Visionary entrepreneurs think of their company as an instrument for change. They focus on inventing, improving, or transforming.
But in doing so, they take the risk to come up with unpopular ideas. It’s counterintuitive, but when this happens, it’s a sign that they’re headed in a direction probably worth pursuing.
They also shape their company as an innovation engine able to produce new ideas constantly. They do this because they know that in the beginning, they won’t succeed right away. It will take time, and they will have to face criticism and solve new problems constantly.
Listen to the origin story of most successful companies, and you will hear the same pattern over and gain:
- Something happens in somebody’s life, or maybe a group of people’s life.
- It creates a strong passion, a conviction.
- This is always due to an event that triggers an emotional reaction.
- This event can either be a tragedy, or frustration, or maybe a positive event. It doesn’t always have to be negative. Sometimes it’s just the realization that things should be different.
- And out of this comes an idea out of the norm, sometimes a breakthrough idea.
Visionary entrepreneurs are comfortable feeling like an anomaly. I’ve written about this here before.
It’s 2007. Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky just started airbedandbreakfast.com (now Airbnb). They hosted their first guests ever for $80 a night in their apartment in San Francisco, while all the hotels in the city were full. Then, three months after, they visit their family for the holidays.
Here is how Joe Gebbia tells this story and what he learned out of it.
“So that December, we both went home for the holidays, and out of respect of new year’s parties, everyone asks, “So what are you doing in San Francisco?” We say, “Well, we’re entrepreneurs. Well, what are you entrepreneuring?” And we didn’t really have very much other than to say “Well, let me tell you about this time where we hosted these three guests on airbeds in our apartment.” And one of two things happen, people who said, “Oh my God, that’s the coolest thing in the world. Where can I do that?” Or they said, “That is the most bizarre creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.” And they left the conversation. And I think one of the things that I’ve learned is that great ideas usually start out as polarizing. They’re not kind of like, “Eh, that’s kind of, okay”. They either really tug on somebody’s emotions or a latent desire that they have and that has never been answered before, or they really perturbed them in some way. But as long as there are people who, really gravitate towards the idea to me, that’s a signal that you might be on to something.”
Polarize: that’s what visionary entrepreneurs do.