One of my blogging goals for this year is to start a new category about business, startup and bootstrapping lessons I’ve learned while running my own business over the past ten years. I realize that there are many sites out there that cover business and startups. I’m sure I’ll repeat some lessons learned, but I may also share a few new ones. In short, I’m doing it to share my experience and as a way to collect all of the things I’ve learned in one place.
For the first entry, I want to review “The Men Who Built America“, an 8-epsiode mini-series that was on The History Channel recently. It is the story of the first American capitalists who built businesses in the aftermath of the Civil War. It chronicles the rise of railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, oil magnate John Rockefeller, steel mogul Andrew Carnegie, financier J.P. Morgan, inventor Thomas Edison, and auto pioneer Henry Ford.
While it can be argued that these men built their wealth at the expense of the common man, it doesn’t hide the fact that they were incredible visionaries who took tremendous risks in order to build business and wealth. Their efforts, coupled with the business-friendly laws of the time, directly contributed to the rise of America into a super power of the 20th century.
I took six key lessons from the series that can be applied to any business, especially startups.
- It takes vision and big thinking to build a business
Each of these individuals had a vision and big idea that they pursued. For Vanderbilt, it was to unite the country by providing transport of people and goods across the country via rail. For Rockefeller, it was providing a reliable source of kerosene for people to light their homes. Carnegie’s goal was to make steel a cost-effective building material for the nation’s infrastructure. Morgan and Edison saw electricity as a safer way to bring the power of light to the masses. Ford wanted a car that any person could afford. These were not small ideas, but grand visions that took a tremendous amount of determination and work to realize.
- Create value, and the money will follow
The vision each person pursued created lasting value for their customers and society as a whole. By creating value, they were rewarded with wealth. In other words, creating value should be the goal of the business. If value is created with a product or service, then revenue and sustainable profits will follow.
- Have a passion for the business
In order to create a great business, you have to have a passion for what you are doing. Each person had a passion for their business. They understood what made the business tick which drove them to discover and implement new ideas ahead of their competition. In other words, the leader of the business must have a passion for the business. It can’t be created from the workers below.
- Success requires drive, determination, and persistence
It takes a tremendous amount of drive to win at business. Every one of the individuals profiled ran into multiple setbacks over the course of their career. They could have easily packed it in and called it quits. Their drive, their determination, their persistence kept them going and pulled them through in the end.
- Embrace competition and thrive on it
Business is a competition. You have to want to compete, and you have to want to win. If you aren’t driven to win and be the best, you will be overrun by someone else who does.
- Don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions
There are decisions to be made every day in the course of running a business. While the majority are easy, there are others that will test your resolve. The stakes will be high. You have to embrace these moments and not be afraid to move ahead with tough decisions, even if they aren’t popular. Whether it’s deciding to abandon a segment of the business, take a risk on a new service or product, or firing a close confidant, you have to be willing to do what is in the best interest of making the business successful.
There are many other things to be learned by watching the history of these early businessmen. You will be motivated and walk away inspired. You’ll see how these men were able to build industry defining business that provided the foundation which allowed America to grow into the great nation that it has become. It’s worth your time.
I’d like to give a hat-tip to my friend Ali Yousefi who suggested watching this series.