Ever pondered sticking it to the man and striking out on your own? Becoming an entrepreneur can seem daunting, but the expert advice in the new book, Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business With Impact, will empower you to pursue your passion and be successful.
Jocelyn K. Glei, editor-in-chief and director of 99U, has assembled an incredible collection of essays from 21 leading entrepreneurs who share their advice on how to launch a purpose-driven business while delighting your customers and inspiring your team. Find out how start-ups like Dropbox, Uber and Airbnb went from small ideas to multi-billion dollar companies and learn from creative visionaries like Sebastian Thrun (Google X), Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly Media), and Julie Zhuo (Facebook) and many more.
Meantime, we know you’re a busy fella, so here are the highlights. They’re a meat sandwich of new-age know-how that’ll serve you well when you’re out there chasing the dream…
“A successful product is not just what it looks like or even what it can do, but what kind of experience it enables.” —Julie Zhou, Facebook
1. Define your purpose.
Think about what matters to you and be purpose-driven. The key to building an incredible business is finding the perfect alignment between your specific talents and expertise and what the world needs. Keith Yamashita, founder of SY, helps people aspire to greatness and has worked with the CEOs of Nike, Apple, IBM and many others. “Once defined, purpose informs a company’s every move,” says Yamashita. In his essay, he describes how everyday people can achieve extraordinary things. The process begins with some introspection in finding the purpose that will compel you to act, putting that purpose into action and making work that matters. Embrace purpose—it gives you an edge.
2. Ask the hard questions.
“Asking questions will help guide the choices you make and develop a clear sense of mission and purpose,” according to Warren Berger, who asks seven great ones in his essay. You don’t need all the answers, but asking the questions will help keep you focused on the “why” of your business. Emily Heyward, founding partner of Red Antler, advises companies to address the needs of their audience and ask themselves, “Is it something the world really needs? What problem am I solving? What do people care about?” Then you can begin to understand how your product fits into the equation. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs are those who saw something that was broken and fixed it.
3. Let your business model unfold.
Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent, advises global brands like GE, American Express, and Ford Motor Company on how to become more responsive in an ever-changing world. He’s found that the fastest-growing, most impactful organizations exhibit a new way of working, which he’s coined Responsive OS. “These companies are lean, mean learning machines… and share a handful of common values that will define the next age of business, while they’re legacy competitors have a set of values that are limiting their ability to survive and thrive,” offers Dignan. These responsive companies embrace a purpose greater than just profit, are more comfortable with uncertainty and trust their intuition.
4. Strive for “invisible design.”
Simplify and streamline your product design. In her essay “Designing Your Product to Work Like Magic,” Facebook’s Julie Zhuo endorses three simple principles: 1. Don’t limit the shape too early; 2. Reduce the number of steps required; and 3. Look for opportunities to lean on familiar patterns. “The future of design is less and less about discrete objects and more and more about continuous experiences,” says Zhuo. “A successful product is not just what it looks like or even what it can do, but what kind of experience it enables.”
5. Stress the experience.
Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance, also makes a case for creating great user experiences, not just great products. Users flock to simple products and if those products evolve into something more complicated, they will move on to the next simple product. When building your product or service, he advocates a two-track approach: 1. Have an effective hook to immediately grab new users’ attention; and 2. Build a deeper, meaningful experience for return customers. “Never forget that creating a product is creating an experience,” he cautions.
6. Tell the truth.
Implement a radical transparency policy. Buffer founder Joel Gascoigne observes that transparency breeds trust in employees and customers and is an essential tool for innovation and collaboration. Openness attracts loyalty. “When you start sharing the details of your business and decision processes, you make yourself more human,” says Gascoigne.
7. Recruit an army of allies.
Chris Guillebeau, author of The Happiness of Pursuit, advises start-ups to focus on recruiting and serving others. “The most important thing you can do to gain allies and attention is to produce good work,” he explains. “Take a stand—do something that matters!” Then think about what you can do for people rather than what they can do for you. Establish loyalty over time by sharing content and expertise for free, sending extras in customer’s orders and being helpful whenever you can. These small acts of generosity help to create an emotional connection with your brand.
8. Listen to your customers.
“Building a sustainable business starts with making respect for your customers a sacred value,” says Sean Blanda, managing editor of 99U. In his essay he shares how Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos chose to focus on listening to and pleasing customers before growth, along with making investment decisions for the long-term, rather than for short-term profitability. Eventually, Amazon had rapid growth, thanks in part to getting the customer experience right from the start. “Nothing is more rewarding than launching a new product or service you believe in and then asking your customers to help make it better,” observes Blanda. “Listen to your customers, no matter how much it slows you down.”
9. Share your story.
Great stories inspire us and change the way we think. Craig Dalton, co-founder of DODOcase, recommends inviting your customers into your story. They will listen, give feedback and even spread the word. He suggests how to tap into your audiences’ aspirations, think about how your product is going to change their lives and share more of the process behind the product with your customers. It all starts with a conversation. “If you want to engage an audience, you have to make them a part of the ever-evolving conversation about your brand,” he says.
10. Inspire greatness.
The last chapter of Make Your Mark focuses on leadership. Great leaders don’t just tell people what to do; they help everyone around them do their job better. That itself involves clarity, communication and charisma. As William Allen, Senior Director of Behance, notes, “If your business’s strategy and goals aren’t communicated clearly, you will waste the most precious resource you have: time.”
11. Go for it… today.
The book’s parting message is a call to action by marketing guru and best-selling author Seth Godin, encouraging entrepreneurs to go forth sooner rather than later. “Preparation isn’t the same as ready,” he says. “Ready is an emotional choice, the decision to put something into the world and expose ourselves… if you wait until you are ready, it is almost certainly too late.” In other words: Life is short, act now. Be fierce and change the world. Or at least make and sell some cool crap.