Named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and one of TIME’s 100 “Innovators for the 21st century,” Linda Rottenberg is considered among the world’s most dynamic experts on entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership. Her pioneering work also earned her a host of nicknames: ABC and NPR declared her “the entrepreneur whisperer,” Tom Friedman dubbed her the world’s “mentor capitalist,” Business Insider named her “Ms. Davos,” and for years she was known as “la chica loca” (the crazy girl) for insisting that entrepreneurs existed not only in Silicon Valley but also in emerging markets around the world.
Rottenberg is co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, the premier organization focusing on the scale-up phase of entrepreneurship. Headquartered in New York with 50 offices across the globe, Endeavor identifies, mentors, and co-invests in “high-impact” entrepreneurs: those with the biggest ideas, the likeliest potential to build companies that matter, and the greatest ability to inspire others. Since 1997, Rottenberg’s network has screened 40,000 candidates, handpicked 1,000 Endeavor Entrepreneurs, and helped them grow to provide 400,000 jobs and generate $7 billion annually.
Linda is also author of a New York Times bestseller, Crazy Is A Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags, published in October 2014. A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Linda lives in Brooklyn with her husband, author and New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler, and their identical twin daughters.
Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of her.
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Morris: Before discussing Crazy Is a Compliment, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Rottenberg: My twin daughters, Tybee and Eden, have greatly impacted both my personal and professional growth. Just by virtue of being born they changed my whole leadership style. I used to be a perfectionist and a micromanager but I had to learn to let go and say no occasionally in order to be with them. As Eden wisely pointed out at the ripe young age of 5: “You can be an entrepreneur for a short time, but you’re a mommy forever!” It is for this reason that I encourage Endeavor employees and entrepreneurs to “go big and go home,” rather than choosing either-or.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Rottenberg: When Edgar Bronfman became chairman of Endeavor, he unwittingly became a mentor, both guarding my back and pushing me forward. And he did it without any recognition. One reason mentorship has become so central to who I am is that I’m forever trying to help others who find themselves in the same situation as when I felt most alone and someone stepped into the breach to help me.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Rottenberg: At Harvard, I majored in social studies which taught me to care about the world and think holistically about its problems. It also introduced me to Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist who argued that a nation’s “fiery spirits” (a.k.a. entrepreneurs) are its most powerful economic change agents as forces of “creative destruction.” I developed a passion for social activism and entrepreneurship then and there. And Yale Law School confirmed what I probably already knew, that I didn’t want to be a lawyer! Fortunately, my professors recognized this and gave me an opportunity in Latin America that led me first to join Bill Drayton’s Ashoka and eventually to co-found Endeavor with Peter Kellner.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Rottenberg: It was actually in the back seat of a taxi in Buenos Aires that I encountered my “crazy moment” and decided to start Endeavor. I was talking to my taxi driver and I learned that he had a Ph.D. in Engineering. So I asked him, “Why are you driving a cab? Why don’t you become an entrepreneur?” He said, “Become a what?” It turns out that the word “entrepreneur” was barely understood, let alone used, in the Spanish vocabulary. More importantly, there was no network, there were no mentors, and no access to capital there – all of which are critical to starting a business. So I partnered with a friend, Peter Kellner, and started organizing groups of successful entrepreneurs and business people who could help mentor promising entrepreneurs in Latin America. One of my proudest moments is when I learned from the editor of a leading Brazilian dictionary that, thanks to Endeavor’s efforts, the word empreendedorismo, or “entrepreneurship,” was being incorporated in the next edition.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Rottenberg: I wish I had known how underrated stalking is as a startup strategy! My ability to ‘stalk’ (investors, board members, entrepreneurs, etc.) served me well when I was getting started with Endeavor. A certain amount of chutzpah is just as important as capital. I even waited for a potential investor outside the men’s room once just to get a few minutes of face-time with him. Get over the sense that you might be perceived as aggressive (women especially have to learn this). Find a little courage and reach out to a mentor you admire. People respond to passion. The victim of my stalking did: he ultimately agreed to co-chair Endeavor’s global advisory board.
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond.
First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Rottenberg: Entrepreneurs often want to be their own bosses, but no one can do it alone. You need a robust team of mentors, partners, and employees on the ground. We honor this principle at Endeavor in two ways: first, by connecting our entrepreneurs with a rich network of role models from which to learn and grow; second, by insisting that the businesses we support are embedded in their local communities and help grow the local economies.
Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
Rottenberg: I couldn’t agree more with Aiken! I’ve found that at every turn, someone (or, more likely, everyone) will call you and your idea crazy because if it’s any good it will disrupt the status quo. The job of the innovator is to push past naysayers and find a way to drive forward. Often the toughest naysayer is YOU. Before you worry about how to convince others that your idea is the greatest thing since sliced bread, make sure you have fully convinced yourself.
Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”
Rottenberg: Whatever their field, entrepreneurs are fundamentally in the business of disrupting the status quo, of forging a new path and envisioning a different future. But once their “crazy” ideas catch on and become the new norm, their work isn’t done. Though people are naturally resistant to change, change is the only constant. If you want to stay ahead today, you have to continuously reinvent yourself and your business or risk being left behind.
Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”
Rottenberg: The first step to becoming an entrepreneur does not happen in a laboratory, a conference room, or even a pitch session. That “crazy” moment happens in the mind. And not the part of the mind where the light-bulbs go off and the ahas are heard. It happens in the part where the darkness resides and the doubts cry out. It happens when you are exposed.
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To read all of Part 1, please click here.
Linda cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites: