The #1 Skill Of Entrepreneurial Geniuses From Sam Walton To Mark Zuckerberg


Successful entrepreneurs have many skills. But there is one that all of them seem to have. What is this most common skill of entrepreneurial geniuses? And can you develop it?

I am defining entrepreneurial geniuses as unicorn-entrepreneurs who have built real unicorns – not the ones based on inflated venture capital valuations and minimal sales. These unicorn-entrepreneurs are the world’s most successful entrepreneurs who start ventures and build them to billion dollars in both sales and valuation. What is the common skill among these entrepreneurial geniuses?

Let’s start with Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. By building their seminal venture in semiconductors, they could be considered to be one of the architects of the electronic age. Also, along with Andrew Grove, they taught themselves how to fine-tune their product and develop their strategy to dominate semiconductors and help launch the personal computer age.

Sam Walton entered the big-box-store trend as many entrepreneurs and corporations launched big-box stores. Kmart was started by the giant S.S. Kresge corporation and had great initial success. But ultimately, it fell victim to the juggernaut built by Walton. The Dayton brothers expanded from their department store base to launch Target. None of them did as well as the best self-learner of them all. Walton learned that he could focus on rural areas and build a strong base there. To do so, he had to learn to build a logistics system since no one would supply him there. He also had to learn to finance it and keep control both of the business and of the fortune he created.

Michael Dell taught himself to sell directly to consumers and built a giant. While everyone else focused on selling through channels, Dell learned to sell directly, and used this expertise to dominate the industry by selling more powerful computers for less and by developing a direct relationship with the consumers.

Steve Jobs taught himself to develop an ecosystem of third-party apps to dominate the iPod and iPhone industries when he returned to Apple and rebuilt it.

Richard Schulze, who built Best Buy, learned to sell audio equipment to consumers at the dawn of the consumer electronics age as a sales rep for Sony. He used this expertise to build Best Buy.

When the Internet was just emerging, Jeff Bezos decided that the best product to sell was books since he could sell them with minimal investment, undercut his direct competitors, and get high enough margins. He then taught himself to build a platform and to help others get onto the Internet. With this self-taught knowledge he built AWS.

Travis Kalanick entered the transportation industry to help consumers find limos. Then he self-learned that the major opportunity in the industry was to connect anyone who wanted to drive with anyone who wanted a ride – and collect a fee. By self-learning this genius idea, Kalanick built Uber.

Steve Ells saw that the organic food trend was taking off, and then he self-learned how to find his niche. By offering organic chicken in a quick-serve setting, Ells built Chipotle.

Entrepreneurial geniuses have the ability to self-learn in emerging industries or trends and find the key opportunity or strategy that could help them better serve consumers. This skill helps them dominate high-potential emerging trends and build unicorns. So what does this mean for you? What kind of skills do you need to develop?

#1. Learn to identify emerging trends in your area of expertise. If you don’t have an area of expertise, develop one in an emerging trend.

#2. Analyze direct and indirect competitors to learn what they are doing to address this market.

#3. Analyze the underlying cause of the emerging trend and how it can satisfy the unmet needs of neglected markets. That is one reason why Walton was very well liked in rural areas and Jobs among the hip crowd.

#4. Learn the skills that will help you to develop and test various alternatives that will satisfy the unmet needs of the neglected market that will become your customers immediately and pay you the big bucks.

#5. Pivot when you find the key to the emerging trend. 

MY TAKE: If you wait for someone else to teach you how to dominate an emerging industry, you will be waiting a long time. Get a mentor (essentially a free advisor), if you must, to be a listening board. But in emerging industries, where the great fortunes are made, you need to self-learn. Every great entrepreneur I have met is a genius at self-learning. They are constantly trying to find new information and learning – sometimes for its own sake but mostly to apply it immediately.


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