11 Laws of Entrepreneurship from History’s Greatest Leaders

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by Timothy Ronaldson

Updated

If you want to learn how to become a successful entrepreneur, you can follow some of the laws of entrepreneurship that history’s greatest leaders created.

Following the habits of successful people is one of the best ways you can learn how to become a successful business owner yourself.

By studying what others have done that’s worked in the past, and the precedents they set, you too can become a successful entrepreneur.

Here are 11 laws of entrepreneurship you can learn.

1. Invest in R&D

research

Research and development, or R&D, is a common business practice nowadays, but it wasn’t always this way. Thomas Edison first created the standard of investing in R&D in the late 1880s.

In the world’s first industrial research lab, Edison and a team of innovators and scientists created some of the greatest inventions of all-time — among them the light bulb, electricity for homes, movies, car batteries and music players.

From an early age, Edison had an entrepreneurial mindset. He traveled the country when he was 15 years old working at times as a telegraph operating during the Civil War.

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Eventually, he created and obtained 150 improvements to the telegraph machine, and selling those patents to large companies.

Innovation was always a creative process, but not until Edison came along did it become a scientific experimentation as well.

Edison’s approach to innovation is perhaps his biggest contribution to entrepreneurship, even if he’s mostly known for electricity and the light bulb by most people.

These days this is arguably one of the laws of money as well, in that investing in you and your future is vital to success.

Entrepreneurs can learn from Edison’s focus on R&D that they need to constantly be thinking of ideas, and testing them against known quantities before launching them for the public.

Trends on the Rise

The United States continues to lead the way in global R&D, and private businesses are responsible for much of that. As of 2017, in fact, R&D reached a total of $548 billion, with businesses responsible for 73% of that. The lesson here is that investing in R&D isn’t just a good idea anymore, it’s a necessity.

2. Don’t Let Age Stand in Your Way

Business success isn’t determined by one’s age; it’s determined by how hard one works. If you want to learn how to become a successful entrepreneur, this is a great lesson you can learn from one of the greatest women entrepreneurs of all time — Eliza Lucas Pinkney.

At the age of 14, Pinkney ran her family’s three plantations. But, it wasn’t the fact that she was the head of large plantations in South Carolina that resulted in her being on this list. It’s the fact that she never gave up and never let her age stand in her way.

Pinkney’s greatest contribution to society was in introducing a new dye color to North America — blue indigo. Before Pinkney became an entrepreneur, indigo was a very expensive crop to grow.

Through hard work, determination and experimentation, Pinkney made it affordable to grow. This resulted in it becoming a huge cash crop for America in the mid-1700s, which was vital to the country’s prolonged success as newly-established colonies.

Without a doubt tenacity was key to her success and is a high paid skill today.

Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn a lot from Pinkney, but especially the fact that they don’t need to be elder statesmen or stateswomen to be successful.

Tactics for Success

  • Even though you shouldn’t let age be a factor in your success, it can be hard to overcome challenges associated with being a younger entrepreneur.
  • One thing you can do to gain other people’s respect is to partner with other older, successful entrepreneurs in the community. When you align yourself with these people, you’ll be taken more seriously.

3. Be Efficient

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It’s very hard to succeed in business if you aren’t efficient. Time, money and energy are precious things for an entrepreneur, and no one can afford to waste them.

Andrew Carnegie’s major contribution to the entrepreneurial spirit was his focus on being efficient. If you want to learn how to become a successful business owner, he’s a great person to model yourself after.

Carnegie got his start in steel, and the mills he created always included cutting-edge technology.

It wasn’t just the product his company created that resulted in success, it was the fact that the processes he created allowed him to snatch assets in the steel market during economic downturns.

This last point is perhaps what Carnegie is known most for. While other people were selling off assets to stabilize their companies, Carnegie spent money investing. This led to him obtaining assets at cheap prices and then turning that into huge profits.

Similarly, buying low is critical to success for reselling items on eBay, who knows how Carnegie would have done business all the websites to sell stuff today.

Timing is one of the habits of successful people that’s hard to model. But, by creating efficiency in every level of your operation like Carnegie did, you’ll have time to spend analyzing the market for golden opportunities.

Tactics for Success

  • It’s one thing to say you want to be efficient, but how do you actually become that way?
  • A great place to start is by creating a daily To Do list for yourself that you prioritize. This will help you stay on task and become personally efficient. Once you’ve mastered that, you can use some of the lessons you learned to help others in your business be more efficient.

4. Stand Up for What You Believe

Many of history’s greatest leaders became who they were because they stood up for what they believed in. A great example of this is Mary Katharine Goddard, who in the late 1700s became the first female employee of the United States government.

Goddard was one of the most successful journalists and publishers of her time. She re-printed copies of “Common Sense,” Thomas Paine’s famous work, and wrote her own editorials against British rule and brutality in America.

Being part of the American revolution wasn’t commonplace at the time, and women for outliers in that sense. But, Goddard stood up for what she believed in, and printed her name right next to her opinions.

Goddard served as the postmaster general of Baltimore, but her fame comes from having printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence that included the names of every signer.

Women had a lot to overcome in the 1700s to even run their own business, let alone be relied upon for as important a job as printing the Declaration of Independence.

But, Goddard overcame all those challenges to serve such a hugely important role in the United States’ history. Having opinions make you stand out from the crowd, and are one of the top tips to get a job in this day and age.

By always standing up for what you believe in, you’ll never lose sight of why you became an entrepreneur in the first place.

5. You Don’t Need to Be the First

idea

A famous saying in entrepreneurship is that the best ideas are only 10% better than the idea that preceded them. This is a great way to describe the professional life of Henry Ford.

Most people think that Ford invented the personal automobile. He didn’t do that, though, and many people in the early 1900s didn’t even consider him to be the best at motorcar inventing.

What he did do was take the automobile from being a luxury purchase in America to one that the masses could afford.

Ford had aggressive attitudes toward labor. He practically invented mass production, which allowed the Ford Model T to be affordable for most Americans.

He was constantly searching for ways to make his cars better, cheaper and faster than every other automobile on the market.

By streamlining his production processes and changing the way people worked on them, Ford was able to do just that.

Many entrepreneurs are looking for a completely new idea to launch them to success. Take a hint from Ford, though, and figure out if there’s something already on the market that you can make even better.

6. Develop Your Message

Lydia Pinkham knew who her target audience was when she was selling herbal home remedies in the late 1800s. The patent medicines she created were meant to help women with problems they had medically and in their marital relationships.

The tonics she created were very successful, but it was more so about the message she promoted than the science behind it.

When she marketed her products, Pinkham gave accurate and frank advice to various women who wanted help with their husbands, sex lives and their bodies in general.

It worked.

One of her best-selling products was called Pinkham Vegetable Compound, and it promised to be the cure for every illness a female was suffering from.

It promised greater fertility, vibrant sexuality and overall better health. It was marked, in fact, as “a baby in every bottle.”

Perhaps Pinkham’s greatest strength as a businesswoman was being a great marketer. It’s an area of business that sometimes gets lost in the crowd, but it’s so important if you want to learn how to become a successful business owner.

Take it from Pinkham: It’s not always the product you create, but how well you’re able to convey your message to your target audience.

Trends on the Rise

One of the great things about being in business today is the availability to use advanced technology to your advantage. But, only 13% of all CX interactions are proactive today, despite there being plenty of technological tools that can help companies do that. The lesson to learn here is that brands should reach out to their customers more so they can learn what they want.

7. Put Customers First

customer

When the stock market crashed in 1929, many people in America completely swore off investments such as stocks. Some didn’t even trust having a savings account anymore.

One person who worked hard to change those feelings — and was very successful at doing so — was Charles Merrill. Today, Merrill’s name is synonymous with financial planning and investment tools that help the general public.

That came from his work in the early 1900s to “bring Wall Street to Main Street,” as his famous saying goes.

The way that Merrill did this was by focusing on the needs and desires of everyday Americans when it came to finances. His firm gave up the large commissions that were commonplace at the time. They made their money by getting a large volume of customers.

But, he wouldn’t have gotten all of these customers for his company if he didn’t put them first. His customers’ interests were what mattered most to Merrill, which was very groundbreaking at the time.

Most companies — especially financial firms — had their own interests ahead of the customers.

Today, customer experience is such a focus of business that the phrase is more commonly referred to as CX. Learning how to become a successful entrepreneur should start with that lesson — focus on the customer first.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself

Many of history’s most notable entrepreneurs failed before they succeeded. It was their resilience, their ability to get up off the ground and reinvent themselves, that set them apart from others.

There’s possibly no truer example of that than Elizabeth Arden, who literally changed her name in the early 1900s in an effort to rebrand herself.

She tried to partner with Elizabeth Hubbard for cosmetics, but failed in that attempt under her born name, Florence Nightingale Graham. So, she changed her name — and went on to be one of the most successful women entrepreneurs of all time.

Arden brought makeup to America’s everyday life. Over time, she built a global empire that is still flourishing today. She introduced eye makeup to Americans in 1912, and even created beauty creams, which were something completely new for the industry then.

Arden knew that image was extremely important. Her makeup products helped women all over the world improve their physical image, and her own name change as a marketing effort improved her image as a businesswoman.

Aspiring entrepreneurs should never give up if they fail at first. Arden is a great example of how successful one can be if they keep trying.

9. Share with Others

Greed and entrepreneurship unfortunately go hand-in-hand sometimes. No one could accuse Sam Walton of being greedy, though. In fact, the founder of Wal-Mart is exactly the opposite.

Walton changed the face of retail by lowering the cost margins of his products significantly below that of all of his company’s direct competitors.

He did this in a number of ways — but mainly by building warehouses between his stores so he could save on delivery and shipping. He also created a control system for inventory that was truly ahead of its time.

But, what made Wal-Mart so successful is that the savings Walton realized through his processes were passed back onto the customer rather than put in the owner’s pocket. In other words, customers benefitted from these savings, too, by being offered significantly lower prices at Wal-Mart than at other stores.

Walton is also well-known for sharing his profits with his staff. He believed that every employee should be treated as one of his partners, rather than one of his workers.

One of the most important habits of successful people you can follow as an entrepreneur is never forgetting about who helped get you where you are today. By taking care of everyone, and valuing their contribution to your company, you’ll be motivating them to continue working hard for you.

10. Be Observant

Business ideas can literally be found anywhere. Just look at Ruth Handler, who in 1959 debuted her new product at a toy fair in New York — the Barbie doll.

Handler forever changed how little girls dream and play when she created the Barbie doll, which was named after the nickname she and her husband gave their daughter.

Handler came up with the idea for the doll after she noticed that her daughter was preferring to play with paper dolls that had the appearance of adults, rather than children.

This gave Handler the idea behind the Barbie doll. Her husband didn’t think it was a good idea that would sell, but he was obviously very wrong.

The Barbie doll was a natural progression for Handler and Elliot, her husband, who were already producing furniture for dollhouses and some other toys through a company they created called Mattel. The garage-based business soon made it on the list of Fortune 500 companies only five years after Barbie debuted.

Sometimes, the best ideas for a business can be observed in everyday life. If you want to see how to become a successful entrepreneur, just observe the normal behaviors of people in different aspects of life, and see what you might be able to create to serve them.

11. Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Mold

Steve Jobs is a legendary entrepreneur and disruptor. Not only was he the co-founder of Apple, but he helped launch animation studio Pixar into relevance — and an eventual purchase by Disney.

Jobs did this by not being afraid to break the current mold of the day. Jobs was truly one of the world’s greatest innovators and creators, and he did so by always following his heart.

He never bought into dogma. He was always looking for ways to break traditional lines of thinking, and he did just that with Apple.

Jobs infamously created Apple, then was ousted from it, before returning and helping to make it an enormous success. He did that by expanding Apple’s reach from just being a computer company to being a full-blown tech company for personal hardware devices.

Some of his greatest creations were the iPod, which led to the iPhone, which led to the iPad. He’s also largely responsible for creating a services sector in the tech industry, through things such as the App Store and iTunes.

There’s so much entrepreneurs can learn from Jobs. One of the biggest lessons is to never be afraid to be different, and to go against the grain.

Wrapping Up

One of the best ways to learn how to become a successful entrepreneur is to adopt some of the habits of successful people.

The 11 laws of entrepreneurship from history’s greatest leaders listed above is a great place for any aspiring entrepreneur to start.

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About the Author

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Tim is a classically-trained journalist who loves to share knowledge and information with others. In the past, he has worked in TV, online and print media, and currently works with companies to help design, create and strategize their messaging.