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Entrepreneur Horror Stories and the Lessons They Learned

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The TALE Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg described his own executive mistakes when negotiating a potential acquisition: “The only reason why it’s this big story that everyone knows, that we turned down a lot of money, is frankly because I messed up the process. If you don’t want to sell your company, don’t get into a process where you’re talking to people about selling your company. Honestly, I think that was one of the biggest management mistakes that I made in Facebook’s history.”


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The LESSON “It’s not clear to me that the answer is you should turn down offers. In our case it was, not because the company became more valuable, but because it was what we wanted to do. If you start a company, and you own and control the company, then you should take the company in the direction that you think it should go in.”


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The TALE Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985 and has described it as a traumatizing, yet defining, moment of his life: “I was lucky – I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz [Steve Wozniak] and I started Apple in my parents' garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2bn company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling-out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.”


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The LESSON “Something slowly began to dawn on me – I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”


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The TALE In 2012, LinkedIn made a big splash in the professional presentation sharing space by acquiring Slideshare. For cofounder Rashmi Sinha, it could have spelled the end of her tenure at the company she had spent years building into a successful platform. It would have been easy to walk away or get sucked into internal power politics within the organization postacquisition: “Many founders...face a very turbulent time after acquisition.”


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The LESSON “As a founder, the thing I wanted the most was to build something that lasted. I am proud of the team we built – and how it continues to go from strength to strength from a product / growth perspective, while adapting within LinkedIn. I enjoyed my time at LinkedIn, after the acquisition. I made good friends and learnt a lot about how bigger companies work.”


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The TALE After conjuring the idea for Spanx in the late 90s, Sara Blakely avoided the typical entrepreneurial route of telling her inner circle about it: “I kept my crazy idea from my friends and family for a year.” For Sara, her biggest champions and supporters were potentially her biggest liabilities in the pursuit of her passions.


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The LESSON “Ideas are the most vulnerable in their infancy. Family and friends often express concern or doubts (out of love) that can stop people dead in their tracks. Share once you’ve invested enough of yourself in it, to the point when you know there is no turning back. If you share too soon, ego has to get involved and you will spend more time explaining and defending your idea rather than pursuing it. But definitely tell the people that can help move your idea forward.”


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The TALE Taking on your biggest competitors, who have the weight of brand recognition and success in their favor, is never an easy task. That was the situation Sir Richard Branson found himself in when he started his own airline in 1984: “When we started with Virgin Atlantic, we had one second-hand 747. We were up against about 16 different airlines, all of whom had more than 100 planes each.”


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The LESSON “What I’ve learned is you can go into industries which are much bigger than you if you get the quality right and you get the right people, you can achieve miracles. The only way that a carrier like Virgin America can survive and thrive is to make sure we continue to make every single little detail better than our competitors.”


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SOURCES Startup School (Y Combinator) 2011: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWKUoabjjxg Stanford Commencement Address, June 2005: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/oct/09/steve-jobs-stanfordcommencement-address http://rashmisinha.com/2015/01/23/end-of-an-era/#more-465 http://mariashriver.com/blog/2012/04/sara-blakely-founder-and-owner-spanx/ http://venturebeat.com/2013/08/09/screw-it-just-do-it-advice-from-sir-richard-branson-for-entrepreneurs/ Images: qoppi / Frederic Legrand – COMEO (Shutterstock.com) SGM / Featureflash (Shutterstock.com) Peterfz30 / Prometheus72 (Shutterstock.com)


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