The five best ever quotes from business titans – and what they mean to you and your startup


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Quotes from heads of business are everywhere. But what happens when you really look at the quote close-up – what is the person really getting at, and is it something that the entrepreneur can truly apply to their business?

Everyone needs some inspiration from time to time, and understanding how business leaders of the past and present thought about their companies and their industries can give us a great deal of useful information.

So let’s look at five well-known names, what they said, and what it means for you and your startup.

  • Steve Jobs
  • Bill Gates
  • Ben Horowitz
  • Phil Knight
  • Warren Buffett


Steve Jobs

Even several years after his death, Jobs is still as present as ever in the conversation about modern business. He was co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc, the chairman of Pixar, and the founder and CEO of NeXT. Under his leadership, Apple helped revolutionise the personal computer and later, the smartphone.

This quote is a long one. But it’s worth it. Here is what Jobs says:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

The lesson Jobs is teaching us is about focusing on ourselves, what we think is the right direction, and then having the guts to see it through. True, not everyone is going to have the innovative genius that Steve Jobs had, but it’s so easy for an idea (in its early stage) to get crushed by negativity or ideas from others that are not helpful.

So what Jobs is saying is to trust your instinct because, as he explains, time is limited and do you really want to spend it taking someone else’s road, when you know deep down the direction you want your idea, and your startup, to take?

Bill Gates

A name that often goes hand-in-hand with Steve Jobs, Gates was his arch competitor for many years. Known as the co-founder of Microsoft, Gates spearheaded the personal computer revolution and brought Windows to the world, among his many other achievements.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Customer service has never been more important. Jeff Bezos has even defined Amazon as first and foremost a customer service company, with the actual products being secondary to how customers feel when they deal with the company.

This is what Gates is saying here – that an unhappy customer may cause you problems in the short-term, but long-term they can help you refine your product or service, and make it more in-line with customer needs. Once your product is truly solving a customer problem, the likelihood of its success is hugely increased. So listen to those unhappy customers, and take note.

Ben Horowitz

A tech entrepreneur, Horowitz co-founded the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He was also CEO of the software company Opsware, and has authored many book on business, particularly startups.

“Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers: They all say, ‘I didn’t quit.’”

Never giving up. It’s a lesson we need to hear constantly since entrepreneurs can face so many setbacks that at times it feels like an impossible task. Not quitting doesn’t mean you don’t have to pivot from time to time, but at the end ensuring that you dig deep and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. That, more than anything else, is likely to lead to success.

Phil Knight

The co-founder and former chairman of Nike, he helped revolutionise not just athletic footwear but how brands market themselves, making him one of the richest men in the world in the process.

“At first, we couldn’t be establishment, because we didn’t have any money. We were guerrilla marketers, and we still are, a little bit. But as we became No. 1 in our industry, we’ve had to modify our culture and become a bit more planned.”

When it comes to marketing, even many decades into its existence, Nike still knows how to make a splash. While its early campaigns may have made some bold statements, their current TV spots still often become genuine cultural moments. Yes, as business people they have had to learn to plan and to strategise, but the lesson here is that even if you grow, it’s important to retain a little bit of that magic that made you who you were when you first started.

Warren Buffett

The name that comes to most people’s minds when they think about ‘rich’, Buffett is the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the most successful investors of all time.

“It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.”

This is a great one to end on. Again and again, Buffett comes back to one simple mantra: keep it simple. And this quote really brings that to life – that you don’t always have to do something incredible. In fact, doing something quite ordinary, but doing it very well or in an original way, can bring incredible results.