Starting out as an entrepreneur can be a daunting prospect. 50% of all startups fail to survive the exceedingly tricky first year of business. For those who do make it, many still struggle just to keep the lights on in the office.

The most impactful lessons that people learn are often earned through momentous failure. This article highlights hard-earned advice from entrepreneurial icons that has gotten them to where they are today.

These successful business people have scaled the heights and returned to impart advice that is worth its weight in gold. Perhaps, through following in their hallowed footsteps, some good fortune may rub off on us too. 

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Elon Musk

From humble beginnings on the African continent, Elon Musk has risen to become arguably the most successful entrepreneur of our times.

He has revolutionized motor travel with the first ever electric car company Tesla. Not only has he created an electric automobile, he has made it a status symbol to drive one, while SpaceX has consistently broken records in private space travel.

This has made Musk just one of two people ever to found a $3 billion dollar company. What better person to listen to than this eccentric inventor? His priceless guidance is to ‘embrace failure and seek criticism’.

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It may seem counterintuitive but tough criticism makes us better. The aim should always be to ‘be less wrong’. Brutal honesty is invaluable in close friends and employees. According to Musk, ‘Yes men’ and sycophants should be avoided at all costs.

As Musk puts it “you can’t solve problems with the same thinking that caused them”. Therefore, his time at Tesla has been punctuated by tough but productive conversations. Musk explains that “when I spoke with someone about the Tesla Model S, I didn’t really want to know what was right about the car. I want to know what’s wrong about the car”.

Warren Buffett

Nicknamed the ‘oracle of Omaha’, Warren Buffett was a millionaire by age 32. His golden touch when it came to stocks has made him a legend worldwide. However, there is more to Buffett than savvy investment, he is also willing to impart invaluable nuggets of advice.

Buffett espouses the significant virtue of ‘building relationships and and treating people well’ when starting a new venture. The 88 year-old billionaire claims that “you can’t replace the relationships you build and the way you treat people with business knowledge”.

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Business is more about relationships, than it is about figures. Multi-billion dollar deals are based on trust.

Buffett values patience when dealing with subordinates. He believes that actions like showing leniency convey that you believe in your staff. When staff feel trusted, they innovate.

Life-long relationships also survive because they are mutually beneficial. To build a positive relationship, Buffett encourages people to give, without worry about receiving. A true relationship thrives when this first step is made in good faith.

Steve Jobs

It is difficult sometimes to differentiate between myth and reality when dealing with Jobs’ legacy. Such is the legend that has grown around this iconic innovator and CEO. Steve Jobs is the man behind Apple and the award-winning Pixar animation studios.

Yet, he is perhaps best known as the genius who revolutionized hand-held computing with the release of the iphone. Not surprisingly, Jobs advises the next generation of entrepreneurs to think outside the box and ‘never follow the crowd’.

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In a passionate graduation speech, the Apple CEO states that “your time is limited. So, don’t waste your time living someone else’s life”. These students were implored to forge their own destiny and break with the status quo.

Steve Jobs would not be a messianic symbol of creativity in popular culture if not for this brave compulsion to follow his own destined path. As Jobs eloquently notes “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are usually the ones who do”.

Bill Gates

From his garage, Bill Gates ushered in a new era in personal computing, changing the world irrevocably since the early 90’s. Not only is Gates the principal founder of Microsoft, the billionaire is also a renowned philanthropist and humanitarian.

His advice to young innovators is profoundly hopeful. Gates urges people to “trust that the world is getting better and can be improved further”. In the context of a few hundred years, the world is far better off now than it has ever been.

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Optimism can fuel innovation and lead to new tools being created that decrease global inequality. If we believe there is a solution, it opens doors to the answer. However, Gates makes a caveat, clarifying that “it doesn’t mean that you ignore the serious problems we face. It just means you believe they can be solved”.

For Gates, technology holds the key to eliminating poverty and treatable disease from third world countries. With expectant hope, he proclaims that “we can finally take on these inequities and solve them”.

Jeff Bezos

Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, inhabits the enviable position of being the ‘richest person in the world’. The late 90’s saw Bezos start an online book-store right at the beginning of the dot-com boom. This wave of good fortune has taken him right to the top of Silicon Valley, with a net worth of $131 billion.

Bezos lives by the advice: “be proud of your choices, not your talent”. The entrepreneurial tycoon does not celebrate innate aptitude, it is instead what you do with it that counts. For Bezos, hard work is the choice you make, this is what should be honored at the end of the day.

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This billionaire urges youngsters to pursue their passion, therefore making it easier to work hard. As Bezos puts it “you’ll get to work with like-minded people and you’re going to energize the room”.

To find this passionate pursuit, Bezos says trust your gut: “your most important decisions are always made with instinct and intuition”. Endless motivation comes from following your passion. This is the principle that has made Bezos the wealthiest man on the planet.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson is not your average billionaire. The British magnate struggled through his native education system as he was dyslexic. Without a diagnosis, Branson endured fierce bullying and languished in the lower classes.

This gave Branson the encouragement to leave school at 16 and start Virgin records. As they say, the rest is history. Branson now runs over 400 companies with a combined revenue of $20 billion.

When interviewed, the advice Branson always gives is “never look back in regret”. Feeling sorry for yourself is simply lost time, lamenting the past does nothing to serve your future.

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If falling into negative rumination, Branson advises taking a long walk or getting other physical exercise. The body follows the mind and changing the physical circumstance will break a negative thought pattern.

Thanks to advice like this, Sir Richard Branson has recently had the distinguished honor of being knighted for ‘service to entrepreneurship’ in his native United Kingdom.

The right approach

This article includes guidance from many CEO’s across various industries. However, the one thing that they all have in common is that they have experienced the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Success has not been a straight line for any one of them.

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These business leaders have faced tremendous adversity and emerged out the other side, clutching pearls of wisdom. This advice can act as a catalyst to progress your own entrepreneurial goals and aid you in avoiding the same pitfalls.

Nevertheless, it is up to you to get out there and make things happen. All the advice in the world is no replacement for lived experience. Fail fast and fail early, then learn from it. Only then can you stand shoulder to shoulder with these giants of industry and act as the inspiration for others who were once in your same shoes.