Author Archives: cankut

Integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, adaptability, salesmanship, and ambition

In an earlier post, I wrote that the attributes of a great founder are integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, and salesmanship.

I recently gave a presentation on what makes a great founder, and in preparing for the presentation, realized that I was missing two attributes.

The first attribute is adaptability. Since a startup is essentially a series of experiments designed to solve different problems at different stages of the company, adaptability is a key part of being a great founder. Specifically, knowing what you need to do (intelligence) and doing it yourself (personal energy) or by attracting and motivating others (collective energy) isn’t enough. You also need to be able to change what you’re doing altogether when it isn’t working, or to change how you go about what you’re doing based on where your startup is in its life journey. This requires adaptability.

The second attribute is ambition. Startup outcomes are governed by power laws, whereby a portfolio’s best performing startup’s return can be exponentially greater than that of the second best performing one, the second best performing startup’s return can be exponentially greater than that of the third best performing one, and so on. As a result, each of the founders that an investor backs needs to have the potential to deliver that best performing startup outcome that will drive the investor’s fund level returns. And this requires being a very ambitious founder.

So the attributes through which I now define a great founder are integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, adaptability, salesmanship, and ambition.

No recognition

A good way to decide what to do in life is to think about what you would do if you were to receive absolutely no recognition for doing it.

Because chances are that, given the extent of competition and the role of luck in determining outcomes, this is what is going to happen.

However, counterintuitively, if you do such a thing with no desire for recognition, you just might do it well enough to be recognized.

Success and rejection

Jack Ma is the founder of China’s largest e-commerce group Alibaba. Although Alibaba started off as an e-commerce company, it has since expanded to offer other services like payments and cloud computing.

In the video below, Jack speaks about his personal story, how he built Alibaba, and Alibaba’s future plans. What particularly caught my attention was Jack’s perspective on being rejected. He was rejected by Harvard 10 times, Kentucky Fried Chicken in an application process where 23 of 24 candidates were accepted, and his local police department which accepted the 4 other applicants while rejecting only Jack.

He mentions that even at its current large size and negotiating power, Alibaba is still often rejected. This is a strong reminder that you need to want something to be successful, but the more you want, the more likely you are to be rejected. So success and rejection come hand in hand.

The full interview is below.

Abilities as repeated experiences

Sometimes you have the benefit of having the time to prepare for something in advance. When this is the case, if you put in the time, you can greatly increase your chances of reaching a positive outcome.

At other times, you don’t have time to prepare. Something happens to which you need to react on the spot.

When this is the case, if you have been faced with a similar situation before where your natural reaction was already tested to produce a positive or a negative outcome, this increases the chance that you engage in a current response that produces a positive outcome. This is the value of experience.

If you haven’t been faced with a similar situation before, that is if you don’t have contextual experience, the best you can do is to think about what’s happening as calmly as you can in whatever time is available. This is hard to do because, when faced with uncharted territory for which we haven’t had time to prepare, our natural reaction is to let our emotions guide our actions.

However, if you can remind yourself that what is now uncharted territory will soon become charted, that is, if you can see the new situation as an opportunity to gain experience rather than a reflection of your abilities, you can greatly improve your chance of reacting in a way that creates a positive outcome.

Most abilities are just repeated experiences.

Seizing the opportunity

Every situation that you create for yourself or encounter in life is either an opportunity or a threat.

You can either see the threat, by focusing on the downside in the event that things go wrong, or see the opportunity, by focusing on the doors that will open if things go right.

Once you see the opportunity, your subconscious, which is responsible for most of your outcomes in life, naturally works for you to seize it.

Parting on good terms

Startups have high turnover. The reasons are both due to the nature of startups and the nature of the people they tend to attract. Specifically, startups are bumpy rides where the bumps can throw many people off the ride, and they tend to attract people who are too restless to stand still in one place for an extended period of time.

As a result of this high turnover, when you work with a startup, you eventually develop a wide network of people who go on to roles outside of the startup. And many of these roles are once again in the startup community. You eventually reach a position where you know more people outside the startup than in it. In other words, you know more people who have left the startup than people who continue to work there.

If you hope to retain the option to continue to work with the people who have left, it’s important to part on good terms. This isn’t always possible, because it requires that both parties leave on terms where they believe that they were treated fairly, or that a party who believes that they were treated unfairly chooses to part on good terms despite this.

Not everyone is prepared to do this.¬†However, it’s worth doing for the part that’s in your control.

From the perspective of the employer, this means things like agreeing to serve as a reference for the employee in the future, or at least not speaking poorly of them unless there’s a very strong reason to do so, and not nickel and diming the employee’s exit terms.

From the perspective of the employee, this means things like continuing to work hard until the day you leave, transferring your workload to the organization or another employee who will take over your responsibilities, and not speaking poorly about the organization following your departure.

I’ve seen both good and bad departures. The former sometimes produce new opportunities which carry more value than what the original appeared to hold at the time. The latter don’t.

Meaning and nature

As humans, we seek meaning in our lives. Believing that we’re here for a reason keeps us engaged in life and motivated towards our goals.

As a result, we weave our lives into stories where events follow one another, driven by an overarching theme. This theme may be one of destiny, tragedy, comedy, or other.

But nature doesn’t care for our meaning. Nature is governed by the laws of the hard sciences and when these laws collide with the meaning that we have set for ourselves, it is the scientific laws that win.

In other words, nature doesn’t care how you feel.

When this happens, you revisit the story of your life and adjust it to once again achieve a coherent story. You recreate meaning in your life. This meaning may or may not be the same as the meaning which had existed prior to it colliding with nature.

You then go back to your life, believing in the new meaning that you have created for yourself.

While nature continues to not care.

Machine learning course

Four months ago, I wrote about the importance of learning the fundamentals of a subject through educational courses as a first step to creating or supporting the creation of applications of that subject.

In that post, I shared that, in order to better understand and potentially support the creation of cryptocurrency applications, I recently completed a Coursera course offered by Princeton University on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. The course gave me a better understanding of cryptocurrencies than I’ve been able to gather through spending much more time reading secondary accounts of the subject across the internet.

After completing the course on cryptocurrencies, I began a course offered by Stanford University on Machine Learning. I’ve only completed the first week of the course so far. However, I feel like I’m learning even more than in the cryptocurrency course. This is perhaps because I enjoy the material more, perhaps because I more clearly see its applications, perhaps because the course content is better structured, or, most likely, it’s due to a combination of these factors.

I strongly recommend this approach to learning about a new subject in general, and the specific courses offered on Coursera in particular.

Your passion finds you

The more passionate you are about something, the more likely you are to do very well at it. However, how does passion emerge?

I used to think that we choose our passions. In other words, we think about what we want to do, and since we want to do it, the passion to do it emerges.

I’ve come to realize that this isn’t the case. Specifically, I no longer think that we choose our passions, but that our passions find us.

In other words, our passions are largely outside of our control. They emerge as a result of the combination of our genetics and our experiences that together shape who we are.

No matter how much we might want to be passionate about something else, usually because of seeing someone else do it, this isn’t possible. We are not that person, so their passion is not our passion. Their passion is the result of their genetics and the experiences that they’ve had in their lives, which are very likely different than ours.

To the extent that their genetics and experiences are similar, we might indeed have a similar passion. And there is more than one combination of genetics and experiences that produces the same passion. So we might have the same passion even if we have different genetics and experiences. However, given the range of possible passions, having the same passion as someone else is unlikely.

So rather than try to choose our passions based on what we think we want, or should want, we should be open to experiencing the different environments where our passions might find us.

This time period prior to finding your passion in life is a luxury. Because if you do, once you do, you will spend a lot of your time on it. And this leaves less time to experience other things.

But the good thing is that you won’t want to. You’ll leave the luxury of experiencing different things for the luxury of pursuing your passion.

Your passion will have found you.

Defensiveness

If you get defensive in a discussion, it’s because you think that what your counterpart is saying has at least some, and maybe a lot, of truth to it.

If you didn’t believe that the statement had any truth to it, you would either ignore it or laugh it off.

So you need to watch out for those statements that make you feel defensive. They are the same statements that you don’t want to be true, but at least to a certain extent are true.

The more defensive you get, the more truth the statement contains. And hence the more room for your personal growth if you are able to address the issue highlighted by the statement.