Entrepreneur Stories

Part 2 in a three-part series on Entrepreneurship In Education for the course Education Theories, Trends, and Entrepreneurship at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences Education Entrepreneurship Master’s Degree Programme. Read part 1 by clicking here and part 3 by clicking here.

As an aspiring entrepreneur, I enjoy learning about the journeys of other entrepreneurs. There are many that are relevant to me in which I can take a piece of their experience to use as inspiration. There are the obvious candidates – Phil Knight, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and Oprah Winfrey as their stories are true examples of entrepreneurial magic. For this article though I would like to focus on three entrepreneurs that are most relevant to me in the current moment.

The first is Sal Khan founder of Khan Academy. The part of his story that I find most inspiring is how he leveraged the available technologies at the time to solve a very real and present problem. His niece needed help on her math homework and he used a phone line and Yahoo Doodle notepad to share his work with her. As his service grew to other students, he started posting videos on YouTube of his tutorials. Of course, we know what happened next, as more than 6 million subscribers and 1.7 billion views later he has created one of the most well-known online education platforms in the world.

The second is Harley Finkelstein, President of Shopify. What I find so inspiring about his story is how he hustled to put himself through college when his family went bankrupt. He did this by creating a company that printed t-shirts for college clubs at the school he was attending and selling them to members. He later figured out how to license comic book images to use on shirts and created a separate business selling those. It was through these ventures that he met a couple of other entrepreneurs with whom he founded Shopify.

The final entrepreneur is Canva founder Melanie Perkins. There are a number of things that I find extremely inspiring about her story, but the primary one is the persistence that she demonstrated in pursuing her idea. After coming up with the concept of an easy-to-use online design platform she dedicated herself to bringing this business to life. She had a singular focus on this idea and she had total confidence that it was too good to not succeed. Of course, it took luck, serendipity, and business acumen to create a multi-billion dollar company, but it was her fortitude that helped her navigate the challenging world of securing her initial funding.

The reason I choose to highlight these three is there is one thing they all share that is relevant to me in the early stages of my entrepreneurial journey. The common thread is the value of building your own individual technical knowledge about the field that your idea lives in. It is not just about the idea itself, let’s say a social media app, but what is your technical knowledge about that field? It is important to know about coding, user interfaces, design, etc… and to also have a firm grounding in business strategy, marketing, and finance. Finkelstein took a free Stanford course on software development (he even took a course at Khan Academy too!). For Perkins, before launching her idea of an online design tool, she created a yearbook company so she could learn how to create digital graphics and interact with a user interface.

There are endless things to learn from the hundreds of entrepreneurs existing in the world today. Through podcasts, books, articles, and interviews it is easy to source advice and knowledge from each of their successes and failures to guide your own journey in entrepreneurship. There are a number of common traits that you will hear many entrepreneurs share – perseverance, creativity, vision, confidence, adaptability, etc… For me, I like to stay grounded in guidance that is more practical. Ship your ideas, learn technical skills, or write a letter to a potential mentor. These are things that I can immediately apply to my own journey and use as stepping stones towards creating value out of my own idea, which is what entrepreneurship is all about.

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