The thing that the best and brightest entrepreneurs have in common is their ability to inspire — their customers, employees and investors.
I’ve worked with top-tier founders like Marc Lore of Jet (sold to Walmart for $3.3 billion in 2016), Brian Long of Attentive Mobile (valued at over $11 billion in 2021) and Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway (went public in 2021), who share this power, and they leave all their key stakeholders as excited as they are to tackle their markets.
It’s a common misconception that this ability to inspire is the same thing as charisma. There are many examples of people who are popular and well-liked but lack the ability to rally those around them around a common mission.
For startup founders, particularly in the early stages, the ability to inspire has everything to do with the ability to get others to see the world the way you do. Generally speaking, that means not only articulating a compelling vision of the future that includes a problem you’re trying to solve, but also clearly laying out the concrete gameplan for how you’re going to get there.
This is why inspirational leadership can make all the difference to your early-stage startup, and it’s important to note that it is something to practice, rather than a trait only inherent in some people. In this piece, I’ll explore ways this skill applies to all aspects of company-building and will share insights into how any founder, regardless of personality, can develop this skill for themselves.
Practice articulating your vision
More than anything, the ability to inspire comes from your own conviction — in your mission and in your vision. Often, figuring out that vision is less a matter of creation and more an act of remembering: What was the thing that drew you to the life of an entrepreneur in the first place? What’s the singular problem in the universe you believe that you and your team are uniquely capable of solving?
For startup founders, the ability to inspire has everything to do with the ability to get others to see the world the way you do.
Once you can clearly and concisely articulate both that problem and your solution, you need to work on the ability to get other people as fired up about the mission as you are. Founders should practice describing their vision in a clear and succinct way, getting their stakeholders to see a future that doesn’t yet exist. It’s a matter of selling not only your mission, but also your confidence in achieving it.
This ability to inspire plays a key role in recruiting, particularly for early-stage startups. Much like Steve Jobs’ legendary call to arms to Pepsi’s John Sculley, your ability to recruit the talent you need hinges largely on whether you can get them as excited for the opportunity as you are.
Take it from me: In my own career as an entrepreneur, as co-founder of ProfitLogic, my co-founder and I were faced with a scenario where we were actively scouting an engineer right before his graduation from Harvard’s computer science program. The problem was that he had three other very lucrative offers on the table from brand-name outfits, including Microsoft.