Saturday, March 3, 2018 11:12 am
By Lolu Elegbe
Steve Jobs – Apple. Jack Ma – Alibaba. Elon Musk – Tesla. Bill Gates – Microsoft. Brian Chesky & Joe Gebbia – Airbnb. Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook. Jeff Bezos – Amazon. Garrett Camp & Travis Kalanick – Uber.
What do these people have in common? Through their dedication to technological innovation and advancement – and sheer force of will, they’ve created products and services that have literally changed the world we live in.
I always ask certain questions whenever I get into debates about technological advancement. Why wasn’t the Iphone invented 3000 years ago? Most of the components needed to make it are as old as the earth itself – so why did it fall to Steve Jobs in 2007 to do that? Why weren’t cars, airplanes, computers, etc, invented sooner? Why weren’t they invented by say Adam & Eve or Solomon or Paul or even the great inventors of old like Leonardo da Vinci? If we believe that God is all knowing, then it stands to reason that He knew these inventions would come in the future even before He created Man. So why didn’t He just give them to the first man and woman or the ones that followed shortly after?
The answer I believe is a simple one – God expects us to seek knowledge and understanding. Imagine the technological advances that have taken place in the past fifty years and how primitive the world back then now seems. Now imagine the advances in the next fifty years and how primitive our generation will seem to the generation of that time. This I believe is God’s design for the world – the creative process. Each generation learns from the success and most importantly, the failures of the preceding one, thus having a more advanced starting point to create needed products and services. Now here’s where it gets interesting – contrary to what is taught today, the pre-requisite for all this isn’t salvation! Salvation is about reconciling man to God – that does not absolve a Christian of the creative process. Instead the prerequisite is the ability to think and do – think through an idea and execute it. Thinking and executing have nothing to do with your religious beliefs. If an atheist can think and do, he would have put himself in a position to follow God’s design and will thus be favoured. An example of an atheist who is also very successful? Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the Virgin Group.
Take the people I mentioned above. I’ve read books on all of them and their companies and I can say for a fact that the most important thing they have in common, is an unshakeable belief in the power of their ideas. This belief meant that when they started out, no matter how many hoops they had to jump through, how many setbacks they faced, how many times they had doors shut in their faces, they kept going.
For example, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, the founders of Airbnb, went through so many setbacks that even seasoned start-up experts couldn’t understand why they kept going. Almost no one was interested in “their crazy idea to monetize your spare room when you’re out” (as one investor put it). They built the site but required serious funding to take it to the next level. They tried all sorts of gimmicks including selling cereal boxes with “O”s and “M”s representing Obama and McCain in 2008. Sounds ridiculous, but that particular ridiculous gimmick was what finally opened the doors for them after years of fruitless toiling! A friend set up a meeting for them with a venture capitalist, who was looking for tech start-ups to join a mentoring/training and potential investment programme (Y Combinator). The venture guy, unsurprisingly, didn’t like the idea – specifically, he thought it was too crazy to succeed – so he declined. But as they were leaving his office, he noticed one of the cereal boxes and asked for the story behind it. Once he heard the cereal box story, he suddenly became impressed – not by the idea (which he still thought was ridiculous), but by their cereal box story , which showed him their level of determination and refusal to give up.
He immediately recommended them to the program and also recommended them to a major investor who wasn’t looking for the best idea but the one(s) most likely to stick it out through the rough and tumble of life as a start-up. About a year later, they secured funding of $7.2 million – the rest as they say, is history. Today, Airbnb is worth $30 billion – making its dogged founders billionaires.
The entrepreneurs that have changed the world, started out with similar stories of ideas most people thought were too crazy to succeed. Jeff Bezos left a job with a six figure salary on Wall Street to start Amazon in 1994, a company founded on the idea of being a one-stop for online shopping – but he decided to start with books and then gradually move into other products. When he approached his parents to invest in the company, his dad said, “what do you mean you’re resigning to sell books on the internet?” Remember that this was 1994 – the internet wasn’t what it is today, so his parents didn’t see how his idea made any sense. But his dad relented and said, “We’ll invest – not because we believe in the idea, but because we believe in you”. Today Amazon is worth about $430 Billion, making Jeff Bezos the world’s richest man with a net worth of $110 Billion. By the way, his parents are also now billionaires through that seed investment they made in 1994!
There’s a saying that fortune favours the brave. What that really means is that God favours the thinkers and those who put in the work to execute ideas. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with spirituality (or lack of it). And it’s got nothing to do with giving or tithing or first fruits. I hear all the time that Bill Gates is a billionaire because of his giving – he’s given away a total of $28 Billion. Even a simple fact-check will show that Bill Gates (and almost all the other billionaires) became givers AFTER they became wealthy. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with giving – of course we should all give. But let’s stop spreading this idea that giving was what made these people the fortunes they did. Jeff Bezos isn’t exactly known for giving – he sent out a tweet sometime last year, asking for philanthropy suggestions. This wasn’t just after he became a billionaire, this was AFTER he became the world’s richest man! So I fail to see the logic when I hear that these guys became billionaires because of their giving.
They found favour with God, despite not being spiritual or religious. Why? Because they put themselves at the centre of God’s design for this world. Innovation, development and advancement, brought about by thinking and doing – that’s the design of this world and those that key into that are the ones who change the world, regardless of spiritual status.
PS: Could I recommend 2 books…both by Brad Stone.
1. The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon.
2. The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb and the killer companies of the new Silicon Valley are changing the world.
• Lolu is a management consultant, with over 10 years experience managing large IT and Business Change projects across multiple UK & European industries including financial services, telecoms, pharmaceuticals, etc. Following his training as a lawyer in Moscow, Russia where he received his LLB, he worked on a number of criminal and immigration cases in London, before switching to the consulting industry. Over the past year, he has worked as Country Director for a technology start-up, as part of an exclusive partnership with Microsoft. He is a prolific writer and has written several well received articles. He is also a published author of “Through My Eyes – A foreign view of the 2008 US Presidential Election”