I have never dreamt of being the next Steve Jobs… or Bill Gates… or Mark Zuckerberg. My childhood goals never centered around starting my own company, and I never planned on pursuing that career path. I never thought that I would build a company as powerful as each of theirs.
I have come to realize, however, that ideas are powerful – and big, world-changing businesses are bred from good ideas. When Zuckerberg was starting out, he didn’t plan on creating one of the world’s most successful social media platforms. Facebook started as a simple solution to a simple problem – making a school directory more accessible to students. Apple started in Jobs’ parents’ garage. Gates started Microsoft solely for early personal computers. They all were simple solutions to personal problems, and they all went on to be revolutionary. So, if they can have ideas that turn into big ideas, why can’t I?
After listening to the Masters of Scale podcast interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, I realized that success can come from anywhere. Blakely realized that there were no good products for women to wear under form-fitting clothes – and she came to this realization while trying to find something to wear under one of her outfits. She solved the solution for herself by cutting off the feet of her nylons. She realized that other women must, undoubtedly, be running into the same, frustrating situation. Cue the founding of Spanx.
There is no denying that Spanx has changed how women dress. Blakely seized an opportunity that any woman, with enough passion, could have just as easily taken advantage of. Women all over were cutting the feet off their pantyhose, just like Blakely – but it was Blakely who was smart enough to market a reliable solution.
Starting a start-up isn’t about being a super genius, or even having a monumental idea. Starting a start-up is about being passionate, and allowing your ideas to grow into innovations. I have come to understand that, above all, being an entrepreneur takes more than just hope and a good idea – it takes guts and grit. Entrepreneurs lay everything on the line to bring their businesses to life, and the most successful ones are those who do this for a company that truly reflects the needs of the market.
Paul Graham, in “How to Get Startup Ideas,” wrote extensively about how he pushed and pushed for his company, which moved art galleries online, to work. But no matter how hard he tried to force his business on the market, the fit just wasn’t right. It was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Graham acknowledges that, from the start, the market was giving him plenty of signs that failure was imminent. His passion, however, drove him to keep fighting for its success. Despite his best efforts, the company didn’t make it – and Graham has since learned from this experience, allowing it to fuel each move he has made since then.
He ties this failure back to its origin – he was looking for a startup company, not a solution to a problem. Graham explains that the best way for a startup to work is that the product must be something that at least a few people are in desperate need of. This is what really hit me. It isn’t about coming up with the solution to a problem that plagues millions, but rather a problem that seriously impairs of a few. From there, the idea can expand to meet the needs of millions – but it is having an unforgettable impact on those first few that really is important.
In going into the media industry, I have to remember that change is necessary for growth. For so long, we have been creatures of habit. We have woken up to drink coffee and read the newspaper at our kitchen table. That evolved to reading the newspaper on our computer while our local news played quietly on a TV in the background. And that has evolved to reacting to alerts from our news apps while we listen to NPR podcasts in our headphones.
The industry has changed in terms of how we want to consume news – but news, in itself, has remained consistent. People rely on media to remain in the know on local and national topics. What is next in terms of media demands, I’m not so sure. But I do know that there is another wave of change heading full force at the industry.
One of the most important things that I have taken away from listening to Blakely talk about founding Spanx, and Joe Gebbia talk about founding Airbnb, is the importance of being realistic without being held back. For both founders, the pressure to give up and abandon the idea was looming. However, both groups knew that the products they had to offer had the serious potential to thrive. Guts, grit, and guidance – three g’s that truly define the most important aspects of their journeys. They sought input from the right sources, powered through in tough times, and had the courage to see their dream materialize no matter the odds.
I believe I have tenacity like theirs. Armed with the right idea, I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t start the next great startup. So I will take a page from their books, and look for a space in which I can truly think (a place where my mind will know no limits). I will evaluate the problems I face in my everyday life, and look to myself for a solution, rather than to others. And then, like Clayton M. Christensen discusses in this NeimanReports article, I will allow my idea to be disruptive. Maybe it will be my square peg that I will try to force into a round hole. Or maybe, just maybe, it will be the perfect fit. I’ll never know until I try (and try, and try again). All I have to do is start.