Startup Heroes: 8 Entrepreneurs on Who Inspires Them

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Today's Question: Every entrepreneur has an idol whom they look up to and draw inspiration from. Who is your startup hero, and why?

1. Richard Branson

My startup hero is Richard Branson for a few reasons. He's the ultimate serial entrepreneur – and has been since before the term was coined. He's not afraid to enter established industries and challenge conventional wisdom, but he also has quite a visionary streak. For example, he started investing heavily in space travel early on. And to top it all off, he's done all of this while looking like he's having a great time.

Of any entrepreneur, he comes closest to embodying Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote: "Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true."

— Ian Wright, British Business Energy

2. Bryan Harris

Bryan Harris, the founder of VideoFruit, is my idol for one simple reason: He doesn't give up. He's been building startups since he was seven years old – and they all failed, until VideoFruit. He has the exact qualities any startup founder needs to grow a successful startup: persistence and innovation. He tried every business imaginable and every growth strategy available until he found the one that worked for him.

Ultimately, every entrepreneur follows Bryan's progression: hurdles, pitfalls, and pivots until you discover the ultimate value you can provide and the best way to deliver this value to your customers.

— Kalen Iselt, MobilKamu

3. Jason Fried

Jason Fried, founder of 37signals/Basecamp, is the most important influence on what I am doing at InvoiceBerry. I learned about Jason back in 2008 or 2009 and haven't stopped following him since. I've bought all his books and read a lot of his content in Inc., on Medium, and on the 37signals blog, Signal vs. Noise.

I love Fried's modern take on the workplace and how a CEO needs to act as a curator in order to filter bad ideas and only focus on improving and implementing company processes which are worthwhile. He should be the No. 1 guy to go to if you're in the software businesses. His takes on simplifying software are like a software business bible to me.

— Uwe Dreissigacker, InvoiceBerry

4. Travis Kalanick

My startup hero is Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. The obstacles that he and his company have had to overcome over the past six years have been tremendous. Not only have they had to build a product that satisfies suppliers and delights customers, but they have also had to fight political battles at local, state, federal, and international levels.

— Bryan Clayton, GreenPal

5. Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison embodied persistence. Edison said that he found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb until he figured it out. That persistence is a great and necessary trait for all entrepreneurs.

— Trey Bowles, The Dallas Entrepreneur Center

6. Steve Jobs

My startup hero would have to be Steve Jobs. He built a company from the ground up, was even fired by Apple, and then returned to lead it once again. He ultimately attained unprecedented business success. He revolutionized an industry, and his legacy plays on, although he has passed. I admire his enthusiasm, his desire to succeed, and most importantly, his willingness to pivot as consumer needs changed. He was truly revolutionary.

— Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers

7. Debbie Sterling

Debbie Sterling, the founder of GoldieBlox, is my startup hero. As a twentysomething female entrepreneur, the pool of role models who look like me is limited. The pool of role models whose entire business is based on inspiring young girls? That basically leaves Sterling.

She has redefined what science and engineering education looks like for girls in the same way I hope to redefine what entrepreneurship education looks like for girls. She is an inspiration because of her vision and leadership. Heroes are people who do something to change the world, and that is exactly what Sterling is doing. Because of her, girls are breaking the mold and are no longer afraid to enter nontraditional career fields – and that's happening far before they are even thinking about what they will be when they grow up.

— Hope Brookins, The Brookins Agency

8. Robert Hoehn

I've worked at and with a few different startups in my life, and one of the key components of startup success is inspiring leadership – someone who has a vision that inspires you. In that way, Robert Hoehn is no exception.

What truly makes Hoehn a startup hero, however, is how much of his company's success has come from his encouragement (and crediting) of other people's ideas. Big bets in the fields of government, IT, and corporate culture, came from other people and were endorsed by Hoehn as winning ideas. He doesn't start leadership meetings by asking what our competitors are doing; he asks for blue-sky ideas from everyone and finds ways to deliver on them.

Here's an example: When discussing how to best build international partner relationships, one team member suggested doing "study abroad" programs in which proven team members go to particular locales and meet with those partners to set up miniature IdeaScale intensives. Rob immediately responded to the idea and decided to send someone to Australia.

And another one: When someone else suggested buying a rickshaw and giving free rides to local conference attendees instead of sponsoring conferences in an official/traditional capacity, Hoehn found a rickshaw and got it wrapped in IdeaScale colors.

The optimism, experimentation, and vision of IdeaScale are largely due to him, and it's why I'm still at the company today.

— Jessica Day, IdeaScale

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