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Lesson #1: Be Willing To Roll the Dice
“In retrospect it was ridiculous to try to put this system together,” says Smith, “which required so much up front money, and required changing a lot of government regulations, but I didn't know that at the time…I didn't know that I couldn't do this.”
What Smith was proposing in Federal Express had never been done before, and to make it successful, he would have to realize it on a large scale. He admits that it was a crazy idea and that he was even crazier for wanting to be the first one to do it. But, it was Smith’s ability see the possibilities through the risks that made him the success he is today. He believed strongly in his idea and was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.
“I was very convinced that the idea was the central feature of the new economy,” says Smith. “That without a system like this, it simply wasn't going to be able to work. So I was, in every sense of the word, a zealot.” It was the conviction of his belief that gave Smith the courage to gamble and take a chance that others would share his vision. “I felt very strongly that this needed to be done, that it was something that would be extremely useful to people and that it would make the economy and the society and the system work much better than it would work absent that,” he says.
As a result, Smith committed himself 100% to his business idea regardless of how risky and foolish others said it was. “I wasn't afraid to lose my money,” says Smith. “I knew I was right; I knew I had put this thing together properly and that it was going to be all right. That was what stood me in good stead.”
Smith never lost confidence in himself or his company because he never believed that the consequences of failing were as bad as others were saying. “‘Oh my goodness, I've lost my money!’ or what have you,” says Smith. “I just wasn't motivated along those lines. And I was very, very, very sure that what we were doing was extremely important and was destined to be successful.”
Smith’s perspective on success was something he had gained during his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. “The currency of exchange in FedEx was just money, it wasn't people's arms and legs, or lives,” he says. “I was willing to take a chance, because losing wasn't the worst thing in the world that could happen to you. I had seen that very clearly.”
While Smith admits that both luck and naïveté played large roles in his success, he knows that it was primarily his ability to take risks that put him where he is today. “That's the definition I think of an insane person, or a zealot,” says Smith. “And most entrepreneurs, I think you would find, have that sort of green wire laid in there just a little bit cross-wise. And they begin to get focused on something, and they believe in the idea or themselves far beyond what they probably should.”
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