Abe Issa trudged up the walkway to another suburban front door, sweat sliding down his back in the blast furnace of a Fort Worth, Texas, summer. He had a pretty good idea of how he’d be received on the other side of the locked screen: “Not interested.” “Don’t need it.” “Don’t waste your time.” Take your pick.
“Whenever I got rejected, it would sting,” admits Issa, whose family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 5 to escape the civil war in Lebanon.
Everyone knows that door-to-door sales went out with the Fuller Brush man. And what Issa sells is even more of a challenge to the established order: In Texas, the heart of oil and gas country, he offers non-fossil-fuel energy solutions. His company, Global Efficient Energy, provides foam insulation, HVAC, LED lighting and solar products—the last a veritable heresy in these parts. Out of every 100 sales calls, he might wrangle three or four appointments to do a free audit to show homeowners the money they could save with more effective energy management.
“I was told by friends, business associates and investors that homeowners would never buy energy management products from someone with no track record, no references, no office and no employees, who happened to knock on their door uninvited,” recalls Issa, who launched Global Efficient Energy in 2011 out of his apartment with $1,000.
But naysayers and conventional wisdom didn’t mean much to Issa. Like all entrepreneurs, he saw things not as they were, but as they could be. Energy costs are a major expense for homeowners; cutting those bills would be a successful value proposition. And everyone wants to save money. Issa took the rejection as motivation, pounding the sidewalks until 9 every night.
To prove his credibility, during home demonstrations he showed images of himself giving a speech in front of a large audience. But it was a bit of sleight of hand—the speech had nothing to do with his energy business; in fact, it was one he had given for a prior venture in real estate that had crashed during the Great Recession. If homeowners inferred he had amassed a great following for his energy company … well, it was a stretch, but one he believed could pay off.
A little bending of the rules is par for the course when you’re trying to spin rank beginnings into going concerns. To get in the game, entrepreneurs have to shade, bend, twist and reinvent business as usual. In other words, they have to break the rules: the central act of entrepreneurship. New ventures change, upend, disrupt the status quo.
Psychologist Michael Kirton, creator of the AdaptionInnovation Inventory that measures problem-solving styles and propensity to innovate, has documented that entrepreneurs think differently than get-along, go-along types—known as “adaptors”—who are more suited to working within companies. Entrepreneurs are “innovators” who treat “accepted means with littler regard in pursuit of goals.”
A study by Zhen Zhang and Richard Arvey found that modest rule-breaking in adolescence (family/school offenses, delinquency) is a marker for entrepreneurial behavior. Google “Bill Gates mug shot” and you’ll find a Cheshire cat-like photo of the future Microsoft founder in his teens, booked for a traffic violation.
“I’ve always been a rule-breaker and someone who goes against convention,” says Heather Gillette, founder and CEO of crowd sourced home-decorating site nousDecor. A high-school dropout, she ran away from home more than once and remembers taking her greatgrandfather’s car out for spins at midnight beyond the safe confines of her family’s private property. Her parents had to take the distributor caps off her car in her teen years so she couldn’t sneak away again.
Gillette talked her way into a job at YouTube as it was just starting and wound up leading the content review, copyright and user-support teams before heading out on her own rule-busting venture—inviting strangers to help folks decorate their homes.
Rebels have an advantage in a realm based on bucking rank and stepping on a few toes. New ventures don’t have the time, resources or legal teams to wait their turn politely. The founders of Airbnb and Uber didn’t say, “Wait, the hotel or taxi industry may not like what we’re doing. Let’s just skip it.” They opted to start first and address problems later. While some of those choices are still being dealt with in the form of lawsuits and protests, it’s a fait accompli, with both firms valued in the billions.
While not everyone who starts a business has a delinquent past, pushing beyond the established order—not to mention social graces, introversion or comfort zones— is required for all entrepreneurs. In Issa’s case, he challenged the conventional wisdom on cold-calling in the 21st century and a belief that you can’t sell whole-home energy fixes, only individual heating or solar plans.
“Everybody said people were too skeptical today, jaded by decades of scams and hustles. They were wrong,” says Issa, whose bet against the accepted order is paying off to the tune of an estimated $60 million in sales in 2015.
THE GRAY ZONE
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
WE KNOW LESS THAN WE THINK
And that’s a good thing! The greatest lesson from the pandemic is this: Possibilities are endless.
READY FOR A BIG RETURN
The end of the pandemic is in sight, and many franchises are anticipating an explosion in business. Leaders at four franchises share how their brands are working overtime to prepare for the rush and win back coveted business.
DESKS THAT KILL ZOOM FATIGUE?
Another workday at home getting you down? A new line of desks will help you up— and help you maintain focus.
ONE RESTAURANT, EIGHT BRANDS
To boost sales during the pandemic, the founders of Dog Haus flooded the delivery apps with virtual restaurants that operate out of existing franchise kitchens. They’ve been so valuable that they’re now here to stay.
MAKING BIG CHANGES IN TIMES OF BIG CHANGE (OR WHY AMAZON CREATED THE KINDLE)
Entrepreneurs are defined by how they adapt during crises. In this exclusive excerpt from their book Working Backwards, longtime Amazon execs Colin Bryar and Bill Carr reveal how the company dealt with massive disruption…and transformed itself as a result.
The year 2021 may feel uncertain, but set your expectations high anyway. Doing so will become your guiding force.
THE TIME FOR REINVENTION IS NOW
Our world has changed. As people—and as entrepreneurs—we should change, too. Follow these three steps to find new opportunities and capture them with success.
HIS WORST FIVE YEARS WERE HIS LIFE'S BEST GIFT
What is it like to build a hit business and then lose all control? Oded Brenner, the founder of Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man has a lot to say about that.
HOW TO TAKE DOWN GOLIATH
The biggest companies can still be taken down by the smallest startups. Here are four strategies disruptors use to fight their way up.
THE RISE OF THE SMART BOARD
Miss having in-person meetings in front of whiteboards? Now you can replicate them remotely.
Tech vs. Journalism
Silicon Valley feels picked on by “woke” journalists “who can't code." Reporters feel picked on by petty zillionaires with anger-management problems. Inside the nasty clout battle for how the world’s most influential industry gets covered.
6 Creative Ways Workers Are Taking Back Power
When workers align with local constituents to fight for shared goals, it strengthens their campaign.
Hiring Heroes: Why Veterans Make Great Tech Employees
Military veterans come with the soft skills employers value most, and many have backgrounds in technology
APPLE'S iPHONE PRIVACY CLAMPDOWN ARRIVES AFTER 7-MONTH DELAY
Apple is following through on its pledge to crack down on Facebook and other snoopy apps that secretly shadow people on their iPhones in order to target more advertising at users.
Confessions of an Overnight Millionaire
“I constantly ask myself, Do I deserve this money?”
Yet Another Winning Year For Hindsight Capital
With the miserable year of 2020 over, it’s time to return to the offices of Hindsight Capital LLC.
A Silicon Curtain Descends
Trump escalated America’s war against Huawei and China. Biden should beware burgeoning technonationalism.
Outdoor Grips Introduces Ergonomics To Rods
You could say Aaron Techlin saw a need in the fishing industry. You’d be even more correct if you said he felt it.
SCIENTISTS COMBAT ANTISEMITISM WITH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
An international team of scientists said it had joined forces to combat the spread of anti-Semitism online with the help of artificial intelligence.
WEATHER CHANNEL APP TO CHANGE PRACTICES AFTER LA LAWSUIT
The operator of The Weather Channel mobile app has agreed to change how it informs users about its location-tracking practices and sale of personal data as part of a settlement with the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, officials.