July 27, 2011
There are many ways to define success. I didn’t start in a mud hut and I am not Bill Gates. Still, the first decade of my entrepreneurial career can, I think, be described as going from a fairly basic start* to success as a technology entrepreneur**. The following five strategies got me there:
1. Understand the “Average”
Average work hours, average commitment, average education and average financial management leads to an average lifestyle ($45k family income with no savings, going towards the ~$10k global average income for the next few generations). If you are hoping for something better then you need to do something above average. Survey the hours that people in your chosen career field work on average, add 50% and make that your baseline. Do the same with all other averages (e.g. years of education).
2. Time Value of Money
Act as if every minute of your life costs at least $1. You might not be making that much, but acting like it will instill the right behaviour patterns for your future. Two of the biggest time sinks are non-leisure home duties and work commuting. Automate the former and minimize the latter (e.g. my weekly groceries are ordered via a script and delivered into the kitchen; we select/move homes to be close to work; we have no TV at home; I take cabs instead of owning a car as I can work in the back, etc.).
3. Invest in Yourself
Money makes more money if you put it to work. The best use of your initial wealth is to invest in yourself. Outsource *every* non-leisure activity below your scalable compensation level to free up your time (housekeeping, transportation, maintenance, etc.). More subtly, try to outsource everything below your forecasted future earning power (up to your cash flow limit). Doing so *today* will give you the extra time to get to *tomorrow* faster.
4. Make Your Luck
There is no luck, only low probability events. Every time that you meet a person, there is a low probability that she could be a co-founder, investors, partner or customer. Maximize the ensemble outcome by a) meeting lots of people and b) trying to select the type of people that you meet (if that’s possible). The same is true for developing technology, trying out new business models and any other such activity. The more you do and the more people you engage, the higher your likelihood of getting a successful outcome.
5. Surround Yourself with Better People
We all want to be part of the crowd and adjust our behaviour accordingly. You cannot fight biology, so use this instinct to your advantage instead. Surround yourself with people who are smarter, more successful or further ahead in their career than you. Doing so requires a conscious effort to step outside of your “peer group” (e.g. fellow students, fellow junior employees, etc.).
* I grew up in a little village in Germany. My dad worked as a government clerk and my mom was a homemaker. Nobody in my family tree had amassed great riches or completed high school (much less gone to university). I arrived in Canada without an international perspective and with very limited financial resources (the first cheque of my life was the painful $5k founding investment for my first start-up – something I promptly screwed up by writing my name onto the line where the amount is supposed to go…).
** Built great teams, sold technolgy at high return to shareholders, reached financial independence, earned an award-winning PhD and the recognition of my industry peers.