What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

Here at HBX, we’ve spent the last several months working with Professor William Sahlman, a Baker Foundation Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, to answer that question. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is that it takes more than having a great idea and a hooded sweatshirt.

We’re excited to launch Entrepreneurship Essentials, which delves more deeply into that question’s many answers. Throughout the course, we’ll discuss where to find entrepreneurial opportunities, and give you the tools to test if your idea has potential. We’ll then go into the mechanics of building a business from the ground up – including picking the right team, taking advantage of shifting context, and shaping favorable deals to reach your goals. Finally, we’ll talk about financing, and demystify who potential investors are and how you might work with them.

We were fortunate to speak to many successful entrepreneurs and investors, whose experience offers a rich perspective into the challenges of entrepreneurship and how to overcome them. For now, we’ll focus on the three stories that anchor each of our three modules, respectively.

First, for Module 1, we travelled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to speak with John Osher, a serial entrepreneur whose businesses range from establishing Harvard Square’s first secondhand clothing shop while still in college, developing energy efficient faucets during the 1970’s energy crisis, and bringing the first low-price mechanical toothbrush to the mass market. John is a master of recognizing opportunities and assembling lean teams to take advantage of them, and from him we truly came to believe one of our course motto’s – that opportunities are everywhere.

Next, our team met with Jenn Hyman, the CEO and co-founder of Rent the Runway, in the company’s New York City headquarters. Jenn, an HBS graduate, discussed her path to entrepreneurship, sharing that she sees herself as a “sociologist of the world.” Through Jenn’s story, we unpack the details of founding and running a successful business.

Later in the course, we went to Silicon Valley to speak with Scott Cook, the co-founder of Intuit. We sat with Scott in Intuit’s newest building – an expansive, light-filled building on their campus. During our interview, we spoke with Scott about the early days of Intuit, when the company was no more than an idea – to take the headache out of personal finance – headquartered out of his home garage. In its early days, Intuit struggled with keeping the lights on and paying its employees, and the company danced with bankruptcy for several years before finally achieving its big break.

We were fascinated by these stories, and inspired by John, Jenn, and Scott’s perseverance and paths to success. We hope that by hearing these stories, you’ll see that entrepreneurship isn’t magic. It’s a difficult journey – one with many ups and downs and challenges – but one that’s attainable.

We hope that you’ll come along on this journey with us!

Courtney Kaplan

About the Author

Courtney is a member of the Course Delivery Team at HBX, focusing on developing courses in Negotiation and Financial Entrepreneurship. She holds a BA in Global Affairs from Yale University. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors and with friends, wandering around libraries, and learning new things.