A-ha moment, breakthrough, pivot: whatever you want to call it, many entrepreneurs can point to an event or realization that shaped their business for the better. Some persevere for years before making it big. In celebration of their strength and tenacity, here are the moments where eight successful entrepreneurs called upon their skills and powerful mindset to shape their journeys (and how you can do it, too):
CEO & Co-founder, aden + anais
“The “aha!” moment was right before I had Anais, my first daughter, I went looking for muslin blankets, which you can get anywhere in Australia, and was astonished when I found that no one here had even heard of muslin. In Australia, every parent uses about 10 a day… It was at that point that I realized that every Australian can’t have this wrong, and that if I introduced them to American parents, they would love them too.”
It’s Moya-Jones’ ability to take one small data point and extrapolate that into big-picture thinking that allowed her to build a company capable of hitting $1 million in sales after just three years of operating. Want to improve your big-picture thinking skills? Here’s how.
Carolyn and Bob Harrington
Co-founders, Maty’s Healthy Products
The husband and wife team produced a non-medicated cough syrup for children. After testing the product, they decided to take the plunge and debuted it at the Natural Products Expo West show – one of the biggest natural food and health shows in the US. They spent $3000 to get them there, and by the end of the event had signed up 3000 outlets, leading to $600,000 in revenue in their first year. Incredible.
While many people with great ideas and products sit on them for too long, the Harringtons’ decision to take the plunge was particularly well-timed, as the US Food and Drugs Administration had warned against medicated cough syrup for children under the age of two. But regardless of the zeitgeist, they were motivated to get the ball rolling and it paid off. Remember: perfect is the enemy of good.
Founder, Brooklyn Bicycle Co.
“For two and a half years, the company had no mission. Then one day it happened. A fellow entrepreneur asked why I had started a business. My answer: I had become disenchanted with my previous sales job.
“Not good enough,” he pressed. “You said you moved to Brooklyn and you wanted a bicycle—WHY did you want a bicycle?” And as I racked my brain to answer his question, the entire mission came into focus. We reconnect people with their communities. Bicycles are how we go about it.”
Our research shows that people with a preference for affective communication – that is, emotive language that communicates about feelings instead of just about facts – are more likely to succeed as an entrepreneur, particularly as a business matures.
You may not have realized, but photo-sharing giant Flickr started life as an online game. Co-founder Caterina Fake knew she was onto something when one of the engineers showed her a tool to share photos and save them to a web page while playing.
Within two years, having ditched the game and focused everything on the photo-sharing, Flickr was born. "Had we sat down and said, 'Let's start a photo application,' we would have failed," Fake says. "We would have done all this research and done all the wrong things."
What Fake is articulating here is the difference between a methodical approach – doing research while trying to make a photo app – and trusting your gut. It turns out that successful entrepreneurs are 34% more willing to go with their gut than the average employee.
Sir James Dyson
The classic a ‘mad scientist’ inventor, Dyson took 15 years, his life savings and 5,126 prototypes before finally developing a successful bagless vacuum cleaner.
“Failure is interesting — it’s part of making progress. You never learn from success, but you do learn from failure… I started out with a simple idea, and by the end, it got more audacious and interesting. I got to a place I never could have imagined because I learned what worked and didn’t work.”
According to our findings, having a focus on what’s different and revolutionary correlates positively with the number of initial investors a venture might receive.
CEO, The Green Group
“My breakthrough moment occurred when I realized that I do not know everything. I have always said, “Learn to listen and listen to learn”. I reflect a lot on what I don’t know and have learned to listen, especially from young people and technology, in order to learn.”
Although many entrepreneurs do well by focusing on their own gut and trusting their internal compass, Anderson highlights the need for entrepreneurs to take advice from others later in their entrepreneurial journey as the business matures – which we have found is linked with successful mature-stage businesses.
Founder & CEO, ConstructaQuote and Owner, SunZu
Despite struggling to find work as a teen, and finally finding a knack for sales, Wood realized that instead of working for half a commission as an agent, he should go it alone.
“Everybody around me was advising me not to do it. They had seen me in and out of jobs like a yo-yo,” says Wood. “My father, stepmother – nobody wanted me to start up a business and I didn’t have a massive group of friends. The general reaction was ‘don’t do it’, but I never really listened to that sort of advice.”
Today, he owns several multi-million dollar businesses.
Since successful entrepreneurs tend to focus less on things like getting the opinions of others, and also are more interested in money and power, Wood’s path to success is typical of the attitudes of successful entrepreneurs.
Founder and Chair, The Luxury Marketing Council
“My breakthrough moment came when I became a parent and learned how to listen more carefully and to become more flexible and patient. My first company started when my three-year-old daughter and I conceived of a new toy product at our dining room table.”
Perhaps a less typical breakthrough moment – considering that most entrepreneurs focus on their customers – Minckler’s story shows that reflection and patience (linked with early-stage investment in the businesses of successful entrepreneurs) is a valuable asset.