Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.—Steve Jobs
This personal life philosophy of pursuing one’s own dreams regardless of the opinions of others played a key role in why Jobs was able to imagine, create, and execute on such grand and market-shifting ideas. This philosophy, which guided the way Jobs lived his life, also shaped the way he approached business and played an important role in how Jobs built Apple into a Fortune 500 company and then revived it again after the company nosedived in his absence.
It is through unique and forward-thinking life philosophies that entrepreneurs like Asana’s Dustin Moskovitz, Coursera’s Daphne Koller, and Birchbox’s Katia Beauchamp have successfully led their companies to where they are today—creating new experiences, opening up untapped markets, and forging new paths.
The six entrepreneurs below shared their philosophies on life, work, and everything in between.
Dustin Moskovitz, cofounder of organization software Asana and Facebook, said by being mindful and aware of his mental and physical state, he can guide his actions and thoughts with thoughtful intention. He said:
Mindfulness has helped me succeed in almost every dimension of my life. By stopping regularly to look inward and become aware of my mental state, I stay connected to the source of my actions and thoughts and can guide them with considerably more intention.
By bringing full presence to each interaction, I am able to avoid missteps and stay focused on my real purpose for every conversation. This guides both my personal and work life: we apply this principle at Asana by making sure there are regular forums and opportunities for reflection, from periodic peer feedback and self-reviews to punctuated episodes of work, in between which we re-evaluate every part of the company.
Daphne Koller, cofounder of education site Coursera, said she is driven by a personal sense of responsibility to leave the world a better place than when she entered it and looks for opportunities where a relatively small effort will make a large impact. She said:
I’ve always felt that we should try to live our lives so as to leave the world a better place. Or, to quote Steve Jobs, we should ‘make a dent in the universe.’ I also believe that this obligation only increases for people who are more fortunate.
I try to seek out opportunities where a small amount of resources, time, or effort can make a disproportionately large contribution. I particularly value efforts with a ripple effect, where one action sets off an entire cascade of responses whose overall impact can be really huge. That’s a major reason I chose to enter the field of education and went on to found Coursera. Educating even a single person can have a profound effect not only on that person’s life, but also on the many people whose lives that person touches. By applying a relatively small amount of resources, we have the opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people, and indirectly of many more.
Zach Sims, cofounder of education company Codecademy, said the best way to learn something is by actively doing it. He said:
Learn by doing. That's been a core belief both in my life and throughout Codecademy—we think the best way for people to learn isn't to do so by leaning back (by watching videos or sitting in class), but instead by figuring out what they want to learn and starting to build things that reflect that. We try to hire people who have the same initiative and approach both in life and work in the same way, not by just consuming the knowledge that's around them, but by getting practical experience and trying new things.
Katia Beauchamp, cofounder of e-commerce beauty site Birchbox, said operating under the realization that there is no one right answer—whether personally or professionally—has shed her fear of failure and empowered her to move forward with confidence. She said:
There is no right answer, there is strategy, execution, and iteration. When we started Birchbox and when you start anything, the hardest thing to get over is this fear that you won't have the right answers—because you don't have the experience, the perspective, the time to perfectly organize a plan.
The reality is that there are many paths to success; there is no one path. Realizing that frees you to move fast and get things done in the best way that you can. Once you start executing and realizing that you can make reasonable decisions that lead to successful outcomes, you gain the confidence to keep going. For us, it is critical that we all keep that in mind, because every day brings new firsts.
Jeff Lawson, CEO and cofounder of cloud communication service Twilio, said thinking big and pushing yourself to solve big problems that impact multiple industries will help keep you motivated during the ups and downs that almost all startups face. He said:
The most finite resource we have on this planet is time—so think big. This philosophy has driven me more than anything else as an entrepreneur for the past 15 years. Going big doesn’t mean being ostentatious or puffing out your chest, it means thinking at scale. Are you spending your precious time on something that is truly worthwhile? Is the world a better place for having you and your work a part of it?
When people push themselves to solve big problems and take on behemoths in entrenched industries, that’s what pushes technology—and hopefully humanity—forward. Starting any company requires enormous effort—your blood, sweat and tears—so you might as well dedicate them to a purpose that will have the most impact.
Thinking big is what kept me motivated during the long nights and lean times when investors balked at the idea of a platform targeting developers.
Logan Green, cofounder and CEO of virtual carpool app Lyft, said invest your time in things that really move the world forward in a meaningful way rather than in short-term fads. He said:
Take on giant problems that matter to people. Listening to all of the chatter in the press, it is easy to come away with the impression that investors are always chasing the latest fad. But in our experience the best investors care most about putting their money into solving gigantic problems that improve the world in a meaningful way.