Bill Erbey: Building Better Businesses

William Erbey’s tips on what to do when starting and running companies


According to The Economist magazine, the number of new businesses in America is booming and no other rich-world country is experiencing the same rise in entrepreneurship. In an article written just a month ago, it says that the pandemic has ‘had all sorts of unexpected consequences, from a boom in sour-dough bread baking, to more people listening to nostalgic music on Spotify.

The US government’s statistics on new business formation are derived from applications for tax registrations, and ‘they reflect a genuine rise in American entrepreneurship from Internet companies to apps, to delivery and takeaway services.’

With the advent of COVID19 and the world pandemic, the economy has of course seen many losers as well as winners, along with a sharp increase in unemployment and bankruptcies. The economic impacts of the world pandemic are still being analyzed, but the demand for services ‘that require face-to-face interaction, such as hotels, restaurants in the retail trade and the hotel and travel industry have substantially contracted’. It has also seen the advent of new, positive opportunities for start-ups, particularly in the use of the Internet.

So what is an entrepreneur meant to look for when starting a company, or seeking to take it to the next level and exploit the current opportunities?

Bill Erbey iis a successful, serial entrepreneur who founded six, multibillion-dollar public companies in the United States, which just five years ago were listed by Fortune magazine as the eighth and 26th fastest growing companies of the year. Bill is a modest man too, who does not court publicity, and enjoys being an old-fashioned, hard-working, straight-talking businessman.

Although he’s often written about in the media as an entrepreneur to watch, Bill Erbey doesn’t give many interviews, but it’s still possible from his few responses, to deduce the secrets of his success in setting up and running multibillion-dollar companies.

  1. You need a definite goal; one that can be applied to all aspects of the business.

My goal was to devise products that provide greater value to the customer, that can be produced at a lower cost so that I can compete on price if need be. In my case, this almost always involves technology solution, grounded in mathematics and statistics”.

  1. Always add time and money to your original plans, whether you’re seeking to build a multi-billion dollar company from scratch, or taking it to the level.

“First, everything takes longer and cost more than you anticipate. Often your initial idea requires a pivot. Make certain that you have a sufficient capital buffer, so that you do not go out of business before you achieve your goal”.

  1. Human resources play a vital part of any company, the bigger the company the greater the opportunity.

“Hire the best people. Agree on high-level goals and objectives, and get out of their way! Make certain that you have more than sufficient capital and liquidity to grow the business. Establish a culture of hard work and attention to detail, while simultaneously encouraging inductive thinking. Often onlookers see the final result without the work and effort that have gone into that result”.

  1. The key to good management is finding the best employees who fit a company’s needs.

“There are many aspects to finding people who will be successful employees in your company. It’s one of the most difficult tasks and the most susceptible to failure, that a manager faces. Relevant experience and knowledge, intelligence, personality and job stability are all important factors in employee success. I think of each of each of these variables as a screen. Fail any one of them and the odds of the employee being successful are severely limited. Unfortunately, selecting employees is all about probabilities. There is no litmus test that will ensure 100% success”.

  1. There are times when you must walk away from a potential opportunity; look for the warning signs.

“A lack of solid patent protection and a complex and long development cycle. There are many exciting opportunities, which will require hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and decades to perfect. These are well beyond my scope of interest. I am attracted to solutions where the inventor has taken a unique perspective to a well-defined problem”.

  1. Learn from failure, to ignore it is to repeat it.

“Failure is a part of learning. Beyond schooling, young adults have a lot to learn and one of the best places to learn how to become successful in business, is at a highly successful established company”.

  1. Never expect more from your workforce then you’re willing to do yourself.

“I used to work between 80 and a hundred hours a week. I do not work 75 hour weeks any longer. I am over 70 years old and have cut back to 60 hours. Going to work is my hobby. I enjoy the mental challenge of solving problems. I really enjoy what I do. I’ve also learned over the years that it’s good to take time to recharge the batteries. I exercise more now than ever, and the dividends are amazing in terms of energy, focus and stamina!”.

  1. You have to be an optimist.

“I believe that one has to be an optimist and believe in what one is doing, to be a successful entrepreneur. There are too many setbacks in building a company and too many reasons to give up. When I grew up in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania there was a saying “it does not matter how many times you get knocked down. What matters is how many times you get back up.” That was a great lesson for a career in business as well”.