I have been fortunate to get to know some incredible professionals in the JD-MBA network, and very fortunate that one of them is the entrepreneurial executive, Suneel Gupta, currently VP, Product Development at Groupon. Suneel is one of the few entrepreneurs that has not only thrived in Silicon Valley but also helped take technology to the next level here in Chicago. Since graduating from Northwestern, Suneel has done a number interesting things. In addition to writing his technology blog, he has spent time at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Mozzilla, and Groupon, focusing on critical product and business development initiatives. And earlier today, he shared some reflections on his experiences in the start-up space and gave his ideas on what makes the best entrepreneurs.
What does actually make a great entrepreneur? A number of themes emerged from the discussion. Getting started early. Laying the ground work. Passion for what you’re trying to do. And dealing with failure.
“If you suck at it the first time, keep going” Suneel mentioned to the audience. He also mentioned how a lot of the top entrepreneurs had experienced a problem firsthand and that they became so consumed with solving it that they had the right fuel to eventually become successful. He shared multiple examples of entrepreneurs who’d failed many times but worked hard to eventually change the stakes.
He also addressed the topic of being proactive. “Too often, people say they are waiting until the right time” or “waiting for the right resources” he said, suggesting that this was too passive approach. Instead, Suneel titled his message “The Case Against Someday” and suggested that successful entrepreneurs are more proactive; they’re hunters who are always looking to meet new people, make new things happen, and create opportunities that didn’t exist before.
This means that they can not only handle ambiguity but also can deal with disappointment. They believe deeply in their idea and work tirelessly in pursuit of it. And it also means that they’re up for the enormous task of coming up with the next big thing even if the starting point doesn’t seem perfect.
And so Suneel coined the phrase “put it on paper” saying that many people here on campus have had good ideas but don’t act on them and never consider the simple possibility of putting their ideas on paper as a way to get started.
Suneel gave us some color by sharing a few examples. First he mentioned the Wright Brothers and their vision to build an airplane. Though they didn’t have the resources, network, or capital, they were successful because they not only had the drive but also sketched down their idea. He also talked about the founder of Twitter and showed us a paper sketch of the Twitter interface, the first time it was drawn. And finally, Suneel also talked about his own career. He mentioned how he loved to write speeches when he was younger and delivered them to local politicians in hopes that someone would eventually use one. Despite facing consistent rejection, he eventually found his way to writing speeches for the Democratic National Committee years later.
What do these stories have in common? Although very little in terms of industry and era, they all share the common thread of maneuvering in imperfect situations and figuring out how to get started, even if you don’t have any resources. And they are all simple, yet powerful messages, because you can’t argue with the results.
In sum, if you’re creative and have an idea, be proactive and keep trying. And if you fail the first time, shake it off and try again. Because the best leaders know that persistence is critical. And because the best entrepreneurs not only have a way of eventually making it to the top, they also have a tendency of taking risks early and failing a few times along the way.