You saw the movie. Mark Zuckerberg scribbles a couple of things on his window, codes for a few hours, meets Justin Timberlake and then he starts counting his billions. That’s not the way it’s going to work for you. You’re not Mark Zuckerberg. And you shouldn’t try to be.
But you can be a successful startup founder and builder. I’ve been there and done that and had a couple of exits. More importantly, I’ve seen it dozens of times as an advisor and recruiter. It’s not rocket science.
The world already has a Mark Zuckerberg. The world doesn’t need you to try and be someone else. You are the only person in the world who’s capable of being yourself. The world needs you to be awesome at being you.
Too many young people want to head straight for the glory, fame and riches of being a successful entrepreneur. They’ve equated being an entrepreneur with sure success. But in fact, most start-ups fail. Success is more than just ambition. If you want to do this right, you must choose the right career path.
Here’s my blueprint…
- Optimize for learning
- Develop insights
- Learn financial discipline
- Choose the people with whom you surround yourself wisely
- Work harder than everybody
Optimize for Learning
Early in your career, what’s most important is to learn. Learn how to do something. Learn how to make tradeoffs. Learn how to prioritize. Learn what is important. Learn a craft. Learn how to play on a team. Learn how to lead a team. And learn all of this by working with the best founders and entrepreneurs you can find. A truly great boss is an invaluable asset; you can learn how to be a leader by being effectively led.
Startups are a great platform for learning because of their disproportionate growth. Disproportionate growth leads to disproportionate learning. Disproportionate learning leads to everything that’s good in life. The ability to learn in 3 years what might otherwise take 10 years — this is what startups are about.
Think of your early jobs at start-ups as a post-graduate education.
Learning and growth happen in phases. Develop technical mastery (and self-mastery). Learn to manage a team and/or function. Learn how to lead leaders by working with great leaders. Take on as much responsibility as you can handle in those roles. Learn to lead a meritocracy.
Technological advances in the past decade have lowered the cost of computing so much that they’ve created an abundance of opportunity to start an app and immediately have a global audience as an entrepreneur. The opportunity seems tempting. But not every opportunity is made for you to take. Choose your opportunities wisely. Choose to maximize your learning early in your career rather than going straight for the entrepreneurial Promised Land.
Again: If you found a start-up without any prior work experience, the odds are high that the company will fail. Well, you might say, failure is a great teacher. You know what is a better teacher? An actual teacher! Think of yourself as Luke Skywalker: He became a hero, but only because he had other heroes willing to teach him the ropes. You need an Obi-Wan or a Yoda, a master from whom you can learn how to do stuff, before you can take on the universe by yourself.
Develop insights. Insight comes from applying experience to knowledge. Knowledge comes from analyzing information. Information comes from organizing data. Learn to organize, analyze and develop insights. Insights are the basis of all business decisions and the important work that advances effort towards outcomes. All progress is made by working on the “important” versus the “urgent”. Learn to develop your own wisdom, your own insights. And, execute the important work with thought leadership and insights. Create a vision for a better world.
Learn Financial Discipline
Once you have your vision in place, it’s easy to assume you’re ready. But you must also learn the day-to-day habits and behaviors that go into successfully running your business. Managing burn rate is one of the most important of these skills.
Keep your operating costs low, and remember that expenses rise to meet income. You may be frustrated because your early jobs don’t pay as much as you want — but as an entrepreneur, you will need to know how to manage costs and prioritize tradeoffs for an organization. Hone these skills by learning to efficiently manage your personal finances and budget.
Resourcefulness can be your greatest resource. Learn how to fully exercise your muscles of resourcefulness. Become a capable manager of resources. Knowing how to create value with scarce resources is the magic of entrepreneurship.
Beginning Your Entrepreneurial Career
Success is not just a matter of ambition. It’s a process: Roll up your sleeves. Do something. Do anything. Do everything. Throw yourself at projects that interest you and learn. Find the inefficiencies and learn how to do things better. Learn how to create value. Gain insights. These insights will give you the ability to lead. Learn to discriminate between good people who are skilled and people who are skilled but not nice. Develop and learn to exercise the full capacity of your horsepower.
THEN, go out and be an entrepreneur!
By all means, disrupt an entire industry! Drive creative destruction. Make your Momma proud. Buy her a house!
But, rather than launching a startup right now just because you can, follow a better plan: Learn, master, found a startup, then work hard and create a great product. Then, when you are successful, give back. Give other young people the ability to learn through your leadership, your mentorship, your guidance.
The best professionals — those that are the top 1% of A+ executive talent — don’t care about the social status of working for this company versus that company. They’re not worried about building a resume or designing a career. They are busy maximizing their learning. They are busy solving problems, implementing solutions, developing the insights on creating maximum value and making the distinctions that accelerate performance. They are leading.
You cannot be king of the world if you are a slave to the grind. If you find the work you are doing to be a grind — get out! Do everyone a favor and figure out what you are most passionate about. Decide & commit upon your true dreams and goals. Rise up and make it happen!
Every millennial saw the Facebook movie. Every millennial spends time on Facebook. Every millennial already has parents and/or grandparents on Facebook. The world doesn’t need another Facebook. The world needs you to be the best that you can be.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this, hit recommend, share and read high performance leadership.
Note: Thanks to Andrew Koch for reviewing and providing comments on an earlier draft.
This post was originally published on the Dave Partners blog.