Businesses operate very differently today. Many of the rules that used to work in traditional ventures and corporations no longer work. It will be critical for those entering the business climate today to think “outside of the box.” This new environment has motivated some of the most successful entrepreneurs to write books – books that go “against the grain” of traditional advice trotted out by MBA’s and financiers.
Here are 8 books by business successes that have written their own new set of rules.
Sohia Amoruso did not have the best start in life. As a teen, she was a thief and dumpster-diver, tooling around by hitchhiking. Her first venture into the business world was selling a stolen book on E-Bay. Eventually, Amoruso had to “give in” and get a real job – and she held several of them.
“What all of these jobs taught me is that you have to be willing to tolerate some shit you don’t like – at least for a while… I didn’t expect to love any of these jobs but I learned a lot because I worked hard and grew to love things about them.”
Ultimately, Amoruso began her business of selling vintage clothing on E-Bay because she saw a demand for that product. She now runs a $100 million dollar company, Nasty Gal. The takeaway from this book is that being successful has nothing to do with being popular or going to a good college. Instead, it is about following your “gut instincts.” Her three rules work for her: “Don’t ever grow up; don’t become a bore; and don’t let ‘The Man’ get to you.”
What is Amoruso’s most important reflection on success? You get success because you are willing to work for it. This book is a fascinating and fun read, but it is full of very practical advice for business sense and success.
Starbucks was already a small successful company when Howard Schultz decided to buy it. In fact, he was already a successful business man selling appliances like coffee makers to companies like Starbucks. However, Schultz had an idea. He not only wanted to “serve a great cup of coffee,” but he also wanted to serve up an experience – an oasis for people to sit, contemplate, meet a friend, hear some jazz music, and (yes) even work on their devices if they so choose.
As Schultz says, he wanted to “build a company with soul.” In terms of management and leadership, his approach is clear. “People want guidance, not rhetoric,” Schultz writes. “They need to know what the plan of action is, and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and authority to act on it.” His approach has obviously worked. Though he has now retired, Starbucks has some 21,000 stores around the world and is worth about $2.9 billion.
Schultz’s story begins in the projects of Brooklyn, but demonstrates the drive that brings success. He was always making plans to “win” and always moving from one goal to the next, from one idea to the next biggest. This book is a great “rags to riches” story, filled with nuggets of wisdom that everyone can use. Furthermore, it is a story
Tony Hsieh is not a “household name,” but Zappos is. It is Hsieh who founded and built this iconic shoe company, now owned by Amazon. Going against the grain of traditional management style, Hsieh decided that building a company around employee happiness would ultimately bring financial success. He was right. From the very beginning, relationships with his workers became the primary focus, following the belief that a team that played together a lot, and workers who were well cared for, would result in a climate in which everyone would “give their all” to make the company a success. Hsieh regularly went out with his employees, took them on vacations, and built a family atmosphere in his work environment. They produced for him. Of his advice to other entrepreneurs in launching a start-up, Hsieh says:
“Stop trying to network in the traditional business sense, and instead just try to build up the number and depth of your friendships, where the friendship itself is its own reward. The more diverse your set of friendships are, the more likely you’ll derive benefits from your friendships later down the road.”
Filled with humorous stories about his childhood and growing up, this is an easy read that flies in the face of the traditional concept of a boss.
4. Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: the Story of Clif Bar & Co. – Gary Erickson
If anyone needs proof that a business can be a success when there is a strong focus on its people, the environment, and community support, then Clif Bar is the perfect case study in taking a different path. Owner Gary Erickson is an outdoors enthusiast, a cyclist, a mountain climber, as well as the power and brains behind his privately held healthy snack-food company. He has built a $100 million in annual sales by keeping his company private and focusing on health, employee welfare, and volunteerism. Indeed, employees have three-day weekends every other week, but they are also given time off from work to volunteer locally.
Moreover, production of the energy and snack bars is fully green. “Companies on the red road list to a lot of noise: the market, shareholders, the board, economic consultants, advisers, and conventional wisdom,” Erickson says, as he states that his is a white road company. “I’ve seen what happens to companies that get bought… they lose the values that were set up.” His advice? Stay private and keep your integrity.
The Union Square Hospitality Group owns a number of eateries in New York – perhaps the most famous being the Union Square Café and the Gramercy Tavern. Though they have brick and mortar businesses, they have a clear handle on a major factor in success for e-commerce businesses too – it’s all about relationships with customers.
If you are selling a product or a service, the way that product or service is delivered is just as important as the item itself. In fact, Meyer says in his book, “Service is the technical delivery of a product; hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes the recipient feel.” This, to Meyer, is the key to success.
While Pencils of Promise is a non-profit organization, it is hugely successful. Certain for-profit businesses can take some lessons from founder and director Adam Braun. No stranger to the business world, Braun worked for Bain Capital after graduating from Brown University. However, he wanted a different life story, created by a different mindset. He started with a $25 check and a new bank account for his company. Six years later, his non-profit grew into an organization that has built 200+ schools around the world.
Braun banked on two business principles that were very new – the rise of social media, and the rise of consumer demand for companies that have a cause. His story is exciting and inspiring, providing valuable lessons for businesses who want to grow in this new environment.
According to author Andrew Yang, talented young people today enter careers in finance, law, medicine, and so forth. They make great money, but they don’t really produce anything. As he says of the misappropriation of talent, “We have too much icing, and too little cake.”
To push his agenda, Yang began Venture for America, a non-profit that provides fellowships to talented kids to attend a “venture start-up” training program. Graduates are then sent out to work in start-ups throughout the country. The goal is to inspire these elite young people to go out into the world, start their own ventures, and build things. To Yang, this is the path for the future of America and, indeed, the country’s own economic survival. The book is a fascinating story about the start-up of Venture for America and provides a model for young people to launch their own start-ups. Furthermore, it is a story of how to stay motivated despite anything.
The CEO of the successful marketing company, ViSalus Sciences, was once a member of a gang in Los Angeles. Ryan Blair claims that his unusual experiences motivated him to start a business at the age of 21, and ultimately become a multimillionaire. Blair is an inspirational individual, and his book is just as inspirational.
“You are stronger than whatever circumstances you’re facing. Remember that with the proper mind-set, potential is the one power you always have, and the mind-set that propelled me forward came from having nothing to lose.”
Blair’s life-story of entrepreneurship is fascinating. For those contemplating such a career, he has some great advice from a bit of a different viewpoint.
One or more of these books will make a great last-minute Christmas gift for anyone you now who is contemplating a business venture. The stories are incredible, the lessons are very practical, and the advice is invaluable.
Featured photo credit: Daniels College of Business via flickr.com