Career Advice From Women Who've Built Billion-Dollar Businesses
Unicorns—companies valued at a billion dollars or more—are rare. Female-founded unicorns? Well, they deserve another name entirely. We've picked our favorite female founders, each of whom runs a billion-dollar business, and researched their top career advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Scroll through to learn what these truly outstanding women have to say.
Tory Burch started her billion-dollar business at her kitchen table. After her first wildly successful store opening, she was called “an overnight success.” But Burch isn’t in favor of the overused term. “I guess that made sense,” she tells Levo, “If you didn’t count the 20,000 hours we put into building the business up to that day, or the combined half-a-million hours we all spent learning the industry in the years before that.” Burch continues to talk about how while we may live in an instant world, nothing can replace hard work, tenacity, and patience.
Our Takeaway: “There is no such things as an overnight success.”
As the co-founder and president of Eventbrite, Julia Hartz is one of the most successful women in tech. In order to separate her company from the dozens of other event-focused RSVP platforms, Hartz focused on the competition. When Eventbrite raised its first round, $6.5 million in 2009, Hartz wanted to put that straight into the team. “We knew that money would go toward the team,” Hartz told Female Entrepreneurs, “From 30 where we were, to 100 with funding. I understood acutely that other companies that had started about our same time were growing faster. Through hyper-growth, they were losing identity—wheels were coming off. I wondered, is it inevitable that we would do the same thing? Your first company is like your first baby. You have this unconditional, irrational love. I wanted to do everything I could to reverse that trajectory.” Luckily that focus paid off, and Eventbrite is now valued at more than $1 billion.
Our Takeaway: Ace what the competition overlooks.
After starting their career at 9 months of age on the hit show Full House and founding their holding company, Dualstar, at age 6, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are two of the most successful people their age. It does, however, come as a surprise that they transitioned from cutesy girls in the entertainment industry to wise women spearheading the fashion industry. With sales over $1 billion dollars, their company celebrates mature women with deep sense of style. As Newsweek puts it, “instead of encouraging women to cling to their slacker years, the Olsens want them to luxuriate in their most productive ones.”
We admire how seriously Mary-Kate and Ashley take their profession. “Running a fashion company, it’s just as important to understand numbers as it is to have a design point of view,” Mary-Kate tells Newsweek. That being said, the sisters advice that you shouldn’t be afraid of stepping outside of your comfort zone. “Don’t be afraid to take risks, well-informed risks,” Ashley tells Vogue UK about her best piece of career advice. Mary-Kate adds, “No is a full sentence.”
Our Takeaway: Know your craft, and never stop studying it. And never be too shy to say no.
Creating a billion-dollar business like The Honest Company does not happen overnight. Jessica Alba is the first to admit to and praise the practice of ramping up your idea. It’s never going to 100% right immediately. When Alba first approached web entrepreneur Brian Lee about her dream of a nontoxic product universe, it was a far cry from what The Honest Company is today. “I pitched Brian a 50-page deck that had really too much going on,” Alba tells Forbes.
Over the next 18 months, Alba refined her idea and put together a succinct 10-page PowerPoint presentation. With a clear brand identity, “Brian got it,” Alba says. Alba also professes the importance of hiring for your weaknesses: “You never want to be the smartest person in the room,” she says. Know what you’re good at, and find people who are masters of the areas that are your weaknesses.
Our Takeaway: Refine your idea and hire people who are smarter than you are.
According to Forbes, between shoes, perfume, and clothes, the Jessica Simpson brand generates over $1 billion in annual retail sales. Over the last decade, Jessica Simpson has empowered herself. She went from the silly newlywed on MTV to the woman leading a billion-dollar retail company. Her trick? An optimistic perspective on failure and an unabashed sense of vulnerability: “I have learned many lessons when it comes to business,” she tells Forbes, “But I feel like the most empowering lesson that I have learned is failure is okay sometimes. And in that we grow, and we learn from that, and there is success around the corner.”
Our Takeaway: Failing is often the key to success.
Anne Wojcicki is the founder of 23andMe, a Silicon Valley maker of over-the-counter genetic tests valued at $1.1 billion. She talks about the importance of partnerships with Big Think: “I would always recommend a partnership. When Lynda [my co-founder] and I first met, we said we had no ego, we just want to make this happen. And we worked an amazing schedule where I tend to go to bed late and she wakes up really early, so we actually worked 24/7 for years and we got an amazing amount of stuff done.” Wojcicki also talks about the importance of melding contacts with your partner. You want to join forces with someone who has a completely different but equally strong network so you have the best launching pad for your business.
Our Takeaway: Always have a business partner.
Adi Tatarko co-founded Houzz—an interior design platform where designers can post their services and clients can book them, be inspired, and share their ideas—with her husband. “We were bootstrapping for a long time,” Tatarko tells TechCrunch about their method for success, “But product was our first priority from day one.” Tatarko talks about their motivating factor being their passion for the product. She and her husband strove to create a product that her team and Houzz users loved, and that’s continued to this day. Houzz is currently valued at over $2.3 billion dollars, and there are rumors of a possible IPO in the near future.
Our Takeaway: Don’t focus on investment. Focus on product, and the money will come.
In a presentation to students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Oprah Winfrey professed that you should “align your personality with your purpose.” The Oprah Winfrey Show has been so successful because of Oprah’s personality, her openness, and her heart. She summarized her advice to the graduate students with the following statement: “If I were to put it in business terms of to leave you with a message, the truth is I have from the very beginning listened to my instincts. All of my best decisions in life have some because I was attuned to what really felt like the next right move for me.”
Our Takeaway: Always trust your gut.
In her memoir, In My Shoes, Tamara Mellon, co-founder of Jimmy Choo, discusses her many many career and life mistakes. She also talks about what she learned from those mistakes: “My first painful lesson in private equity: The founder is no longer in charge, and the battle of ideas is always subordinate to the battle of egos,” Mellon writes. She advises that a founder should always make sure that the investor understands her product and business. When too much energy is focused on short-term profits, long-term quality and culture can be sacrificed. Avoid this headache with the right investors.
Our Takeaway: Think twice before you accept investments.
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Which business leader are you most inspired by? Share with us in the comments.