'You become what you believe': taglines with valuable lessons for entrepreneurs


Though catchphrases do have a ring to them and surmise a lot in a few words, they are used too often. In the process, these taglines or catchphrases often are used out of context or used by people frivolously without thinking about what they are actually meant to convey. 

We decode some famous taglines, remembering the lessons in each of them, and try to emulate why famous men and women said what they did, our lives, work, and businesses can change for the better. Here are some famous ones which we decrypt in the hopes to bring about some kind of justice to their usage.

Stay hungry, stay foolish – Steve Jobs

In Jobs’ famous 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech, these words stood out. That was not only because of the meaning but the composition of the phrase as well. It takes two words with negative connotations and shows how they can turn one’s life around. As far as goals and excellence are concerned, the most successful, creative people have no finishing line. That means they never get complacent, keep moving their own goalpost, and grow - constantly.

Foolishness too, according to Jobs, is also a virtue. Often, we make safe decisions as far as our careers and businesses are concerned. We stick with safe alternatives instead of giving in to the entrepreneurial dream we harbour all our lives. Nothing stops innovation, fresh experiences, and curiosity in their tracks as sticking to options that are considered non-foolish, right, safe, and socially acceptable.

Make something people want - Paul Graham

In a startup world rife with conversations about scale, valuations, and more, and a business ecosystem that by and large focuses on revenue, we often forget that products sell because of the people who buy them. It sounds like common sense but if the failure rate of ideas, products, and startups is anything to go by, it is not that common after all. The core of Graham’s quote is that consumer insight is the single biggest tool for any business decision, big, or small. Eventually, entire businesses succeed or fail on the basis of whether or not customers need and want what these businesses make. This is not to say that sometimes, there are stories – like Twitter – that are lucky in that the platforms and products were built first and the crowds just happened. But there are very few such exceptions.

Most startups, products, or ideas fail only because they did not have the clarity if there is a need for their services or product or they didn’t understand their consumer demographics and needs well enough. There are no guarantees in the entrepreneurial pursuit but making something customers need, and solving real problems through products and services in the process, is a good starting point.

Only the paranoid survive - Andy Grove

Andy Grove, one of the Co-founders and erstwhile CEO of Intel during the company’s most tumultuous period, redefined paranoia in this quote. Instead of making it sound like an anxiety-ridden approach to work, his book by the same name reframes paranoia as never being complacent or comfortable with one’s market position, work, success, and achievements. When one is aware of potential threats to these, they work towards safeguarding themselves. In a business and startup ecosystem where things change, share prices dip, and new technologies make both brands and professionals irrelevant at the drop of a hat, this approach to work and business is the only one that ensures survival because it is aware and forward-looking.

Never buy swag - Mark Cuban

On his blog, Mark relates the story of how he doesn’t trust startups that send out branded polo t-shirts to create awareness and that it is a pointless brand awareness tool. After spending years in brand communications, I couldn’t agree more with Mark. Brand awareness has little to do with logos or t-shirts, mugs, pens, banners, calendars, and planners with logos! Often, brand awareness is about telling great stories and doing great work. The rest is unnecessary fluff and usually not the best use of bootstrapped funds or investor money.

Go as far as you can see - JP Morgan

Morgan’s mantra basically invokes readers to constantly move forward. Fear of the unknown often stops startups and founders from taking calculated risks. Their eyes don’t see what is beyond the horizon, and fear is only natural. But every step forward brings lessons, educates us, and brings us a step closer to knowing the unknown. This means that sometimes, we just need to keep moving forward towards the goalposts that we can see because when we get there we realise that there is more to explore. By this approach, the distant future becomes more foreseeable and hence not that scary anymore.

You become what you believe - Oprah Winfrey

Oprah is a big believer in the power of positive thinking. This reflects in her quote too. Realising one’s dreams does take more than just wanting it badly, though confidence and faith in self are the essential ingredients of success. Impostor syndrome and fear happen to the best of us, especially as new entrepreneurs or risk takers. But reframing our thoughts to mould our self-belief and confidence can make things a little easier.

Great products sell themselves - Kevin Systrom

This is just practical advice for all startups in their early days. They can’t make up for an unnecessary product and/or inconsistent execution with top-notch marketing tactics. Conversely, even if the marketing investment is not very huge, if the product itself is useful, consumers will eventually hear about it and invest in it. So startups must focus on a good idea and a great execution team. When the two come together, funding and growth follow, even in the hardest of times.

The client is not always right - Enzo Ferrari

This quote is especially true for businesses like tech services, agencies, digital marketers, consulting startups, etc. There is a fine balance between delivering to the client’s satisfaction and blindly agreeing to briefs, timelines, and opinions. The point is that when a client hires an external party, they demand expertise. If your point of view doesn’t come through and help them make better decisions, you are not doing your job. At the same time, if the timelines and briefs don’t help you give your best work to your clients, you are not doing them any favours either.

So take the mantle of a consultant and do what works in favour of your client’s business objectives rather than being an agreeable “yes man”. It’s just good business acumen.

Move fast and break things - Mark Zuckerberg

This is a mantra that Facebook lived by for years. Simply put, what Zuckerberg means is that if a startup is not making mistakes or “breaking things”, they are neither moving fast enough nor setting very high goals. Failure and setbacks are as much part of the entrepreneurial bargain as success. This approach is useful in tough times, in that failures are often an indication of our appetite for risk and our ability to set high goals.

Begin with the end in mind - Stephen Covey

The second habit from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Successful People, this quote is essentially about the power of goal setting. Whether you are considering self-employment or have an idea of a startup brewing in your mind, it is essential that you have a clear idea of the destination, the end goal. This enables accurate navigation and decision-making towards that end goal instead of “playing it by the ear”, perhaps one of the biggest mistakes of an already risk-ridden entrepreneurial journey.

There are never hard and fast rules that you must follow while taking the entrepreneurial leap. Even these catchphrases are just indicators of what ensures the pursuit. What matters is that you take a well-rounded approach and inspiration from these role models will keep you in check. So what catchphrases do you live by?


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