Recently, as a part of a Pathways general body meeting, I got to meet the man who started the organization. Pathways, an incubator that is an organization at the University of California San Diego, helps connect students with ideas for companies with financial resources as well as mentoring.
Christopher Yin, a recent graduate from UCSD, has thoroughly thought through concepts and principles about startups, entrepreneurship, and other business practices. Being an entrepreneur who has taken big risks, the things that he has to say are undoubtedly fascinating, at the very least.
After nearly three hours of listening to Chris, here are my main takeaways.
Advice is mostly useless – Being someone who is constantly reading blogs online, watching talks and reading books, this challenged my notion of content consumption. The point is, you can’t take another person’s life and make it your own. The people, places, and circumstances will always be different no matter what, and blindly following the path that another person took makes absolutely no sense. Learn to make your own decisions based on what you know, not solely what other people tell you.
Find the one thing to go after – Don’t be a jack of all trades. Chris, being the entrepreneur who had every finger in a different company, realized that trying to do everything gave him nothing to show for anything. Trying to do a million different things left Chris with a very mediocre skill set in a large number of fields. The takeaway here is to focus on one thing at a time, and become significant and influential in that area.
Test the market – Your idea will never survive first contact with the market. The market will always respond contrary to your expectations, forcing you to change and refine your plans and ideas as time goes on. What actually happens will always turn out differently than what you envisioned. The only way to know how the market will respond is to step out and begin developing and testing your idea.
Don’t be tempted by opportunities that aren’t for you – Sometimes you will get an offer that looks appealing, but does not align with your life purpose, goals, and passions. Don’t get suckered into taking an opportunity that is not truly what you want to do. Focus on what you want to do as soon as possible, because the opportunity cost of switching gets higher the longer you wait. Dropping everything to create something new is much easier in your teens than in your thirties.
Do what you love to do – It’s easy to settle for mediocrity and get patted on the back for making conservative choices. But being yourself and standing out is much more fulfilling than being someone else and fitting in. Standing out is a risk, but so is fitting in.
Take everything people say with a grain of salt – Most of the time, people will share what worked for them and how they got to where they are today. But don’t just blindly accept everything they say as your own. Just because something worked for them doesn’t mean it was the best choice. Learn to challenge everything that people say, not in a cynical but a genuinely inquisitive way.
Everything you can learn in a class can be learned on the web – The value in school is not in the academics or in the learning. Anyone and everyone can learn to code online. Anyone and Everyone can look up resources on literally anything online. Schools are for teaching discipline, learning how to interact and deal with other human beings, and learning how to think. It’s a lot easier to test a new idea within a college community because everyone is always right around you.
Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know – One of the big challenges in working with startup companies is getting recognized by more established companies. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, be confident in you do, and do the best work you possibly can. People will also recognize your drive, energy, and motivation to succeed.
Work with the smartest people you know – Find the smartest people you know, and work with them to produce something amazing. Do everything in your power to collaborate with them.
Think for yourself – School, culture, and tradition will always tell you what to think. The challenge is to listen to what other people have to say, but think for yourself and ultimately make your own decisions. Intentionally or not, people will occasionally say things that are twisted, incorrect, or with ulterior motives. The best thing that you can do (even while reading this list) is to think for yourself.