self-reflection. If it doesn’t work the first time just keep doing it as long as you have a product or idea that’s great,” she told Entrepreneur magazine.
Sign up for The Payoff — your weekly crash course on how to live your best financial life. Additionally, for all your burning money questions, check out Mic’s credit, savings, career, investing and health care hubs for more information — that pays off.