Pre-Internet Entrepreneurs: Luther Burbank

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Finding the right label for Luther Burbank is tough. “Entrepreneur” isn’t quite correct; he didn’t approach his life or his work with a business-centric mind; “scientist” is descriptor that was disputed in Burbank’s own lifetime and continues to be debated today.

In a way, though, this confusion befits a man who didn’t really care what things were called or how they were accomplished. The only thing of real importance to this agricultural experimenter and inventor was whether or not he got the results he wanted.

Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank


The Lesson: Results Matter

Luther Burbank got his start in his mother’s Massachusetts’ vegetable garden, and after selling the rights to his eponymous potato (a variant, the Russet Burbank, is now one of the most widely cultivated potatoes in the world) he set out for California and continued his agricultural pursuits until his death. By that time, he had created hundreds of varieties of fruit and nut trees, grape types, and more.

He did all of this while being criticized by the academic community for his poor record-keeping and his “unscientific” methods. Burbank used any technique he came across, creating thousands of different hybrids and other new species and subspecies and selecting those with the results he was looking for. He didn’t care about how he got where he wanted to be, so long as he got there.

The Action: Focus On the Finish Line

Sure, it’s important to make sure your team is on task, well-motivated, and able to replicate their results. But at the end of the day it’s getting to those results that matters. You have to do whatever you can, every single day to move the needle forward.

Take a moment to make sure your goal is well-defined, and make sure everything happening in your startup is geared towards reaching that goal. Cut the tasks that are purely image-oriented—keeping in mind that marketing and branding are important parts of achieving most startups’ goals, but not goals in and of themselves—and make reaching your self-defined success your only real concern.


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