Last week was Goldman Sachs' third annual Builders + Innovators Summit, created to gather the year's 100 most intriguing entrepreneurs from around the country and give them the opportunity to hear from, and even more notably, mix and mingle with a select group of extremely accomplished entrepreneurs. To say the days are energetic doesn't do it justice (and that's without even considering the SoulCycle and Newton running crowds). Everyone there is intent on learning as much as possible from each other as quickly as possible.
One of my favorite things to do there is to listen for themes and quotes. The themes tell me what seems to be top of mind for the entrepreneurs who came to speak to the up and comers. The quotes give me powerful words to share with the business owners I work with the rest of the year. Given that small business owners often talk about being lonely, actual words from other owners carry a great deal of weight.
"If you don't have jobs, it's hard to have other things like health and education." - Michael Dell, Founder and CEO, Dell Inc.
My first B+I quote for this year comes from the opening speaker, Michael Dell. Dell has one of the more intriguing entrepreneurial histories, going from the fabled dorm room start-up, through growing the company and taking it public, stepping down as CEO, coming back as CEO, then leading it back to its current private iteration. Living through all these changes would seem to provide him with a business perspective not available to many other people. At one point Dell was talking about his efforts to make job creation part of the United Nations sustainability efforts.
"Where can we take no the product, but the idea?" - Kevin Plank, Founder of Under Armour
Next up was Kevin Plank. I was really intrigued by how Plank described what he saw around him as a usual approach to the women's athletic market, starting from a point of "shrink it and pink it", and how he decided that this was not going to be the Under Armour approach. Instead, Kevin challenged us all to think of our approaches to our businesses from a different perspective.
"Be brutally honest about the short term and optimistic and confident about the long term." - Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix
And finally, Lloyd Blankfein was up interviewing Reed Hastings of NetFlix. Notably, this was the morning of the day when NetFlix stock had gone down by 19% and HBO and CBS had announced their entry into the streaming content market. That would seem to be enough to daunt mere mortals, but not Mr. Hastings.
While I hope you find the quotes intriguing, it's when you put them together that the "What's Working" messages pop out at me. Each of these entrepreneurs is asking us to think differently about what we do, how we do it, and what we are trying to create. Plank suggests that we not limit ourselves to mere replication of existing solutions to people's problems, especially not limit ourselves to changing color or size. Instead, what are the different, sometimes radically different ways we can solve our customers' pain. Hastings pushes on the how we do it - looking ahead in a positive manner while at the same time being completely realistic about the current situation. And Dell reminds us of the importance of creating value for our communities, with the creation of jobs being a foundation that leads to so many other opportunities for making a difference in people's lives.
To hear the words of advice from the intriguing entrepreneurs themselves, click here.
Patricia is the National Academic Director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.