People and prosperity

The secret of success: know when to listen, when to tune out

Why ignoring certain advice is a crucial part of the skill set for all budding entrepreneurs

This week, I moderated a discussion on the ‘secrets of success’ with 10 successful women entrepreneurs, as part of EY’s World Entrepreneur of the Year event in Monaco.

We were supposed to come up with a list of tips for budding business owners, but about five minutes into the discussion, I realised this was nigh-on impossible.

That’s one secret of success, I thought – know your own opinion and stick to it

Everyone seemed to have very strong ideas – a kind of personal formula – and no one was listening to anyone else or interested in reaching consensus.

That’s one secret of success, I thought – know your own opinion and stick to it.

As I continued to canvass the views of the women entrepreneurs – from the founder of a South African travel company, to the creator of a Canadian energy company and a Kenyan micro-finance pioneer – it became clear that the one thing they had in common was that they listened intently to their customers, but paid no heed to a lot of other advice.

Ignore the skeptical voices

In particular, they had become very good at ignoring all the voices during the course of their careers who had said they would fail.

“There were a lot of people saying I couldn’t do it, because I was a woman, but I decided early on just not to tune into that frequency,” as one of the women put it.

It was their sheer drive and focus that had got these women results. Some admitted to taking risks, even launching their enterprises before they were 100 per cent ready, because they had a strong belief in themselves.

Focus and stay determined

A keynote speaker at the event, the US lifestyle media entrepreneur Martha Stewart, epitomises the crucial skill set of listening to some things and ignoring others.

“I just look for where there is a void in the market, and then I fill it,” she said, but added that she is, of course, always trying to learn and change.

Hearing Martha talk, you could tell from her that she was perhaps not the world’s best listener, but that it was her focus and determination that helped her build an empire, a billion-dollar business and brand – and cope with some difficult challenges along the way.

Although women represent half of the world’s population, women-owned businesses have secured only a fraction of the world’s capital.

In the US, for example, around 38 per cent of companies are owned by women, but just 2 per cent of the money invested by venture capital firms goes to these firms, according to a 2014 survey by the US National Foundation for Women Business Owners and Wells Fargo & Co.

The successful, driven women entrepreneurs I met are beginning to change this. Imagine the jobs, economic growth and opportunities that will emerge as they launch their businesses and ‘tune out’ to the frequencies that tell them they can’t do it.