Becoming a successful entrepreneur is hard but can be done.

Guy Raz’  How I Built This podcast focuses on uncovering the secret and very informative journeys that entrepreneurs go through when they build a successful business.

Now Guy has summarised his main lessons learned into a new book How I Built This: The unexpected paths to success from the world’s most inspiring entrepreneurs.

And yes of course I had to buy it! (Note to self: if you go into a bookshop, just accept that you will buy books).

Luck does play a role

All of the entrepreneurs that Guy has interviewed all agree on one thing: luck does play a role in what becomes a success and what does not.

This is not some “magic” that you either have or don’t but it is often being in the right place at the right time.

We have all heard that and often that can get discouraging: what if we are not in the right place and what if the time is not right?

But what has really got these successful entrepreneurs to the other side of success is being ready to take on the opportunities that arise.

Rather than sitting at home thinking about all the kinds of things they could do, they actually work hard to have everything ready when the time is right.

But the reality still is that luck does play a role: there are many others who have had similar ideas and have not scaled up the same way that others have been able to.

Yet, the main message here still remains the same: put your ducks in the row and keep moving to the direction where you want to go and be.

You need many brains for success (oh and their money)

For many of the founders of the companies, their successful idea that now defines their brand was not even always clear to them.

They didn’t one day just wake up with this clear vision and then decided to change the world.

They had particular hobbies and passions and it was often others who saw something in what they did that could be scaled up.

Something that actually was needed in a market or sector that so far was under-utilised.

For example, skincare products line Carol’s Daughter for African Americans where one woman just started making her own out of frustration for not being able to find the right products for her skin.

These ideas were not revealed in a vision but rather from practical experience:

“the intersection of personal passion and problem solving is where good ideas are born and lasting businesses are built” (p. 8).

Entrepreneurs are not genius “lone wolves” who just do everything by themselves and have all the best ideas.

Most entrepreneurs are supported by others, whether co-founders, parents or partners, who are ready to support and stick to that journey with them.

You see often an individual in the limelight but know that each one of them has a huge network of minds behind them who have made it possible for someone to succeed.

This is exactly what I’ve always felt about career development in general: I would not be where I am if I didn’t my cheerleading squad behind me, my friends, family, colleagues, great mentors.

And luck. As in I have been able to take on the right opportunities and have been at a right place at the right time for a connection to be made.

Many founders don’t come from a privileged background with millions of angel investment money ready to go.

Many do the “bootstrapping”, which means financing everything to the level by themselves so that they go beyond what their credit cards allow.

Obviously this is not sustainable but it also shows that many people who truly believe in their idea are ready to put all their effort in it.

Learn from mistakes, not just successes

But what the book has essentially taught me is that if we want to build a successful idea, there are million ways of doing it.

While there are common principles that many of the star entrepreneurs share, the journeys for each are very different still.

Perhaps the most important insights in the book are not what makes someone successful but rather, which mistakes they made.

By understanding the range of mistakes people can make when starting a business, you can fine-tune your own strategies and be wiser because you haven’t made those same decisions yet.

And this book does exactly that: it teaches you how to think of entrepreneurship and which steps have helped and hindered these people in their journeys.

Because that is the essence of entrepreneurship: a journey into the unknown where you (hopefully) emerge as the hero in the end surrounded by those who believe in you and your ideas.

And if you’d like to listen to how this also relates to leadership, head over to Coaching for Leaders for Guy’s interview.