What Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Marc Benioff, and Philip Knight share

This summer I read 4 books that focus on different founder journeys. It was particularly interesting to read them in succession, because it’s easier to pick out common themes.

  1. Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff (Salesforce)
  2. Shoedog by Philip Knight (Nike)
  3. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance (Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity)
  4. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Apple, NeXt, Pixar)

These are all wildly successful founders, with wildly differing journeys, that started different kinds of companies in different time periods.

Here are some of the common threads I noticed in their journeys to success.

  1. It was really f*ing difficult and they had several failures.
  2. Passionate – They all obsessed about their business 24×7 and worked incredibly hard.
  3. They all improved significantly over time.
  4. They all made some bad decisions, but didn’t dwell on them.
  5. They hired believers, not mercenaries.
  6. They hired several key people through referrals.
  7. They told their teams what to do, not how to do it.

Here are some of the common threads about their founding teams, which are often overlooked.

  1. They had fun even in the worst of days.
  2. When faced with difficulty, the teams rose to the challenge and relished the opportunity to become better, faster, stronger.
  3. Every person on the team thought like a founder but acted like a craftsman.
  4. They were constantly, severely, under-resourced, and they used this as an advantage.
  5. Every person on the team worked 24×7 and insanely hard.
  6. Arguments from team members centered around what was good for the customer – not what was good for the individual.
  7. The motivation for each team came from the desire to win – to change the world –rather than the desire for a comfortable workplace or work-life balance.

Imagine Jobs without Woz or Atkinson, Benioff without the introduction to the Harris-Moellenhoff-Dominguez trio, Musk without folks like Shotwell and Mueller, or Knight without Woodell, Johnson, or Penny.

None of these founders could have achieved their visions without their believers. The individuals on each team were capable of becoming successful on their own, but instead they chose to be part of something bigger and make a dent in the universe together.

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