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November 8, 2018 General

Podcasts: Channels for Business and Leadership Inspiration

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By Theresa Conway

In my last blog, I wrote about how hiking the cairns of the Adirondacks is a lot like guiding your business through periods of growth. In the business world, cairns take on the form of books, speeches from business leaders, or even research articles. One of my favorite cairns is a podcast I listen to on my commute to and from work: “How I Built This.” This podcast provides inspiration for me as a key executive in a small growing company.

The host of this podcast, Guy Raz, interviews entrepreneurs of all ages about the journey they followed to build their companies. Many of these companies are some of my favorite brands and products, including Patagonia, Instagram, TRX, Clif Bar, Honest Tea, Stitch Fix, Bob’s Red Mill, Kate Spade, Spanx, Whole Foods, Rent the Runway and so many more. (Of course, my favorite episode was Ben and Jerry’s because it’s all about ice cream!)

These are all companies that started as a spark of an idea and grew into a substantial business. After listening to many of these episodes, I noticed that the entrepreneurs featured on this podcast share many similar characteristics.


The growth of a company depends on the pursuit of an idea that is uniquely different than the products or services that are already available. A vision could be an idea of a potentially disruptive new technology, a service that fills a void, or how to enhance an existing product to create another product. The podcast’s guests tell engaging stories of how their visions slowly or quickly grew from a simple idea into the basis of a successful company. Patagonia was started with the simple idea that climbing gear could be made better.


Entrepreneurs go through many ups and downs during their lives. Their resilience and ability to keep going when they hit the valleys allows them to pursue their ideas. This characteristic is so inspiring to me, especially on work days when I seem to encounter one issue after another. On these days, the episode from my morning commute is fresh in my mind and helps me see beyond any setbacks. Melissa and Doug, the founders of the toy company by the same name, encountered failure when the launch of their 3D puzzle line flopped. Now, they no longer fear setbacks because they have encountered so many. They view them as an opportunity to learn.

Strong Work Ethic

It’s amazing to me to hear about the amount of hard work and sacrifice that goes into building a company. For so many, the passionate pursuit of their vision turns their hard work and sacrifice into an exciting and fulfilling personal journey. And the hard work never seems to end, even when the company achieves success or is bought out. The founder of Panera Bread launched a second food-related empire after spending 25 years building Panera Bread before it was ultimately sold.


Many of the entrepreneurs on this podcast share the ability to find an open window when a door closes on them. This characteristic is the one that often leads to the first big break that fills enough wind in the sails (and sales) that they need to further form their company. In order to better position her new product, the founder of Spanx would move store displays around when employees weren’t looking!

A Stroke of Luck

At the end of every episode, the last question Guy Raz always asks is whether his guests believe that intelligence or luck was more responsible for the success they achieved. The answer is predominantly luck – but luck that is peppered with something else, like persistence or support from friends and family.

The few final minutes of “How I Built This” is always dedicated to entrepreneurs of small companies who submitted their ideas to be highlighted during the final portion of each episode, called “How You Built That.”  This mini-segment always brings these stories of success a little closer to home and reminds me that building a small business can be just as fulfilling as building a big one!


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Theresa Conway

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