How Early Entrepreneurs Got Things Done

If he were alive today, he’d have a plethora of options including: blogs, email, video and audio conferencing, SMS chats, Facebook, LinkedIn, project management software, and more.

Benjamin FranklinFrom technology to beauty, agriculture, the culinary arts, fitness, education, and beyond, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to drive innovation around the world. It’s booming in Africa for example, and starting to recover from an earlier decline in the United States. Today’s entrepreneurs share a lot in common with those of yesteryear. Like their predecessors, they are dreamers, makers, doers…

Let’s take a stroll back in time to see just how much we have in common with those who came before us and how they got things done long before the phrase was coined.

Business Networking in Colonial Times

You may know him as the inventor of bifocals, the face on the $100 bill, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the first Postmaster General of the United States, and the man who flew a kite to verify the nature of electricity and lightning, but did you know that Benjamin Franklin was a self-taught entrepreneur with exceptional business networking skills?

An article on suggests that Ben Franklin was America’s first global entrepreneur. Below are a few of Franklin’s qualities the author presented that set Franklin apart as a business networking expert of his time:

  • He knew how to communicate on many different levels. In his earlier years, Franklin was a self-taught printer turned publisher who often wrote opinion pieces under assumed names. He was a master at making a case, a skill that came in handy as he traveled the world making a case for America. Franklin was also a master of the short and sweet. He could communicate beautifully with short stories and quotes.
  • He traveled frequently and worked to build alliances via social contacts, influence, and a deep understanding of human nature. A master of persuasion, Ben Franklin forged alliances that helped America win the Revolutionary War.
  • He knew how to get things done. Productive in good times and in bad, Franklin seized opportunities and took his time as needed. He was a successful diplomat who could influence others.

Ben Franklin’s communications and productivity tools were limited to those of his era: newspaper articles, letters, couriers, in-person interactions, and ink-stained to-do lists. If he were alive today, he’d have a plethora of options including: blogs, email, video and audio conferencing, SMS chats, Facebook, LinkedIn, project management software, and more. While technology certainly helps entrepreneurs share their ideas, find supporters, build partnerships and alliances, and get things done, there’s a lot to be learned from a man like Benjamin Franklin who used his communications skills and understanding of human nature to help shape the world.

From Telegraphs to Tweeting Taco Trucks

Here’s another entrepreneur from the past that got things done: Thomas Edison. As noted in an earlier blog post, Edison was a true telecom pioneer who contributed so much more than just the light bulb. His entrepreneurial spirit was readily apparent at an early age.

As a teenager, for example,  Edison worked as a newsboy and candy seller for the Grand Trunk Railway. It didn’t take long before he started his own side businesses: a periodical stand and a vegetable stand. He didn’t work these two businesses himself, rather he hired other boys to do so, plus a third one to sell candy on the train. He used the railway to source his supplies.

The Civil War increased demand for news, and Edison understood this. Rather than obtaining just 100 newspapers to sell, he’d obtain 1,000. He soon began publishing his own newspaper to sell to these same customers. He also utilized the telegraph to send alerts in advance that he was on his way with newspapers. As a result, he’d arrive at a train station and his customers would be waiting.

Today, entrepreneurs use a similar tactic to communicate with customers, though the technology has changed. For example, food trucks have taken to Twitter to announce their planned whereabouts to hungry customers. When the trucks roll in, customers are already eagerly awaiting their arrival.

The next time you schedule a global conference call or get a tweet from your favorite taco truck, pause for a moment and think about the entrepreneurs who came before. How might they have solved the challenge you’re currently working on?

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“2017 State of Entrepreneurship Address |” 2017. Accessed September 7.

“How Did Ben Franklin Become Our First Global Entrepreneur?” 2017. Accessed September 7.

“Quick Biography of Benjamin Franklin.” 2017. Accessed September 7.

“Thomas A. Edison Papers.” 2017. Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences. Accessed September 7.

“Why African Entrepreneurship Is Booming.” 2017. Accessed September 7.

“Zero Barriers | Kauffman Entrepreneurs.” 2017. Accessed September 7.