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Business Success Stories: the Long Term

There are many kinds of business success stories.  We read all about entrepreneurs who started a company, grew it though venture capital and then went public; they’re stars and they deserve it.  However, there aren’t many entrepreneurs who started their own companies and then stayed there for a whole career. These are endurance entrepreneurs, and they have something special to tell us.  Both groups reveal essential entrepreneurial characteristics, but we learn more from endurance entrepreneurs.

The Essence of the High Endurance Entrepreneur

What do I mean? Well here’s a quote from a racing driver that sums it up.

“Racing scratches an itch that feels so good. Endurance scratches it much longer. Remember Mom telling you to stop scratching or you’ll break the skin? Well, here you can just keep going. Feed that addiction. I drove the 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. graveyard shift this January, and as I stood in the pit box waiting for my next run in the late morning, I felt this sense of time and depth and accomplishment – of being a part of something bigger, something more, something that lasts. Well, more than 30 minutes, anyway. Anyone can hang on for that long and maybe get lucky. But drive 8 hours, escape countless close calls, feel the changes with the machine, the weather, the traffic flow, the occasional dangerous fools, and bring it (the racecar) back with no excuses. You’ll feel a sense of worthiness, and of satisfaction, that cannot be achieved elsewhere. Your race is like a sculpture, it takes time to bring it to form, and then it lasts.”

Randy Pobst, Sportscar Magazine, April 2014.

I know. There’s a vast difference between racing cars and building business. Or, at its essence, is there?

Venture Capital Stars

We hear a great deal these days about startups, the fast growing success stories that create overnight (actually up to 10 years) billionaires. These are the stars of the venture capital culture, and they deserve their star rating. Think of the markets they created, the jobs they brought into being, the wealth they accumulated… for every shareholder.  Their stories can be found in all the business magazines and all over the web.  They’re written books (or had books written) about their companies’ stories, and there are many interesting lessons.

But many of us aren’t going there, and the lessons venture capital stars have have to teach us may even hurt our own businesses.

The High Endurance Entrepreneur

There’s another form of business success story that doesn’t attract nearly as much attention. These hardy endurance entrepreneurs may… or may not… have started their own companies. But they stayed for decades, and their experience might be very different from the venture capital stars. They’ve all developed products, built markets… then creatively destroyed all that to develop another product generation for a changed (or new) market. They’ve all had to cope with gut wrenching recessions, heartrending layoffs, red ink… and then come back. They’ve confronted serious, take-your-business competition and stared it down. You name it, they’ve done it… including mistakes and those blessed encounters with blind luck. They’ve sculpted something and taken the time to bring it to form. I have to believe that endurance entrepreneurs also feel Randy Pobst’s sense of worthiness and satisfaction.

Isn’t the endurance entrepreneur’s story much closer to what most of us experience in business?  And much closer to the essential entrepreneurial characteristics we’d like to emulate?

Here are two business success stories about endurance entrepreneurs. I’ve profiled two business marathoners who stayed with their companies and deserve our close attention: Yvonne Chouinard and Jack Stack.

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