By Dileep Rao – Guest Contributor
What is common among the following billion-dollar entrepreneurs? What is their gift that separates them from the rest of us?
Sam Walton, who came out of nowhere (actually rural Arkansas) – to grab the pole position in American retail.
Bill Gates, who dropped out of a privileged childhood in private schools and Harvard – to co-found Microsoft and dominate the PC world.
Michael Dell, who dropped out of the University of Texas – to sell computers from his dorm room and his apartment and soared to the top of the PC world.
Michael Bloomberg, who used his take-away money after he was fired and his was company sold – to take advantage of the new trends in financial trading and build the largest company in financial information.
Larry Page, who entered the emerging Internet world and gave it order.
Jeff Bezos, who sifted through 600 products and found just the right one to sell on the Internet and become its leader.
Mark Zuckerberg, who appropriated someone else’s idea when he saw its genius and built one of the largest personal linking organizations in the world.
Travis Kalanick, who broke many local regulations and allowed anyone to drive a “cab.”
Elon Musk, who made electric cars sexy and then more affordable, and showed the metal benders in Detroit how it should be done if they got out of their bureaucratic holes.
And Steve Jobs, who took three industries by the throat and built huge businesses using products that others had developed but did not know how to take advantage.
All of these unicorn-entrepreneurs, and dozens more like them, were businesses geniuses, financial geniuses, and organizational geniuses.
Business Genius: They all entered a high-potential, emerging industry, connected the dots in an emerging industry and found the fulcrum that allowed them to dominate it – when everything was hazy. Emerging industries create new business opportunities and new potential for growth and wealth creation. Many entrepreneurs enter such industries, most of them in Silicon Valley in the last few years. But the problem in an emerging industry is that no one knows the key to dominating the industry. The mistake made by many journalists and business school professors, and found in prescribed textbooks, is that they extol the use of “first-mover” strategies. Most of the people I listed above were not first movers. They were first connectors of the dots to find the fulcrum, and first dominators with the skills and smart strategies needed to dominate the emerging industry. They understood the key benefits of the emerging trend or technology and recognized the patterns in the emerging industries to find its fulcrum. This means that entrepreneurs need to learn how and when to enter emerging industries, and also how to pivot when they find the fulcrum. That’s what Travis Kalanick did to put Uber on the growth track.
Financial Genius: These entrepreneurs found the right financing before Aha to help them stay flexible while seeking the fulcrum. And they found the right financing after Aha to help them use the unicorn-strategy and dominate the emerging industry.
- Mark Zuckerberg found financing from friends and family before Aha, and from angels and VCs after Aha
- Sam Walton found financing from family and cash flow before Aha, and from a variety of smart capital sources after Aha. Same for Dick Schulze of Best Buy.
Organizational Genius: After finding the fulcrum, entrepreneurs have to race to dominate first before someone else beats them to the finish line. Pierre Omidyar found the fulcrum to auctions on the Internet when he started eBay. He built the company to hundreds of thousands in monthly sales – but then had to face direct competition from better funded ventures. So he was forced to raise venture capital and cede control to a professional. But entrepreneurs such as Walton, Schulze (Best Buy), Gates and others knew how to beat their direct competitors first – and then their larger, indirect competitors to conquer their world.
MY TAKE: We are wasting time, treasure and talent. It would be great if business schools would teach entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial students the skills and strategies to become business geniuses, financial geniuses, and organizational geniuses in an emerging trend or industry instead of wasting time and wealth on pitch competitions, incubators, and shark tanks.
This column was first published in Forbes.
Dileep Rao is the author of Finance Secrets of Billion-Dollar Entrepreneurs (FIU Business Press, November 2020) and teaches entrepreneurship, unicorn-entrepreneurship, and venture financing at Florida International University. He is a former venture financier.
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