I am often asked by prospective entrepreneurs how I got started and what they might learn from it. But my answer is: “Don’t follow me.” Follow your own path by finding a problem worth solving that you are uniquely qualified to solve* and can get passionate about. Then have the persistence and patience to pursue it.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” The key is to look around and get in front of a mega-trend and then look to solve a major problem or issue in order to fully leverage that trend. The good news is we don’t lack for major trends represented by multiple, multi-billion-dollar underlying markets. Take for example:
Living in a Resource Constrained World:
The world population will grow by nearly 30% in our lifetimes to 9 billion people. Population growth stresses natural resources and it will be compounded by economic development across Asia, India and Africa – areas that are already stressed from a resource standpoint and by consumption per capita that is forecast to grow more rapidly than population, further straining resources. Using energy as a proxy for other resources – today, the United States consumes twice as much oil as China. But as China’s total energy demand surges 60% in the next 15 years, it will consume 70% more total energy than the US. Note that India, Indonesia and Brazil (just to name a few) have higher rates of growth in per capita energy consumption than even China. According to the International Energy Administration, $620 billion a year in oil and gas investments are required just to fill this demand. Thus, game-changing innovation and entrepreneurship is mandatory in areas like: solar, access to hard-to-get resources and low-cost energy storage systems. There are problems of equal magnitude in food, water, electronics and healthcare – terrific opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators.
Everything as a Service: The “out-servicing” era:
This is a revolutionary, highly-disruptive approach to technology and business models across multiple industries – all driven by software. Consider the post-PC era of tablets, mobile devices, and the “Internet of Things” – from cars to appliances to industrial equipment – that are connected to the cloud 24 x 7. It will allow new entrepreneurs to zero in on their core value with laser precision – innovate there and outsource or as I call it “out-service” the rest. It’s a major reason why the current $15 billion software-as-a-service revenue will leap to 10 times that as we move from discrete systems to continuous cloud services – another huge opportunity.
The Need To Scale Infrastructure:
In order to enable and support the “out-servicing” era, whether it’s cloud computing, big data or mobile, there’s an insatiable appetite for content and connectivity. Today, there are about 9 billion mobile devices and that is forecast to grow to 50 billion connected devices in 2017. In 2012, networks handled more mobile data traffic – than in all preceding years combined and yet it’s forecast to grow at a 66% compounded rate until 2020. So, the opportunities to develop scalable, software-defined infrastructure, policy engines, data mining systems, content and applications from gaming, to education, medicine or wearable computers is huge going forward.
Know that along the way you will of course run into naysayers, challenges and even failure. To overcome those you will need a healthy dose of passion, persistence and patience.
Passion: Pursue your passion, find your flow, trust your instincts.
In order to pursue these kinds of big problems, you will need to learn to tap your internal energy.
That energy may initially come from a basic need. For example, if you’re just starting out, it might be the need to pay off your student debt. And those needs are important if not critical. But in time, I believe our passion is the sustainable source of positive energy. If you’re not already aware of your passion, start by finding your flow.
Flow is literally that activity where you find yourself free flowing and lose track of time it’s so natural. Composers find it in music. Athletes find it competing. Programmers find it coding. Where will you find yours? Here’s a paradox: you will only know when you find it because you will lose yourself in it. So it may take careful self-observation.
There’s a wonderful TED talk on this subject here.
It can take time to find your true passion. Enjoy the journey, the exploration and the learning about yourself. As you navigate, you will build your compass that will help you find your true north, your true calling in life.
And precisely because you focused on and took time to find that passion, you will build the conviction and instinct to pursue it. And you will need that as many people and things may conspire to divert your flow. Don’t let them; it will sap your energy. Eschew the cynics; find your own path to positive energy.
And always trust your gut instincts. They will ultimately serve you well, even though it may not be obvious at the time. Sometimes the hardest decisions are the best. And they may include what NOT to do. So often “less is more” in everything from products to life.
And in that vein, if the noise gets too great, keep taking things away until you find silence. Learn to meditate if necessary and in the peace, reconnect with your convictions. It is often in the pause or the gap that the “breakthrough thinking” has room to arise.
Persistence and Patience
Great entrepreneurs have a bias for action that’s admirable. They get in the flow and focus on doing a few things well and build on success. They ask more questions than they answer, and they listen more than they talk. But even with all that it takes time to build something of impact and importance. And while you may get lucky, luck is a poor basis to build a life on. By contrast, patience and persistence really do pay off.
On average in our business it takes 5-7 years to build a company of any significance. And typically even longer than that to build a sustainable, independent public company. So, while I hope you’ll find a breakthrough to prove those averages wrong, be compassionate with yourself if you find it’s taking longer and proving harder than you thought.
In the immortal words of Winston Churchill “if you’re going through hell, keep going!”
Some of our greatest investments took longer and traveled more tortuous and twisted paths than we could ever have imagined but then ended up being bigger successes than we ever thought possible. If you can just get back in the flow and enjoy the ride, you may never want it to end and that’s the basis to build something really enduring.
Wishing you a life of entrepreneurship, passion and the persistence and patience to enjoy the journey!
*If you’re not sure what you are uniquely qualified to do or perhaps you are just starting out in life and have no experience, read this.
This column was originally published in Forbes.
Michael Skok is the creator of Startup Secrets. Held in conjunction with Harvard innovation lab, Startup Secrets is a series of workshops, frameworks and featured case examples to help entrepreneurs think through some of the key steps that could accelerate their success in starting a business. For more information, visit www.startupsecrets.com.