That elite group of CEOs we always hear about – from Steve Jobs to Elon Musk, Richard Branson to Brian Chesky – all found success in the business world early in their careers. Here’s some inspiration from those daring executives.
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
Bill Gates, Microsoft
Bill Gates was 20 when he started Microsoft. As of September 2017, he was the richest person in the world. His approach to leadership focuses on empowering others around you; this can be more important than having all the answers or just doing a good job yourself. Allowing members of your team the freedom to take their own decisions, harness their own skills and reach their own goals can help you succeed in the long term.
Bill Gates, Microsoft (Yana Paskova / Getty Images)
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”
Steve Jobs, Apple
The late Steve Jobs was just 21 when he co-founded Apple. Though he was fired nine years later, he returned and went on to become CEO of what is now one of the world’s largest tech companies. This quote from his commencement address to Stanford University’s 2005 graduating class reflects his work ethic, which was one of tenacity and resilience to continue to innovate and remain dedicated to his goals.
Stop comparing yourself
“We are really competing against ourselves; we have no control over how other people perform.”
Pete Cashmore, Mashable
Pete Cashmore founded the global multi-platform media and entertainment company Mashable in Aberdeen, Scotland at just 19. According to Cashmore, focusing too much on the competition is only a distraction from achieving your own success. Instead of constantly comparing yourself to others, find out what you do best, what you love most – and do it wholeheartedly.
Have a feedback loop
“Constantly think about how you could be doing things better and question yourself.”
Elon Musk, SpaceX/Tesla
Elon Musk started his first web software company at 24. His rocket company SpaceX is now valued at more than $20 billion. His advice is to set an example of candid and frequent feedback as an effective way of avoiding mistakes, continually improving and discovering new opportunities.
Build a strong team
“It doesn’t matter how great your original product or idea is, if you can’t build a great company, then your product will not endure.”
Brian Chesky, Airbnb
Brian Chesky launched Airbnb when he was 27. He personally interviewed the first 300 employees at the company. He feels passionately that building a strong company culture and team is just as important as creating a unique product. Although it may take time and investment, it will pay off in the long term.
Develop a network
"Find the smartest people you can and surround yourself with them."
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!
At 24, Marissa Mayer was the first female engineer at Google and went on to become CEO of Yahoo!. Mayer’s advice echoes what many a young leader has said: building a strong network of intelligent and influential people will help you learn faster and achieve more than you can alone.
Seize the day
“If you’ve got an idea, start today. There’s no better time than now to get going.”
Kevin Systrom, Instagram
Co-founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom pitched the prototype of what we now know as Instagram while at a party. His advice is not to hesitate; there’s no time like the present to start developing your ideas. That small grain of an idea could flourish to become your next big business project.
Kevin Systrom, Instagram CEO (Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images)
Don’t fear failure
“It is important not to fear fear, but to harness it – use it as fuel to take your business to the next level.”
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin
Richard Branson was a schoolboy of 16 when he started his first business venture. He believes that fear of failure is something every ambitious founder, trying to build a business from scratch, experiences at some point. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs failed multiple times before they found success. Overcoming fear or even channelling it can help you refine your approach, innovate further, and in the long term make you a stronger, more effective leader.
“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard University dorm when he was 19 years old. The CEO said in an interview last year that for any given decision, there will always be an upside and downside. But, over time, if a company is stagnant it will be guaranteed to fail and not catch up. The only way to avoid this is to take risks.
Follow your passion
“We led with our conviction rather than rational, because rational said it was impossible.”
Daniel Ek, Spotify
Swedish Daniel Ek is the co-founder and CEO of music streaming service Spotify. He started his first company at 14 and was a self-made millionaire at 23. To launch Spotify, Ek had to plough in his own personal fortune and bet his whole business to achieve what he wanted with the music industry. Following his passion and doing what he loved, despite the challenges he faced, paid off in the end.
Daniel Ek, Spotify CEO (TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
Don’t take too much advice
“Don’t take too much advice. It’s just that most people who have a lot of advice to give… generalise whatever they did and say that’s the strategy that made it work.”
Ben Silbermann, Pinterest
The CEO and co-founder of Pinterest started developing apps in his twenties but finally hit on the idea of the company based on his love of collecting as a child. Somewhat counterintuitively – especially at the end of a listicle proffering advice – Ben Silbermann urges us not to take too much of it. There are many strategies and tips out there from those who have made it that can provide useful guidance and inspiration. But in the end, your own path to success will be no-one’s but yours.