A host of celebrity entrepreneurs came out at the Inc. 5000 Vision Conference on Wednesday. The day’s sessions featured insights from a Shark, a tennis legend, and a DTC pioneer, among many others. Here are a few of the highlights.
1. In a Main Stage interview, Maria Sharapova admitted that when she co-founded high-end candy business Sugarpova in 2012, she had no idea what she was getting into. Now, the five-time Grand Slam singles winner–who retired from professional tennis in February–runs her company full-time, and has drawn lessons from her athletic career to become an effective CEO. For example: Her ability to lead a team, she said, came directly from her years of working through high-pressure situations with coaches, trainers, and support staff–and learning to prioritize balanced schedules and frequent off-days to avoid burnout. “Don’t overdo it,” she said. “I know that’s one of those suggestions that seems so difficult in today’s environment, but having that time for yourself will only make you a better leader.”
2. Dave Gilboa, co-founder and co-CEO of “buy one, give one” eyeglasses startup Warby Parker, spoke with Inc. senior writer Christine Lagorio-Chafkin about how the company has stepped up its efforts around diversity and inclusion this year. Among other moves, he said, it has published its strategy for improving internal racial equity and established a scholarship for Black optometry students. “We want to use our influence as a growing organization to think about how we can create real change, even outside of Warby Parker,” Gilboa said. Also to that end, he told the audience that businesses have a responsibility to help ensure fair elections, which is why the company is working to get out the vote among its employees, customers, and communities.
3. Keith Ferrazzi, founder and CEO of the research and consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, said the opportunity to level up as a business owner has never been greater than right now. While some organizations will be digging themselves out of holes for the next few months, others are rethinking the way they and their companies work–and that’s what will separate the winners and losers moving forward. To be a transformational company, it’s especially important to evaluate how you lead, right down to who you consider your team to be. “Your team is no longer who reports to you. That’s irrelevant,” Ferrazzi said. Instead, he urged, look to anyone around you–mentors, colleagues, friends, family–to help get you through tough times.
4. Since March, Fawn Weaver says, most spirits industry CEOs–almost all of whom are White and male–have spent their time conducting research and finding data to show them the way forward. Weaver, a Black woman who co-founded and runs 3-year-old whiskey startup Uncle Nearest, has taken a different tack. “We really had to trust our gut and our instinct,” she said, noting her company’s ability to gain traction this summer while competitors lost market share. “The other thing is the ability to be both empathetic and to compartmentalize simultaneously. I think that is something that’s innate to women, and it’s the reason we’re leading so much stronger in this particular moment.”
5. In conversation with Inc. Editor-in-Chief Scott Omelianuk, FUBU founder and Shark Tank investor Daymond John revealed the wisdom he’s gained from backing hundreds of startups–and learning to assess his failures honestly. John said that as he reflects back on the missteps in his career, he found they typically happened for one of three different reasons. In the beginning, the problem was his lack of financial intelligence. Later, would throw money at too many businesses without fully understanding them. Finally, there were times he let his ego get in the way, thinking, “because I’m Daymond John obviously I can help because you stamped my name on [on a business].” The reality however, he said, is that “Daymond John has to get up and get his ass to work like everyone else.”
6. Ryan Holiday, author and founder of The Daily Stoic, outlined the best takeaways for entrepreneurs from Stoicism, an ancient Greek and Roman philosophy that teaches seeing obstacles as opportunities. One strategy to do that, Holiday said, is to view troubles–pandemics, wars, catastrophes–as things that define everyday life, rather than aberrations. Read historical books about people who have tackled similar challenges, whether it’s the influenza pandemic of 1918 or being a CEO. Take notes while you read, let the book sit for a week, and then put your takeaways on index cards. Equipped with that knowledge, you’ll be in a better position to unflinchingly accept the challenges before you.
7. Inc. CEO Eric Schurenberg sat down with Inspired Capital founder Alexa von Tobel and partner Lucy Deland to talk about what they look for in entrepreneurs they choose to invest in. Both women started and grew companies during the Great Recession, and said that the best traits of any successful founder are passion and commitment. The people who get funded, von Tobel said, are “infected with an idea in a way that is so much bigger than ‘I want to go and build a business or be a CEO,’ or ‘Solve this one specific problem.'”
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