How the world's top entrepreneurs stay focused

Anna King
17 May 2016
4 minute read

It can be tough staying motivated when you've just pulled your fifth all-nighter in a row. You start to forget why you're doing it. Question if it's all worth it. Well, you're not alone.

It's totally natural to feel the motivation juice running low sometimes – particularly when things aren't going your way.

If you're ever in need of a pick-me-up (or kick up the backside!) here's some sage advice from a few of the world's top entrepreneurs and innovators. So you'll be back on your A-Game in no time!

Failure is just a stepping stone

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington. Credit: Charles William Pelletier

It might not feel like it at the time but every experience you have as an entrepreneur, good, bad or downright horrific, is hugely valuable. There isn't an entrepreneur on the planet who won't tell you that they had to suffer at least one major failure on the road to success.

Take the example of Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. Huffington's second book was rejected by 36 publishers! Then when she ran for Governor of California in 2003, she received just 0.33 per cent of the vote. But did that stop her? We all know the answer!

Her advice: "…ultimately what matters most is resilience—the ability to quickly rebound from failures, indeed to see failure as a stepping stone to success."

Enjoy the adventure

WhatsAppWhatsApp. Credit: Sam Azgor

Don't just endure the bad times, positively embrace them! Even when things aren't going so well, there are always positives to take from a situation, whether it's working with people you admire or trying something new.

It might seem incredible now but Whatsapp founder Brian Acton was actually turned down for a job by Facebook – the company that later paid him a cool $19 billion for his messaging app.

But rather than seeing the rejection as a negative thing, he chose to see the positive side, tweeting this gem back in 2009:

"Facebook turned me down. It was a great opportunity to connect with some fantastic people. Looking forward to life's next adventure."

So try to enjoy the ride!

Remember, perfect doesn't exist

Richard BransonRichard Branson. Credit: D@LY3D

How do top entrepreneurs stay motivated? They never accept second best. And they keep working to make their business better - day after day after day.

Richard Branson, serial entrepreneur and billionaire, can attest to this advice. An apparently a harsh critic, he's never once given an employee a 100% review for their work. Seem over-the-top?

His view: "There's an inherent danger in letting people think that they have perfected something. When they believe they've 'nailed it', most people tend to sit back and rest on their laurels while countless others will be labouring furiously to better their work!"

So what are you waiting for?!

Tap into your inner motivation

Mark ZuckerbergMark Zuckerberg. Credit: JD Lasica

Why are you doing what you're doing? Everybody has their own reason for choosing the entrepreneurial route, rather than taking a cushy office job - whether it's to be your own boss, use your creativity, or to change the world!

When asked why he created Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg replied "It's not because of the amount of money. For me and my colleagues, the most important thing is that we create an open information flow for people. Having media corporations owned by conglomerates is just not an attractive idea to me."

So, however you find meaning, keep that thought front of mind each and every day – so you won't ever forget why you're here.

Get close to your customers


Airbnb co-founder, Joe Gabbia, became familiar with low motivation while developing his just-a-little-bit-successful accommodation site. In fact, he dubbed this feeling the 'trough of sorrow', explaining: "It's a very bleak, dark time where you're just trying to kinda figure out how to get your idea off the ground."

He found that the way to reignite his motivation was to get out of the office and actually meet his end-users. This gave him the inspiration he needed to keep going.

"We used to travel and actually stay with our customers," says Gebbia. "It was the ultimate enlightened empathy—you were so close to the people you were designing for that it informed you in a way that, you know, an online survey never would."

Make lists

Travis KalanickTravis Kalanick. Photo by @Kmeron for LeWeb12

It might sound simple, but breaking your business goals down into simple lists can give you the extra kick you need to keep going.

Uber founder, Travis Kalanick has had no easy ride of it (no pun intended!), facing passionate opposition to his taxi app in cities around the world. So how does he stay focused under such intense pressure? That's right – lists!

His words: "I have a list of the hardest, most challenging problems that our company needs to solve and I start at the top and work my way down. And I have a list of the coolest most fascinating things that we can invent and I start at the top of the list and I work my way down."

There you have it!

Take the first step

Rod DruryRod Drury. Credit: Web09

Last but by no means least, sometimes you just need to get off your bum and make stuff happen! It's a well-worn cliché to say 'every journey begins with a single step' but that's probably because it's true. Once you start, you're already on your way!

As Rod Drury, serial tech entrepreneur and CEO of online accounting company Xero, puts it perfectly here:

"Too many times I hear an entrepreneur make excuses as to why they haven't started their business, or why their business hasn't taken off. Whatever you want to do, just get out there and do it. Of course you may fail, but that's part of it. You can dream big all you want. But you're never going to get anywhere if you don't put in the work."

Read: How to squeeze the most out of your day

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