Startups

I’ve Interviewed Over 300 Entrepreneurs–Here’s Their Most Counterintuitive Advice

Source | FastComapny : BY JENNA ABDOU

Three years ago I started a startup podcast because I thought founders were crazy. Why would a sane person willingly endure such intense risks? Part of my curiosity was personal: As a recent college grad just setting out to navigate the workforce, I wanted to understand how they coped with levels of uncertainty that felt to me, anyway, like a bag of bricks on my chest.

More than 300 interviews later, I’ve learned that the most successful entrepreneurs’ real strengths aren’t necessarily their product visions or executional abilities. Those certainly matter, but their habits and mind-sets might carry even more weight. And as I’ve discovered through all my conversations, those aren’t always what you might expect them to be. Here are four of their best, yet counterintuitive, bits of advice.

1. SPECIALIZE IN MORE STUFF THAN YOU THINK YOU HAVE TO

When Packagd founder and Kleiner Perkins partner Eric Feng seeks inspiration, he looks to tennis legend Roger Federer. “The thing I love about Federer is that there is nothing he doesn’t do well,” Feng told me. “He plays on all surfaces. He can serve, volley, hit a strong forehand and backhand.” That observation has inspired Feng to develop skills outside his cut-and-dried job description as a technical founder and the former CTO at Hulu and Flipboard.

“I don’t want to have a weakness–something I have to avoid because I can’t do it,” he says. “My day job at Flipboard was leading the engineering team, but I think the biggest contribution I made was working as an account manager on our Samsung partnership,” which he notes was a much more specialized undertaking.

Founders are eventually advised to stop wearing so many hats, to delegate so they can spend more time making strategic decisions. But Feng has never stopped immersing himself in new fields–identifying skill sets he lacks and devising clear plans to develop them. That may seem like a misuse of energy, but he’s found it has real hidden value.

“It’s particularly important to be an all-court player in startups because you never know how your company will change or where the biggest opportunity will lie,” Feng explains. That’s not just a temporary, early-stage thing, he believes, it’s a key part of the overall experience. “If you’re only specialized in one domain, you might miss it.”

So rather than sitting in on a design meeting, mock up a design and present it. If you’re trying to make some strategic decisions about your company’s customer support, respond to support emails for a month. The goal isn’t to observe a skill. It’s to practice it enough so, that if needed, you can perform it.

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