“The best entrepreneurs are not only remarkably creative, they have a sense of optimism that some people say borders on the delusional.” — Michael Sonnenfeldt
Michael Sonnenfeldt began his entrepreneurial career by undertaking the then world’s largest commercial renovation, the transformation of the 2.4 million square foot Harbor-side Financial Center in Jersey City, NJ, which was sold for over $120 million. He was 26. In 1999, Sonnenfeldt founded TIGER 21, a network of peer-to-peer learning groups for high-net-worth investors. TIGER 21 provides Members with powerful perspective – their own personal board of directors made up of visionaries, executives, entrepreneurs, and investors; the best minds and resources in the world at your service.
TIGER 21 has over 500 Members, who collectively manage more than $50 billion in personal assets. The Tiger 21 community is diverse in terms of age, prior business experience, and net worth. All members have been extremely successful in their chosen fields and have a minimum of $10 million in personal assets to invest. TIGER 21 has been called the wealthiest, most powerful social networking group in the world.
Sonnenfeldt is author of a new book Think Bigger: And 39 Other Winning Strategies from Successful Entrepreneurs. Think Bigger draws from Sonnenfeldt’s experience as a serial entrepreneur and successful business executive in order to answer what it takes to be personally and professionally successful. Think Bigger formulates a success thesis based on experience of TIGER 21 member wisdom and insights and then expands with additional research, interviews and unique guidance from Sonnenfeldt himself. At a very high level, the main takeaways of the book are:
- Why grit and focus trump intelligence just about every time.
- Why having—and listening to— a wise mentor will create shortcuts to getting more done.
- What you need to do to avoid getting in your own way. And why.
To learn more about how entrepreneurs and today’s business leaders can think bigger and achieve more success, Ray Wang, CEO and founder of Constellation Research, and I invited Sonnenfeldt to our weekly show DisrupTV. Here are our major takeaways of our interview with Sonnenfeldt:
1. The most surprising obstacle that entrepreneurs need to overcome, that many do not consider when starting out on their own, is to think bigger. This is the reason Sonnenfeldt called the book Think Bigger. In his book, Sonnenfeldt identified 40 obstacles including the importance of finding a mentor.
“Most of us want to make the world a better place. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the skills required to build a successful company—identifying a need and bringing the people and other resources necessary to solve it—are transferable.” — M. Sonnenfeldt
2. Entrepreneurship is about optimism in the face of failure. ‘Know thy self’ is a chapter in the book that speaks to people who are really not cut-out to be entrepreneurs. There is a high death rate with entrepreneurs. Sonnenfeldt reminds us that it takes grit and perseverance to go from developing a good idea to building a successful business.
“Entrepreneurs are so remarkably focused on making their business successful that they are not typically prepared for what comes next should they actually “make it.” I wanted to create an organization where wealth-builders could come together, learn from one another, and talk about “where do I go from here.” — Michael Sonnenfeldt
3. Mentors can help you identify your blind-spots - blind-spots are by definition not visible to entrepreneurs - When you know your limitation, you can try to hire people who can fill-out your blind-spots. The most successful entrepreneurs have mentors in their relationships. The least successful entrepreneurs make excuses for not finding entrepreneurs.
4. The most important traits for successful entrepreneurs is grit and determination, not intelligence - Grit and determination are better predictors of success than intelligence. The ability to start, fail and restart again, over and over during a career span is based on grit and determination.
5. Successful entrepreneurs pass the marshmallow test - the most famous test from Stanford was putting marshmallows in front of children and asking them to wait 20 minutes before eating the marshmallows. Only a few children were able to wait the 20 minutes. Stanford tracked the children for 40 years. The marshmallow test is the single best predictor of success - it’s all about delayed self-gratification. “A life of an entrepreneur is about reinvesting and going for the long-term and eventually finding success,” said Sonnenfeldt.
The most common, valuable traits among successful entrepreneurs is grit and determination. It is more important that “mere” smarts. Also Resilience and an over-whelming desire to solve a problem—be it a commercial or societal one. — Michael Sonnenfeldt
6. Scalability of information and communication has completely changed the competitive landscape - International competition is the biggest challenge today. “What has changed is where competition is coming from—it is remarkably easy for a business to compete globally today, so you may be trying to fend off someone half a world away,” — Michael Sonnenfeldt
7. The purpose of business is to solve society’s problems - We have had a dramatic shift in defining the purpose of business, according to Sonnenfeldt. Many entrepreneurs believe that building a an honest, good, decent company that is environmentally responsible is enough. At TIGER 21, the belief is that entrepreneurs can do more to address the disparities in the world. Sonnenfeldt spoke about how TIGER 21 is helping in Houston by combining charitable giving, on-site volunteering and providing business loans to help accelerate the rebuilding of communities.
“Sharing this wisdom has never been more important. The wealth gap between the rich and poor is starker than ever. And our country’s once-thriving middle class is eroding. The future’s jobs will come from entrepreneurs,” said Sonnenfeldt.
8. Preservation of social, reputation and intellectual capital is about communication and explicit sharing of core values - Teaching the value of hard working and being responsible is critical for parents and their children. Do you treat your children equally or equitably? Successful entrepreneurs invest in their family, giving them respect, mentoring them to value giving back and importance of hard work. Families have values, and if a family can be explicit about their values, not just about their financial capital, but their social, reputation and intellectual capital, then children are better positioned for success. Communication is the most important element in preservation of social, intellectual and reputation capital through generations.
9. What makes a high performing team - be nice. According to Sonnenfeldt, a Google study found that most young employees are looking for employees (bosses and mentors) that they can turn to in time of personal or professional need. Being nice is a strong indicator of future success.
Michael Sonnenfeldt is an extraordinary serial entrepreneur and a brilliant business executive. His new book Think Bigger is highly inspiring and educational - a must read for all business leaders. I am most impressed by Sonnenfeldt’s genuine interest and compassion about helping business leaders improve the state of the world. I recommend that you watch our conversation with Sonnenfeldt and draw from his wisdom and sage advice.