Linda Rottenberg, Co-Founder of Endeavor, discusses the inspiration behind her nonprofit and the vision for the next five years. 

I was inspired to start Endeavor when…

The idea for Endeavor came to me in the back of a Buenos Aires taxi of all places. I struck up a conversation with the cab driver who I learned had a PhD in Engineering, but couldn’t find any other job. When I suggested that he become an entrepreneur, he looked at me like I was speaking an alien language. The word ‘entrepreneur’ didn’t exist in Spanish or Portuguese at the time! I was determined to see entrepreneurship become not just an accepted, but a revered profession in Latin America, as it is in the United States. I knew we had made it when five years later we got a call from a Brazilian editor saying they were adding the word “empreendedorismo” to their dictionary!

Biggest lesson learned from the entrepreneurs in Endeavor’s network…

You don’t need a hoodie, Silicon Valley zip code or golden rolodex to have a million-dollar idea! The biggest barriers to getting going with your crazy (good) idea are not financial, structural, cultural, or political; they are psychological. Our entrepreneurs thriving in the most inhospitable economic climates — from debt-ridden Greece to recession-hit Detroit — prove this time and again.

The biggest barriers to getting going with your crazy (good) idea are not financial, structural, cultural, or political; they are psychological.

Tools I use to monitor accomplishments and challenges…

Endeavor has always been about motivating people to think big, test the boundaries, and push the envelope — starting with our own team. We strive to deliver on this promise by frequently taking the pulse of our organization. With help from Bain Capital, we developed a net promoter score (NPS) that is issued to our entrepreneurs, mentors and employees at least once a year to evaluate our performance and identify areas for improvement. This how we ensure we constantly keep an eye on and advance towards our ultimate goal: to become an organization fully “of, by, and for entrepreneurs.”

3 ways I celebrate my team’s accomplishments…

  1. Public recognition and “psychic equity” for a job well done
  2. Increased responsibilities for the high-achievers
  3. High-fives and hugs for pretty much everybody

Business challenges that I faced early on…

Finding supporters in the business community who would take our idea of identifying and nurturing high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets seriously. It was an upward battle to convince them that latent entrepreneurial talent resided in these overlooked markets and just needed some TLC to surface.

I overcame these challenges by…

One word: Stalking. It’s the most underrated startup strategy and, in my opinion, a lost (dark) art. Six months into Endeavor, I was still trying to assemble our board when I learned that Peter Brooke, the legendary venture capitalist and private equity pioneer, was speaking at Harvard Business School, so I followed him — all the way to Cambridge, to Aldrich Lecture Hall, and to the men’s bathroom, where I cornered him. I walked away from that conversation with a reputation for stalking and with Endeavor’s first co-chairman!

My best advice for entrepreneurs evaluating growth opportunities…

One of the trickiest questions entrepreneurs face is: Once you have your big idea, how far should you be willing to go for it? I encourage our entrepreneurs to take risks…without risking it all. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to mean throwing caution to the wind and swinging for the fences. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs today — Sara Blakely of Spanx, Phil Knight of Nike — kept their day jobs while working out their ventures.

Bottom line: Don’t bet the farm; wager a few chickens instead.

Where I envision Endeavor in five years…

Five years from now I hope to see Endeavor become one of the world’s first self-sustaining non-profits. To get there, we’ve implemented a “pledge program” that encourages our entrepreneurs to give back to the network and pay it forward after they’ve attained individual success. More importantly, we launched Endeavor Catalyst, a first-of-its-kind co-investment fund that allows us to support the companies in our portfolio with financial capital on top of the mentor capital we’ve always put a premium on. Returns from the fund will go towards empowering the next class of Endeavor entrepreneurs, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of entrepreneur-led growth.

Entrepreneur is really another word for doer.

The aspect of my work that gives me the most happiness is…

Seeing entrepreneurs who started out as individualists turn into the most generous mentors and inspiring role models after realizing the “multiplier effect” they can have on their communities by giving back. Today, 90% of Endeavor entrepreneurs compound their impact by serving as investors, mentors, advisors and role models to future generations of dreamers.

What entrepreneurship means to me…

Entrepreneurship isn’t just about starting a business. It’s more of a mindset than a profession; it’s a way of looking at the world that is contrary to how others see it. Many of the best ideas fulfill a need no one knows exists. Being an entrepreneur often means being misunderstood and being called crazy at times for thinking big, doing the unexpected and challenging the status quo. Another definition I like comes from one of Endeavor’s very first entrepreneurs, who says, “entrepreneur is really another word for doer.” Entrepreneurs actualize the future instead of merely imagining it. They live within their illusions, but then strive to make them real.