Exploring Real Stories of Entrepreneurship: A STEP Project

Siobhan Ali
Wednesday 5 August 2020

By Aimee Watts

Project: “How do we define what enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”

Think about the following words: leadership, decision-making, and innovation. 

Are these important concepts? Absolutely. Have they also been overused in abstract contexts, such that they sometimes feel like empty buzzwords? Absolutely. 

 This was part of the challenge that our team was presented with at the beginning of our project for the Summer Teams Enterprise Programme. We were tasked with making these words and their associated ideas come alive, providing concrete, real-life examples of skills like communication, opportunity recognition, and reflection – in short, the important (but often abstract!) capabilities that underlie entrepreneurship. 

To begin with, each member of the team chose a famous entrepreneur and engaged in extensive research into their background, experiences, and the different traits and choices that allowed them to achieve phenomenal success. The individual I personally focused on was Tony Hsieh, a famous American entrepreneur who founded multiple multi-million-dollar companies, including famed online shoe retailer “Zappos”. My research process incorporated a variety of sources, with a particular focus on Hsieh’s autobiography, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose”.   

My teammates researched similarly impressive and exciting individuals, such as Adam Braun of the non-profit “Pencils of Promise”, and Yvon Chouinard of the renowned clothing company “Patagonia”. Every week we met virtually to discuss our findings, and how the different entrepreneurs converged and diverged in their approaches. Gradually, our final product began to take form – a short podcast series, summarising real stories of real entrepreneurship. 

In my Hsieh episode, I wanted to highlight what I personally found to be the most engaging aspect of the project, namely the storytelling element. Consequently, I structured the podcast as a chronological narrativecovering many different points in his life over the course of ten minutes. Firstly, my lovely interviewer Iona and I touched on his early project, “LinkExchange”, the mistakes he made in founding and running this multi-million-dollar company, and how his in-depth reflection allowed for actionable lessons.  

Then, the podcast explored his main project, Zappos, the challenges that come with being innovative, and the importance of listening to those who are sceptical of your ideas. Continuing further into Zappos’ development, we looked at how Hsieh recognised hidden opportunities that his competitors had missed, especially the unexpected advertising goldmine of call centers. We also examined the difficult chapters in the company’s history, especially the burst of the dot-com crash in the early 2000s, and the combination of open-mindedness and innovation that was needed to ride out the storm.  

After touching on the impressive state of affairs of current-day Zappos, we concluded by focusing on key takeaways. After all, Hsieh has a lifetime of hard-won knowledge, both about what entrepreneurial success and failure look like. This translates into highly actionable advice for any listener, regardless of what stage they may be at in their career. 

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