Astro Teller, the head of X, Google’s moonshot factory, learned to openly encourage failure because it provides concrete direction when building things like self-driving cars. Neil Blumenthal, the cofounder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, drew from his own background and experience as director of a nonprofit to build his seemingly risky buy-one, give-one online glasses company. As an MBA student, Shazi Visram, the founder and CEO of organic food company Happy Family, saw friends struggling to find or make their own healthy baby food, so she started her own brand, complete with a larger social initiative to deliver healthy food to more children around the world.
In her new book, Be Fearless: Five Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose, Jean Case, the CEO of private nonprofit The Case Foundation, writes about these surprising journeys of some of America’s most successful entrepreneurs.
As Case explains it, these folks bucked conventional thinking about how businesses should run, or even who should be starting businesses in the first place. “The book is premised on some research that we did at The Case Foundation looking into whether there’s a secret sauce of those who created transformations or found breakthroughs,” she says. She found that many success stories contain five ingredients: make a big bet; be bold, take risks; make failure matter; reach beyond your bubble; and let urgency conquer fear.
“Those five principles frame the book, but they’re brought to life through stories of entrepreneurs from all walks and all places who applied the principles in their own entrepreneurial journey, and I think can be an inspiration to anyone thinking about either starting a company today or taking a company to the next level,” she adds. As she’s told Fast Company recently: “Fearlessness is not the lack of fear, but rather the courage and the strength to overcome it.”
That’s in line with The Case Foundation’s mission. Over the last 20 years, the funding organization has contributed more than $100 million in funding to businesses and nonprofits that use entrepreneurship and innovation to make social change. It’s backed by Case, who is also the chairwoman of the National Geographic Society, and her husband, Steve Case, the former AOL CEO and chairman. Jean Case has also discussed the finer points of successful social entrepreneurship on Medium.
In the business world, she says that one of the most crucial but often overlooked factors today is the idea of reaching beyond your bubble–which could be thought of as building unlikely partnerships. For instance, several years ago National Geographic wanted to expand its reach, so they began working with Fox Cable Networks on a television channel, precisely because it was beyond their realm of immediate expertise. “Most nonprofits wouldn’t think about approaching a large media entity with an idea like that, but it’s turned out to be a remarkably successful through the years,” she adds (though it has not been without controversy).
Case says that being intentional about bringing different types of people to your own team is important, too, because it covers potential strategic blind spots and may offer more creative solutions. “There’s real power in partnerships that are unlikely and teams that are diverse to help people take their idea further and faster.”