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How to Build a Successful Business From the Ground Up -- From Someone Who's Done It

By Maurie Backman – Jan 6, 2019 at 6:18AM

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Motley Fool CEO Tom Gardner knows what it takes to turn a great idea into a thriving business. Here, he shares his personal formula for success.

Many of us dream of starting our own businesses. But what does it take to turn a good idea into an overwhelming success? We asked Motley Fool CEO Tom Gardner that very question, and based on his experience, he shared a winning formula that all of us can learn from. Here are his top tips.

1. Be innovative and take risks

No one understands the risk-taking game better than Tom himself. Together with his brother and co-founder David, he decided to prank the public in an effort to teach an important lesson about investing. The Gardners hyped a fictitious stock on an online discussion board, and that gained them the attention they needed to score a content partnership with America Online. Since then, The Motley Fool has grown into an internationally recognized brand, all the while upholding its mission of helping the world invest better. The takeaway? Be bold and take chances. Often, they'll pay off.

Excited man at laptop pumping his fist in a gesture of success.


2. Have the right partner and support system

A solid partnership is crucial when you're embarking on a business venture, Tom insists. And to that end, he's been lucky. His brother David has served as his trusted partner since The Motley Fool's inception, and to this day, he couldn't think of a better person to work with. The Gardner brothers also received a lot of support from their father when their business was first getting off the ground, and that really helped them stay motivated during the company's early years.

3. Know what you're bad at

Nobody's perfect. One of the most critical moves when attempting to build a business is identifying your own shortcomings, says Tom, who openly admits that while he's great at coming up with ideas, he often struggles with execution. Knowing what you're not particularly good at can help you avoid mishaps that might otherwise derail your efforts. And it can help you build a management team that gives you just the right balance.

4. Hire people who challenge you intellectually

This probably won't be the first time you'll hear that building a successful business hinges on establishing a strong team. But Tom takes the concept one step further -- he aims to hire people he has to strive to keep up with. Doing so ensures that he continuously learns from his employees, which helps keep him on his toes.

5. Be adaptable

Businesses that thrive in the long run also tend to change over time. Tom says it's important to embrace that change and be willing to roll with it. As long as your company maintains its core values, there's nothing wrong with adapting your product or service offerings to accommodate our ever-evolving economy and customer demand.

6. Have a great business name

One way to increase your likelihood of success when starting a business is choosing a name that customers will be sure to remember. In this regard, Tom and David knocked it out of the park. "The Motley Fool" is a name that certainly makes you pause and wonder just what on earth that business is all about. And while the company has, at times, been confused with a certain rock band with a similar name, for the most part, its wacky designation has helped build its brand. Incidentally, the business name is derived from Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It.

7. Do something that's endlessly interesting to you

Running a business takes a serious commitment, and it's hard to force yourself to go through the motions when you start getting bored a few years in. The good thing about The Motley Fool, according to Tom, is that it started out interesting and always will be. Before starting a business, think about whether you see yourself staying engaged in it 5, 10, or 20 years down the line. It's a good way to gauge your venture's sustainability.

8. Have fun

We're often led to believe that work needs to feel like a chore. In reality, Tom contends, you should be able to have fun with it, especially when running a business. If you're not having fun, you're more likely to burn out quickly. Even when the Gardner brothers were first starting out and functioning in survival mode, as Tom calls it, they always maintained their sense of humor and genuinely enjoyed the work they were doing. And now, roughly 25 years later, laughter remains a very big part of the equation.

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