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Smooth Seas Never Made Skilled Sailors. Career Lessons from Sam Altman.

December 6, 2018 in Startup Careers

Maybe you are thinking about your next move or maybe you just graduated and looking to make an impact in the world, whatever the reason it may be tune into these tips by Salm Altman from Y Combinator. I will guarantee you, you will radically view your career differently by the end of this post and who knows maybe you will go onto to building the next big thing.

1. Find the intersection what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and where you can create value to the world. Find that sweet spot. Be self aware.

This one helps you pick what’s important to work on. Not sure what you are good at? Try stuff to figure out what you like. Want to see if you like marketing? Try a marketing project with a startup. Want to get into sales? Try! The point is you actually need to do and find your way. This in turn helps you to see what you’re good at, what you like, and where you can create value to the world.

2. To find your tribe be willing to move.

I think this resonates on many levels you’re not a tree, move. You have to go where the opportunities are. No longer you can limit your search in your geographical location. Whether it’s a job or building a startup. Find those pockets of people around the world where you can connect and are working on great things like you. Find people that have value alignment with you! Values first before culture fit.

3. Help people with no intention of no immediate benefit and with no intention of ever getting a benefit at all.

Helping people can benefit your career greatly. But how can you help people in the startup context? This can as simple things as:
– Try out startup products whenever you can.
– Always give unbiased feedback to entrepreneurs
– Help entrepreneurs with surveys or validation
– Help founders connect with the right resources and people

4. Believe in Beliefs.

How do you accomplish great things? Focus, personal connection plus self-believe can help you accomplish great things. You need to have a deep conviction about your idea or else no one is going to believe or follow you.

5. Work hard early-on your career it’s like compound interest.

Get a bit better every day. Are you better than the person you were yesterday? This will greatly benefit your career as you move along your path.

6. Know when to quit on a project and when not to give up.

Most people tend to give up easily. Entrepreneurship is a long-term game. It’s not like you have an idea tomorrow, you build, and boom you’re a huge success! There are many ups and downs and you need to pass the valley of death in startups and find that elusive product-market-fit. But each year that you don’t give up your chance of success increases.

And the framework that Sam mentions here on when to give up and when to keep working is it that should be an internal, not an external decision.

“If people aren’t using it or people are saying it’s bad, that alone is not a reason to give up. You wanna pay some attention to that. They might be right. But I think the best entrepreneurs I know, they make an internal decision about when to give up or when to keep working on something. It’s basically when you have run out of ideas and something is not working, then it’s a good time to stop.”

To add to this I also think you need to look for signs within a startup to see when to quit, pivot, or move. Those signs are called tractions. Tractions are things such as website traffic, sales, and growth. So next time when you’re thinking about if you need to quit or pivot consider the following:
– Is it growing?
– How is the website traffic?
– What is the user feedback?

Pivoting in a startup is such a skill. Sometimes maybe all you need is a pivot. To help get inspired on this one. Here are the most Successful Startup Pivots of all time. What will your pivot be?

Instagram – Burbn location check-in app
Slack – Started as a game called Glitch
Twitter – Odeo platform for discovering podcasts
Youtube – Dating site
Shopify- online storefront for selling snowboarding gear
Groupon – platform to support causes
Flickr – online video game known as Game Neverending
Netflix – mail-order service through which customers could order DVDs to rent that were sent directly to their homes
Paypal – payment for palm pilot devices
Western Union- a telegram service

7. You need a long time to do anything important.

But how do you stay motivated? You need to find that enjoyment in what you’re doing and an intense belief that it matters and ideally liking the people that they go to work with every day.
“Find a deeper mission for why they do what they do and then that drives them then for the rest of the time they work.”

8. Burnout is not from working too hard. Burnout actually comes from failing and things not working.

This is again so relatable and true on many levels. Sam mentions something about momentum. We see momentum in sports. When things are going well and when things are not going well. They key is how can you change momentum in your favor.

“Momentum is really energizing. The lack of momentum is super draining. And I find that I have infinite energy to work on things that I find interesting and that are working and almost none to work on things that I either don’t find interesting or aren’t working. And so I think you see a lot of founders try something and fail and assume that they just can’t work hard enough or don’t have enough energy or passion or whatever and that’s actually not true. It’s just that that thing didn’t work and what you should do is shut that company down, go on vacation and try again. And many people then find that, “Oh, actually when I’m doing this thing that I like and that is working, I have a huge amount of energy and I can get a lot of stuff done.” And so when you look at really successful people and say, “How do they get all those things done,” they have the benefit of momentum and momentum is energizing. And the lack of momentum is really not energizing.”

9. Strive to be a doer and not a talker in your career.

History belongs to doers. Taking risks is hard. Most people don’t want to fail. No one wants to do it. It’s human nature to just talk maybe. But failure is just information!

“Especially early in your career. Being young and unknown and poor, that is actually a great gift in terms of the amount of risk you can take and I think people don’t capitalize on that enough. I think what risk actually looks like is not doing something that you will then spend the rest of your life regretting.  And there’s a quote, “People regret way more the things they didn’t do than things that they did do.” So if you really believe in something and there’s an idea that you’re super passionate about and you take a calculated risk to start a company, realizing you may forgo a couple of years of steady income, another job, and whatever else and maybe people call you a failure or whatever, that’s a great risk to take. And if you don’t take that risk, I think you have a very high chance that you’ll end up regretting that. I think the wrong kind of risk to take is where people don’t actually do things or don’t commit to something because they don’t wanna fail and they overrate the risk of failure and the reputation damage or embarrassment or whatever. I think one really important thing to strive for in your career is to be a doer, not a talker. And the reason that people don’t do stuff, one, is it’s hard and two, is it’s risky. And so you think one really important thing to strive for in your career is to be a doer, not a talker. And the reason that people don’t do stuff, one, is it’s hard and two, is it’s risky. And so you have these people that want to dabble in a bunch of different projects, but never be all-in on one. And I think it’s this combination of work and risk and it’s, you know, I think that’s really bad. I think history belongs to the doers and I think you should take a risk, actually do something.

Don’t  just sit around and talk and organize and bring together groups and go to thought-leadership conferences and whatever it is these people spend their time on other than actually building something and just take the risk of committing to what you have conviction on.”

10. Ask for what you want. You will get told no a lot, but sometimes it will work.

To add to this is sometimes you just need one yes! You need to get comfortable in asking. This applies not just to startups but other areas of life:

Want a promotion? Ask
Want to make a sale? Ask
Want a better product? Ask
Want a date? Ask
Ask. Ask. Ask. Keep on asking and never stop asking!

To quote from Sam:

“Yeah, this was one of the other things I learned that I wish I had gotten advice on early on in my career, is ask for what you want. You will get told no a lot, but sometimes it will work. And I think you see a lot of entrepreneurs shoot themselves in the foot because they don’t ask that person to quit their job and come join them, they don’t ask this big company to do a deal with them and they’re just not aggressive enough.  And I think you being willing to ask for what you want and be somewhat aggressive are really important characteristics of being an entrepreneur. People don’t want to fail. They don’t want to be told no. They don’t want to end up in some crisis.”

Each crisis gets less scary than the one before it.

This is a golden tip. Smooth seas never made skilled sailors.

“Another thing that I learned…and I won’t even say I wish someone told me this one because I don’t think it’s a lesson anyone can teach you, you have to just live through it…is that each crisis gets less scary than the one before it. You’re running a company now, I’m sure you’ve…I hope you’ve noticed this by now. There are a lot of things that really go wrong and they feel like company-killing events and they feel like there’s no way you’re going to survive because the crises are really bad. And the thing you learn is that you generally do survive these and that the world doesn’t usually end and even if in the moment something happens, you have no idea how you’re going to get around it, you eventually figure out a way. And because of that, on the 19th major crisis, you’re like, “Well, I survived the first 18. I’ll probably get through this one,” and you kind of just do.”

There we have it! Hope you enjoyed this post and now you can view your career radically different. Think different. Be different. But most importantly do different.

Don’t Start a Company. Start a Project.

November 7, 2018 in How to Start a Startup

If you have a business idea chances are you’re thinking I’m going to start a company! Then you’re thinking let me incorporate, register, and whole lot more things that comes with it. All of sudden you find yourself into a big pile of mess! You have no customer and there’s no user and you spend over $5K in legal fees and registration and went no where. That’s the story of most first-time entrepreneurs. As matter of fact that’s what they teach in entrepreneurship centres: how to write a business plan and setup the business. In real life, no one cares about the business plan. Do you have an audience to sell a solution that works?

Instead of starting a company start a project and here’s why: 

1. When you start a project the pressure is gone. That’s right! All of sudden you become more creative and you focus on building project and growing it. This is way better than spending your  time on stuff that doesn’t really matter!

2. You become more creative. Playing freely in the startup world is one of the best things. You swing freely and you can work creatively on your project. You start to experiment different channels and see what works and what doesn’t.

3. You focus on building an audience. When it’s a project you focus on building an audience. This is huge for marketing your solution.

4. If it fails who cares it was a project anyway. No one has heard about it. Failure is absolutely necessary in innovation. You should wear your badge of failure with honour. When it comes to building a startup fail as many times possible but don’t give up and stay persistent as hell.

5. It’s more fun. Working a project is more fun. You focus on the stuff that really matter. Keeping it fun keeps you going and going! Having that momentum can be a key in your project.

6. You can pivot so easily. Almost all great startups started as something else. Youtube was a dating website where users would upload video of themselves and say what they are looking for a partner. With a project you can easily experiment and see what the market wants. If they want the current solution, pivot, and change it into something else!

7. When the project takes off turn into a company. This is when you know you actually have a company. It’s when the project is taking. You have what’s called traction. Traction is a vital sign in a startup because without it you’re going no where! As matter of fact most startups lack traction and they become Zombie startup. What’s traction you ask? Traction can be things such as: number of subscribers, website traffic, number of customers, or even better sales!

So next time you have a business idea think about it as a project first in the beginning. Experiment, move fast, but don’t give up.