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Successful People Start with Small Ideas

I remember when Kevin Taweel pitched me on a small business he wanted to buy.

We worked across the hallway from each other at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

He was a case writer, working with professors to research and produce the cases that drive discussions in many classrooms. I was a professor who used many of those cases to drive discussions in my own classroom.

Kevin and Jim Ellis, another recent student of mine, told me about their idea: a Texas-based company called Mr. Rescue.

It was AAA, but less well-known with fewer customers, and much less attractive to a potential investor (i.e. ME).

After all, roadside assistance is a labor-intensive service industry that would be hard to scale, and having AAA as a competitor seemed like a pretty big obstacle to success.

There were a lot of factors to consider… the basic business, the competitive landscape, the limited growth potential.

I asked Kevin to let me think it over.

The more I reflected, the more unimpressed I was with the whole deal, but I saw two compelling reasons to invest: Kevin and Jim.

Kevin played semi pro soccer in Canada. He knew how to collaborate and work towards a goal.

Jim was one of three students in a class of 56 that I gave a grade of H, meaning “honors” to during his MBA program.

So even though I wasn’t enamored with the roadside repair business, I decided to write a check to support Kevin and Jim.

Has your friend ever planned a vacation to your city after you haven’t seen them in 5 years? You know that feeling of anticipation, the potential stored inside of connection?

I knew Kevin and Jim well enough to expect a certain degree of success from this deal.

I wanted to see how this played out...

They didn’t disappoint.

  • They lined up financing and paid $8.4 million to buy the company.
  • They more than doubled its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) in the first year.
  • They expanded, contracting with automotive, insurance, credit card, and wireless companies which could then offer roadside assistance services as add-ons to their clients.
  • They realized the potential in an emerging market, mobile phones, and made a $7.6 million acquisition in the cell phone insurance space, growing the company’s revenues by more than tenfold within three years.

Twenty-five years after my initial investment with them, Kevin still runs the company, now called Asurion.

Today Asurion has 280 million customers in eighteen countries, to whom it offers tech support, extended warranties, and mobile technology protection plans.

Still privately held, Asurion generates more than $8 billion in annual revenue—not bad for a company whose initial business plan didn’t seem very compelling.

Why is it that the most successful people don’t start with the most groundbreaking ideas?

I think it’s because the most successful people are entrepreneurial leaders.

These people are different from the entrepreneur that brings an idea to life, but needs others to keep it from dying. Or the presider who is good at keeping the machine running, but shudders at the thought of shifting gears.

Entrepreneurial leaders have the idea, own the idea, and stick with the idea through celebrations and challenges.

They’re able to launch something new, turn around a failing enterprise, and anticipate and make change before they have to.

In an age of disruption, fickle consumers, fast-moving markets, and unprecedented social change, this type of nimble leadership is needed more than ever.

Kevin Taweel is an entrepreneurial leader.

Questionable ideas become a can’t-pass-up investment with an entrepreneurial leader managing them.

That’s why I invested in Kevin, and why I want to invest in you today.

I’m offering a 30% discount on my new book, Entrepreneurial Leadership: The Art of Launching New Ventures, Inspiring Others, and Running Stuff.

I’ve spent twenty-seven years teaching students at Stanford to become agents of durable change.

As an investor, I’ve learned to identify and back them; as a board member, I’ve tried to hire, develop, and promote them.

As a leader, I’ve tried to learn from those further down the path.

This book provides you with that path to achieving the highest level of influence so you can create a legacy you’re proud to leave behind for your team, company, community, and family.

I also want to give you 30 days of unlimited access to my e-course ($129 value, yours FREE), which expands on concepts outlined in the book. Here's how you can watch it right now:

1. Go to

2. Sign-up by entering your email address and a password of your choice

3. Enter your First and Last Name.

4. Once on the dashboard, click on "Join Group"

5. Enter the following key to join the group: newventures

6. The new course will now appear in your dashboard


I can’t wait to see the skills you gain and the innovation you’ll lead.

Joel Peterson

Joel Peterson is the Chairman of JetBlue Airways and the Founding Partner of Peterson Partners, a Salt Lake City-based investment management firm. Joel is on the faculty at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and has been since 1992, teaching courses in real estate investment, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Want to read more? Get the book!

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