“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”–Billy Graham
Robert Bigelow will be the first to admit that the nearly $300 million of his own money he’s sunk into Bigelow Aerospace is the worst financial decision he’s ever made. He knew that going into the venture. The founder of Budget Suites of America made his fortune on low-budget, long-term stay rental apartments, and some would say, is now frittering his money away on a pipe dream. With no background in science, Bigelow bought a research project from NASA and has literally expanded on the idea.
Bigelow Aerospace produces inflatable habitats that can be used in orbit and potentially on other planets. NASA had tinkered with the idea for years and scrapped the project in 2000. Bigelow saw the potential and snapped up patents for the inflatable habitats for dimes on the dollar. In 2016, a Bigelow habitat was attached to the International Space Station as a proof of concept and it works as advertised: a cheap, self-sustaining (well, as self-sustaining as anything can be in space), and lightweight habitat that could pave the way for humanity’s first steps in colonizing our solar system.
He’s constantly catcalled by the press for both his highly public stance on his company’s product and for his belief that UFOs have visited Earth. Robert Bigelow doesn’t care a whit about what others think of him. He’s thinking in terms of a legacy that will allow mankind the kind of inspiration we haven’t seen since the first moon landing in 1969. That’s some vision from a man who got his start in cheap hotels.
The lessons from Bigelow are numerous, but building something that lasts longer than he will is the key point. We can’t take it with us. Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul? We can, however, make sure we’re paving the way for those who will come after us.
Built to Last: Accelerators
- What’s your legacy? On what part of the world will you leave your unique thumbprint?
- How does your business, product, or innovation contribute to the fulfillment of your personal legacy? Is it your legacy? Does it support your legacy?
- Spend the time necessary to draw and internalize (deeply understand) the clear link between your business, product, or innovation and the legacy you wish to leave behind.