Finding Business Motivation in Industry Leaders

Starting and running a business can require a level of commitment that few people understand or experience. Entrepreneurs may find the motivation needed for all of that commitment in the work of  business owners and industry leaders.

Motivation — that thing that induces us to take action — can be the fuel, if you will, that gets one through the hard work and many challenges of running an ecommerce business or inspires those first entrepreneurial thoughts and actions. But where do you find business motivation capable of regularly filling the entrepreneurial tank? Here are a few industry leaders that might serve to motivate.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

Tony Hsieh might be the most famous ecommerce entrepreneur ever. In about ten years from 2000 to 2009 Hsieh grow Zappos from essentially nothing to an online retailer with about a billion dollars in annual sales before selling the company to Amazon in a deal worth about $900 million.

Zappos’ success was at least in part the result of Hsieh’s fanatical devotion to providing superb customer service. Through hard work, planning, and insight Hsieh was able to create an ecommerce brand that shoppers loved and respected.

Zappos, with all of its success, was not even Hsieh’s first real success. He had already started, grown, and sold a business before ever becoming involved with Zappos.

That first entrepreneurial venture, LinkExchange, was a banner-advertising network founded in 1996 and sold in 1998. Microsoft paid $265 million for the business.

For find inspiration and motivation from Hsieh, check out his book, Delivering Happiness, and the website,

You may also want to watch Hsieh’s interview with 20/20 from 2011.

Dov Charney, President and CEO of American Apparel

Dov Charney started in the apparel business at 15 when he would purchase white cotton t-shirts in the United States, transport them to Canada, where t-shirts tended to be made of a cotton, polyester blend, and wholesale them to other teens who would sell the shirts on Montreal street corners or in front of the iconic Montreal Forum.

Today, Charney leads a multi-channel, vertically integrated apparel company that had more than $650 million in annual sales last year.

Charney’s American Apparel brand sells products that are completely manufactured in the United States, and Charney is an outspoken advocate of workers rights, including offering low cost health care.

Charney is also known for his company’s provocative and not-safe-for-work advertising and online product photography and a willingness to publicly support controversial social issues, including immigration reform and civil rights for homosexuals.

Charney has also been the subject of many lawsuits, but nonetheless still tirelessly runs his business and stays involved with nearly every aspect of manufacturing, retailing, advertising, and ecommerce.

Check out this Vice interview with Charney from May 2013.

Tobias Lütke, CEO of Shopify

Tobias Lütke apprenticed as a computer programmer in Germany, but grew tired of working on banking and financial software, so he started an online snowboarding retailer with partners Daniel Weinard and Scott Lake. Lütke soon realized that “there was no freakin’ way” they could build the online store they wanted with the ecommerce software available at the time, so his attention turned from selling products online to building a better solution for selling products online.

Today, Shopify, which was launched in 2006, has more than 60,000 customers selling online. The lesson, if you will, might be that sometimes starting one business, like a snowboarding store, might lead to discovering other needs or businesses, like making an ecommerce platform.

To learn more about Lütke and how his experiences might motivate you in your business, watch his 2013 interview with This Week in Start Ups.

Finding Your Own Inspiring Figures

With Tony Hsieh, Dov Charney, and Tobias Lütke serving as examples of motivating entrepreneurial leaders, consider seeking out other motivating stories and profiles. For example, check out the Practical Ecommerce podcasts, which have recently included interviews with Optimizely CEO Dan Siroker, Dr. Shaun Ryan, CEO of SLI Systems, and SumAll CEO and co-founder, Dane Atkinson.

The “Build My Online Store” podcast series is another way to become acquainted with industry leaders whose stories are certain to motivate. Recent episodes included discussions with Mark Manson, a professional writer and blogger and Jack Zerby of Goodsie.

Finally, consider learning how your favorite stores or businesses came into being. The stories of their founding and growth will likely lead you to many motivating tales.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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