This profile is published as part of Pledge 1%’s Women Who Lead series, which celebrates women in the Pledge 1% community who are creating change within their workplace and communities.
Named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and one of TIME’s 100 “Innovators for the 21st century,” Linda Rottenberg is among the foremost experts on entrepreneurship, corporate innovation, and leadership. Dubbed the “Entrepreneur Whisperer,” Rottenberg has won acclaim for her pioneering work, with profiles in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist, and appearances on GMA, The Today Show, Morning Joe, and more. For years, Rottenberg was known as “La Chica Loca” (the crazy girl) for insisting that scalable entrepreneurs existed in emerging and growth markets.
As co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, Rottenberg has led the global entrepreneurship movement for two decades. Headquartered in New York, with 50 offices worldwide, Endeavor rigorously selects, mentors, and co-invests in innovators with the greatest potential to grow their businesses and move the needle of their economies. Currently, the 1,500 Endeavor Entrepreneurs, screened from over 50,000 candidates, provide nearly 700,000 jobs and generate $10 billion in annual revenues. Today, Rottenberg also leads Endeavor Catalyst LP Funds I and II, rules-based funds that invest in Endeavor Entrepreneurs.
Rottenberg is the author of the New York Times bestseller, CRAZY IS A COMPLIMENT: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags. Additionally, Rottenberg serves on the boards of ZAYO (NYSE: ZAYO), the world’s leading bandwidth infrastructure group, and Olo, a premier online ordering platform. She is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and served on the entrepreneurship steering committee of the World Economic Forum.
A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Linda Rottenberg lives in Brooklyn with her husband, author and New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler, and their identical twin daughters.
Read the full interview below to learn more.
What inspired you to work in this industry?
The idea for Endeavor was born—of all places—in the back of a Buenos Aires taxicab! My driver, I learned, had a PhD in Engineering, but could not find any other job. When I suggested that he become an entrepreneur, he looked at me dumbfounded—“A what?” he had never heard of the term, so foreign was the concept there of someone successfully launching and running a new venture, outside the purview of government cronies and private business tycoons. I did some digging and found that there was a pervasive donut hole in investment for entrepreneurs that neither qualified for microfinance nor private equity funding.
I connected with an old friend, Peter Kellner, and at my parents’ kitchen table we started mapping out our vision for an organization that would help for-profit entrepreneurs in emerging markets get started and go to scale. Twenty years later, that hazy vision is now a global network of over 1,400 entrepreneurs leading 900 companies that have collectively created half a million jobs and generated $8 billion in annual revenues.
Is your company a Pledge 1% member or do you personally give back to your community? If so, how do you give and to what cause?
Endeavor is thrilled to be part of Pledge 1%’s Escrow UP initiative, alongside other great organizations working on entrepreneurship. Likewise, “paying it forward” is truly at the heart of Endeavor’s mission, and many of our entrepreneurs become Endeavor mentors or board members, multiplying their impact by inspiring future generations of founders within their local ecosystems and around the world to innovate and take risks.
Do you serve as a mentor? What does mentorship mean to you?
Yes. Running an organization “of, for, and by entrepreneurs,” I can’t presume to support and mentor high-impact companies if I’m not one myself! As such, at Endeavor we’re hyper-conscious to practice what we preach on thinking big, taking risks, doing the unexpected and disrupting the status quo. The idea behind Endeavor was always to nurture people with big ideas and big dreams, starting with my own team.
I want people to know that they don’t need a hoodie or a Silicon Valley zip code or a rolodex of impressive contacts to be an entrepreneur. The most important thing entrepreneurs can do for their businesses is to surround themselves with a circle of mentors who can offer a rotating mixture of tough love, wise counsel, fresh insight and clear direction. In a survey we conducted, our entrepreneurs overwhelmingly found that the most valuable contribution to their success was not financial investment but rather mentor capital. As one put it, “There’s lots of money out there, and it’s all worth the same. But there’s not a lot of good advice.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received to help you with your career?
The best piece of advice I ever received came from a 5 year old – my daughter! With sage wisdom, she pulled me aside just as I was leaving for a business trip to caution, “Remember, you can be an entrepreneur for a short time, but you’re a mommy forever.” Since that day, the business trips have lessened and thankfully so have the schoolings from my children!
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to yourself 5 years ago?
“Go big AND go home!” For years, I, like many others, had adopted the mantra “Go big OR go home,” a rallying cry I delivered to myself, to our entrepreneurs and to our staff. If we were to keep growing we had to keep pushing.
In 2004, I was pregnant with identical twin daughters but I was determined not to let this slow me down. I kept up my demanding work travel schedule, setting off for Mexico, Chile and South Africa, until my doctor had to impose a mandatory no-fly zone and three months of bedrest. It worked—the girls arrived, healthy and happy, at 38 weeks—and I walked away with a valuable lesson: to go forward, sometimes you have to take a step back; to go big, you have to go home.