Entrepreneurial Advice: Elon Musk and Marc Benioff

Rise and Grind Sign for Entrepreneurs

Starting a business isn’t easy. Keeping it going is even harder. That’s why they call it “work” – it’s hard work, and being a boss means you have to make a lot of decisions. Branding, inventory, discounts, floor plan. Everything right down to the music playing in the background of your shop or restaurant. Fortunately, you’re not the only entrepreneur out there, and there are some incredibly successful ones to learn from. For example, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, and Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce. These are two entrepreneurs who took a new business concept, married it with a dream, and brought it to reality. Let’s see what they’re doing right.

Don’t be the smartest person in your business.

Elon Musk told CNBC in a recent interview that one of his greatest tips to business success is always hiring people smarter than yourself and empowering your managers to do the same. If you think you already know everything, you’re about to miss out on a lot and you won’t stay competitive. People are your greatest resource for success, so as soon as you’re in a position to hire one, two, ten employees, make sure each and every one is stronger than the last.

Question the status quo. Ignore old rules.

Musk warns that following trends means falling behind, and doing something “because everyone else is doing it” is never a worthwhile business venture. You started a business for a reason – you have your own dream, your own vision, not someone else’s. Never forget that vision, never forget the real reason you started your business. Everything will fall into place if you have solid footing.

Similarly, Marc Benioff, entered the software business and is repeatedly quoted saying Salesforce’s cloud-based business model is “the end of software.” Hmm. The genius of this is that Salesforce isn’t a new solution within an old model, it’s an entirely new model. Benioff states in his autobiography, “Don’t be afraid to ignore rules of your industry that have become obsolete or that defy common sense.” Basically, ignore the old ways of doing things if they’re holding you back from achieving your vision. Sometimes you have to break things before you can fix them. Do it.

Establish culture early, and be intentional about it.

People do business with people they like. As the founder of your business, you set the tone and personality for your brand and how all future employees will portray your brand to customers. So, think about the culture you want, and then teach by doing. If warm and inviting is what you’re going for, then I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re going to have to be warm and inviting – not just to your customers, but also to your employees, vendors, neighbors and other business partners.

In building Salesforce, Benioff was creating a software as a service (SaaS) business – that’s right, the service industry. As a customer, friendly service makes a world of difference in how you perceive a brand. So, Benioff set out early to build a culture of “doing what you enjoy” at Salesforce. From dogs in the office to casual attire, employees are encouraged to be happy and comfortable at work. And that vibe permeates through to their customer service, creating a very positive effect.

Stay hands on and seek feedback.

With a slightly different culture at Tesla and SpaceX, Musk is driving innovation, testing, learning and development. So, he walks the talk, getting hands on alongside his engineers to test ideas and assess new challenges. His vision for his ventures is clear and inspiring, and he brings that energy right down to the shop floor, giving a “we’re all in this together, changing the world” vibe. At the same time, he encourages continuous improvement and has set up his own formal feedback loops through critics, colleagues and self-reflection. Experiments must fail. It’s knowing why they did that enables us to find the right solution. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback – in fact, seek it out as frequently as possible.

As you can see, good business often comes from good people. People with a clear vision, and who genuinely want the best for their people, their customers and their industry. It’s not about being competitive. It’s about doing the right things in the right way, which makes you competitive. None of this advice is necessarily new or groundbreaking. In fact, many of the world’s most successful businesses have followed these same principles. Basic principles of good leadership. So get out there a lead the way.

References made to companies in this post are not meant to convey endorsement of Rubicon by those companies in any way.

Tim Lamb, Director of Marketing and Demand Generation