Until recently, the words “innovation” and “entrepreneur” intimidated me. I always thought that these concepts came from some super-human genius, or that it was some birthright that people either had or didn’t.
Feeling inspired by leaders like Sara Blakeley, founder of Spanx; Elon Musk who runs Tesla, SolarCity, and SpaceX; and Danielle Fong who runs LightSail, I realized that I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines wondering whether I ‘had it.’ I quit my job, started a business, joined the team at Lean Startup Company, and have worked with thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators along the way.
What I learned was that innovation is something that’s accessible to any passionate human who’s willing to challenge herself and learn: it’s a continuous, iterative loop of building new initiatives (projects, products, whatever), testing ideas and measuring results, and learning how to improve each time around. Here are five leaders who exemplify this idea.
1. Anthony Frasier (@anthonyfrasier)
Who He Is: Co-Founder at The Phat Startup
Frasier brings entrepreneurship to underrepresented communities through digital courses, interviews industry leaders and successful entrepreneurs, and lectures on building startups. To date, he’s influenced thousands of aspiring founders and regular hosts hackathons and workshops in cities like Newark, New Jersey – places that aren’t known as startup hubs.
Learn More: You can watch this 5-minute video where he compared entrepreneurship to mixtapes in hip-hop. You can also see how he experimented his way to build a thriving startup community in Newark by watching this video here.
2. Daina Burnes Linton (@fashionmetric)
Who She Is: Co-founder and CEO at Fashion Metric
Linton is a technologist and entrepreneur who is making it easier for men to shop for clothes. Her vision is to build an algorithm that makes it easier for men to find their perfect fits. Before touching any code, Linton spent time validating and refining her initial idea. She ended up pivoting before touching her first line of code. Through patience, persistence, and continuous learning, she’s building technology to create better e-commerce experiences. Fun fact: one of her first customers was her own online store.
Learn More: Watch Linton talk about working with customers before writing code in this video. She walks through her process for researching her customers, adapting her business direction to customer feedback, and focusing her technology around a very precise pain point.
3. Ryan Hoover (@rrhoover)
Who He Is: Founder at Product Hunt
Hoover transformed an email list experiment into a venture-funded startup community with tens of thousands of active members. After he posted this project to Quibb, he received positive feedback from investors and founders. Feeling the energy from his peers, Hoover decided to transform his email list into a website that allowed fellow product enthusiasts to share their own submissions. Over Thanksgiving weekend 2013, right after launching his email list experiment, he built ProductHunt’s first website mockup with his team. In a few short years, that basic idea has grown to team of 15, with more than $7M in funding.
4. Tiffani Bell (@tiffani)
Who She Is: Co-founder and executive director at the Detroit Water Project
In the summer of 2014, Bell found herself wondering how thousands of Detroit residents were coping with water shutoffs. After tweeting her frustrations to a friend, she decided to build her own solution. Within a matter of months, she built a platform to connect donors with Detroit residents in need of financial assistance. Within three months, she and her co-founder raised more than six figures. Along the way, she tested different messaging, outreach efforts, and systems for matching donors with defaulted water bills. Today, the Detroit Water project has connected 10,000 donors with 900 families and has raised more than $180,000.
Learn More: Watch this 5-minute video from the 2014 Lean Startup Conference video, in which Bell shares her experiences building the earliest version of The Detroit Water Project.
5. Mark Ferlatte (@ferlatte)
Who He Is: Co-founder at Tetherpad
In addition to having created a number of mobile products, Ferlatte was involved, as a consultant, with the HealthCare.gov launch. He entered the picture when it looked like the soon-to-be created federal health exchange wasn’t going to happen. With his team, he brought a new perspective to the technical challenges that he was tackling, joined forces with others to lead the implementation team through a course correction, and persisted along the way.
Learn More: Learn about Ferlatte’s HealthCare.gov experience in this conference talk here. In it, he shares his best techniques for measuring progress when dealing with a seemingly huge scope.
What these five leaders can teach us is that innovation stems from a process of trial, error, humility, and open-mindedness. There is no secret. There is no super-humanness. Our best asset is pure grit.
Tweet these leaders to tell them that they’re awesome — because they have no idea that they’re featured on this list!
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Ritika Puri is the resident storyteller at Lean Startup Company, which helps companies large and small bring products to market faster. With direct experience as a startup entrepreneur and former corporate intrapreneur who practices Lean Startup methodologies, she is passionate about helping companies take risks, learn continuously, and get closer to their customers. She frequently writes about and consults on these topics through her content creation company, Storyhackers. She also teaches classes on storytelling and content marketing at General Assembly.