10 Winning Entrepreneur Insights That May Surprise You

Every aspiring entrepreneur would love to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, but most have no idea what really sets these guys apart from all the rest. Conventional wisdom has them looking for a painful problem, a very large opportunity, and minimal competitive barriers to entry. In reality, most great entrepreneurs find these necessary, but not sufficient for the big win.

They think outside the box, with a sometimes surprising set of strategies, as outlined in a new book, “Think Bigger,” by Michael Sonnenfeldt. He has collected in-the-trenches intelligence and lessons from his TIGER 21 group of over 500 entrepreneurs and executives around the world. Each has amassed $10 million or more in personal assets, and is willing to share their insights with others.

Sonnenfeldt presents a rich array of strategies in his forty lessons from the trenches, including the following paraphrased insights that I find often overlooked or even rejected, based on my years of experience mentoring entrepreneurs:

  1. Experience at a first-rate company is really valuable. Good big companies provide the training, mentoring, and experience managing teams that entrepreneurs need, but can’t afford. In addition, you can learn much about business principles, and your own capabilities, from being surrounded by many intense, ambitious, and super-smart peers.
  2. Entrepreneurship is rarely about just making money. The best entrepreneurs are committed to fixing a problem, or advancing a purpose, and making money is only used as a validation of their insight. Any money made is typically poured back into the cause, rather than relished for a high-class lifestyle or extravagances by the entrepreneur.
  3. Self-control beats passion for long term satisfaction. Passion often leads to a need for instant gratification. Most successful entrepreneurs either learn or are born with the capacity to delay gratification for critical periods in their lives. Even after success, they use self-control to continue to live modestly, and plow their profits back into business.
  4. Think twice before investing with friends and family. Some are so self-centered that they see family and friends as an easy source of capital. Smarter entrepreneurs know that nothing can bring more embarrassment, resentment, and peril to relationships with people you love and respect than losing their money. Don’t jeopardize key relationships.
  5. You are never to smart or too old for a mentor. In case you think mentors are only for “wimps,” you should know that Bill Gates always revered the guidance he received from Warren Buffet on many corporate matters. Most successful business people, whether retired or still active, love to share the wisdom they gained from their own experience.
  6. Entrepreneurial skills can limit investing success. Entrepreneurs and investors are different kinds of people, inside and out. Smart investors diversify their exposure across multiple assets; if any one of these fails, they are still in the game. A true entrepreneur makes one big bet on a new and untested asset, normally against conventional wisdom.
  7. Apply business skills to solve social problems. Social entrepreneurship is on the rise, with the advent of Millennials and a total world view. Companies that pursue socially relevant goals as part of their mission have the potential to generate double-bottom-line results – a financial return as well as a social benefit. One plus one can now equal three.
  8. Skip conservative – be optimistic, even delusional.  The best entrepreneurs just believe they can make it happen – even though conventional logic would peg the risk as being off the charts. Professional investors dismiss founders who give “conservative” financial projections, and usually make less. Shoot for the moon – you may hit it.
  9. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Too many entrepreneurs have a tendency to overrate their personal skills and wisdom, and seek out people who won’t challenge them. The smartest ones acknowledge their weaknesses, and find people who complement their skills, from whom they can learn and delegate authority.
  10. Resilience and determination generally beat IQ. We all know of successful businesses started by entrepreneurs who dropped out of school, while MBAs get no premium with investors. According to most experts, “street smarts” (experience) trump “book smarts” (intelligence) every time, especially if accompanied with a large dose of grit.

Whether you are already a seasoned entrepreneur, or just starting out, I recommend that you regularly strive to think bigger and outside the box, starting with the lessons from others who have been there and done that, and emerged successfully. We need you then to contribute to the next set of winning strategies for the next generation of entrepreneurs.


Amazon Alexa Already Winning Virtual Assistant Showdown

Amazon’s Alexa, the personal in-home assistant, has been ranked as the best digital virtual assistant of 2016 by both industry experts and sales.

Amazon’s Alexa, the personal in-home assistant launched with the Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Echo, completely obliterated its competition in the smart home market last year, and is poised to make an even bigger impact in 2017.

Alexa Ranked Best Digital Virtual Assistant of 2016

Sitting atop CNET’s list for the best smart home devices for 2016 was Amazon’s Echo, edging out competitors like Nest, Phillips, and other top producers. Alexa even took home the top-spot at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, leading major tech website Wired to run the headline: “Alexa Just Conquered CES. The World Is Next.” Alexa’s praise isn’t solely relegated to techies and those within the industry, companies like Ford and LG unveiled new products with Alexa integration last year.

While the market for smart home devices are still comparatively smaller than the one for smartphones, Amazon has quickly asserted itself as the dominant player. Google, Microsoft, and Apple are coming out with their own voice-activated speaker technologies, but Amazon remains the company to beat.

Experts say that Amazon was able to maneuver itself into the top spot by not overselling its Alexa, as Apple repeatedly did with Siri, Business Insider reports. Instead of selling the Echo as a device that was more than just a speaker, Amazon marketed the Echo as a speaker with a few smart voice commands built in. Overtime, as Siri let consumers down and positive press spread about Amazon’s alternative, the online retailer carefully added new sets of capabilities to Alexa. Today, Alexa boasts thousands of commands that allow it to: order its owner an Uber, order products from Amazon.com, or even read the day’s news.

Amazon’s Echo is the now the central device in the market for smart home technology. It has the capacity to interact with nearly every aspect of a user’s home, including: lights, thermostats, and door locks.

The central part of Echo that helps to make Amazon more successful is that it is built to make it easier for the consumer to give more of their money to Amazon. From playing music to making a purchase, the device defaults to Amazon.com. Essentially, the interface always insures that the user is connecting with Amazon, especially when spending money.

Looking at Amazon’s holiday sales of its smart home devices, it is easy to see that consumers are jiving with Amazon’s Alexa.

The company had its best holiday sales season this past Christmas. The firm said it outpaced sales goals for its flagship Amazon Echo family this December, with sales up over nine times what they were compared to last year’s holiday season.  The online vendor sold millions of Alexa devices worldwide. Amazon Fire TV Stick and Fire tablet were also top-sellers this year.

Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year, and we’re thrilled that millions of new customers will be introduced to Alexa as a result,” CEO Worldwide Consumer, Amazon, Jeff Wilke said in a Tuesday press release. “We couldn’t have made this holiday season possible for customers without the dedication and hard work of our customer service, transportation, and fulfillment associates along with our carrier partners.”

The online vendor was so successful in selling its Amazon Echo this holiday season, that it had to halt shipping of the product because it ran out of inventory.

As sales of Alexa devices are on the rise, the clock is ticking for Amazon’s competitors to find a viable option to compete.

Amazon Alexa Photo via Shutterstock

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Serious academic research and high teaching quality is our winning proposition: Ilian Mihov

Ilian Mihov.

Ilian Mihov.

New Delhi: In January, when the Financial Times released its annual Global MBA Rankings, a business school with a one-year MBA programme made it to the top of the list. INSEAD, with campuses in Fontainebleau (near Paris), Singapore and Abu Dhabi topped the 2016 rankings, dislodging the previous year’s leader Harvard Business School. In a phone interview, INSEAD dean Ilian Mihov talks about the school’s journey to the top, a global approach to business studies and more. Edited excerpts:

INSEAD was ranked the #1 business school by the ‘Financial Times’ in its 2016 rankings. What is it about your one-year programme that got you there?

We believe that the rankings are an important statement that our one-year MBA programme can create value for students. It’s a strong and important statement. Our programme, which runs for one year, covers around 80-85% of what the two-year programmes cover elsewhere. It is very intensive. We are happy that in the last 56 years, our focus has been not only on academic rigour, but also on quality research. Also, our one-year programme is not a short-cut for getting a degree. It is very important to know that our students work very, very hard during the time they spend at INSEAD. We teach everything they learn in other elite business schools. Yes, we are extremely happy with the outcome, especially when we place students.

Is being a multi-campus business school an advantage for INSEAD?

We look at our approach as a multi-campus business school as a way of delivering quality global business education, as opposed to local. We have an intake of over 1,000 MBA students each year, divided between our Europe and Asia campuses. Right now, we have three campuses – Europe campus in Fontainebleau (near Paris), Asia Campus in Singapore, and Middle East campus in Abu Dhabi. This year, in Abu Dhabi, we launched a residential MBA module in January and February, which our students liked a lot, so we might continue.

Logistically, how does this work out?

It is not easy logistically. At the time of admission, we ask our students to indicate their preferred starting campus (or where they would start their programme from). Our programme is divided into five eight-week (or two-month) periods, where they stay in the starting campus for the first two periods. From the third period onwards, we offer the students the choice to move campuses (say, from Fontainebleau to Singapore and vice versa) and study four months, or the remaining three periods in the exchange campus. It is their choice. While it may be logistically difficult for us, we believe that it creates a lot of value for our students by giving them experiences in different locations in the world. In addition, we also offer exchanges with Wharton School (at the University of Pennsylvania) and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The exchanges typically take place for one period.

Do rankings like these typically matter?

We look at rankings as a good feedback mechanism and look for noisy signals. We also believe that it provides good value to the students, especially in terms of career placements. For example, if someone graduates from INSEAD, they can expect placements in organisations like McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group, which hire more students from INSEAD than any other schools. As per a survey, we have the highest percentage of MBA alumni on LinkedIn at top MBA employers. INSEAD has the highest proportion of graduates/alumni at the world’s top 20 most attractive employers (based on a survey conducted in 2015 with data from Universum and LinkedIn). We have placed our students all over the world (56+ countries) and this includes emerging markets like Vietnam and Indonesia. To go back to your question, yes, ratings do matter for us since they reflect some of these trends.

What are the key focus areas for INSEAD going forward?

We have two to three key things that we have identified as our priorities. First, curriculum review, something we do because we want to ensure that we are delivering the best possible management course throughout all programmes. We don’t want to be complacent. We are focusing on personal leadership development programmes, where we try and help them throughout their journeys, both for the present and the future, essentially prepare them to develop their careers. Career progression for us is as important as content of the courses and the programmes we teach in the classroom. Second, we have the deepest and the widest alumni network of all B-schools. We want to connect this network to the school, because we believe that as alumni, the learnings are lifelong. The students, we think, can benefit from this contact, and the faculty in turn can benefit from executive experience. We believe that as a community, we can create even more knowledge than what we know at INSEAD. Thirdly, we want to offer our students good value for money. According to Forbes, our alumni from 2010 realized a five-year gain of $171,200, which was twice that of Stanford Business Graduate School, whose alumni in comparison had a five-year gain of $89,100.

ILIAN MIHOV, 50Mihov is the dean of INSEAD. He is also a professor of economics and the Rausing Chaired Professor of Economic and Business Transformation at INSEAD. He has a PhD from Princeton University and a BSc in business administration from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

As a global business school, how important is diversity for INSEAD?

We are a diverse business school, and diversity is extremely important for us. With around 80 nationalities in our campuses, there is no dominant culture. The highest percentage of students from any country is 10-12%. In our campus, every country is a minority, which is extremely humbling to know.

What do you think of Indian B-schools?

Indian business schools are excellent, doing great. We have, in fact, tied up with the Indian School of Business for a joint PhD programme. I think Indian B-schools have a high level of research and are constantly developing their research environment, which is very important in any business school’s success, along with high-quality teaching. Having said that, our market is essentially people with a global mindset and global perspectives.

How is INSEAD innovating its courses to keep up with the times? Is it a high-priority area for the school?

We are constantly innovating at the product level. One of it is our customized online programme, which involves high-quality video lectures from the school’s thought leaders. We signed Microsoft as our first client. Our course content is highly customized for every client, with a mix of theory and practice. It is almost like we are delivering content to 1,000 people at a time. The course, I would say, is high-quality, with a high completion rate. We had 85% of the people who took the course complete it, which is extremely high for online courses. I think our next campus is digital, and it is one of our key area of innovation as we go along.

What next for INSEAD?

I think the competition (with regard to business schools) is very tough. But we are very confident about INSEAD because our programmes, I repeat, are based on serious academic research and high teaching quality, which I believe is our winning proposition. Equally, we have a supportive alumni community which is dedicated to INSEAD. The school changed their lives. If you ask them, it was the best year of their lives. We are sensitive to the market and we react accordingly. It helps us in being very nimble.