Young, hopeful entrepreneurs are never at a loss for free advice from those who have “been there, done that.”
The best companies have millennials and women in charge, so it’s no surprise there are countless well-meaning people ready to dole out their two cents.
But how do you separate the distractions from truly valuable advice? These five women in the tech and business industries made their own ways, but sifted through their share of unsolicited chaff in the process.
These words of wisdom were given or learned the hard way.
Hold high standards. Bo Ren, product manager at Facebook, says mentor Ken Ebbitt urged her to become the “go-to person” for challenging problems in the company. “He told me the way I hold myself, speak, write, and walk shapes how others perceive me,” she says. “You should always hold yourself to the standard of the person you want to be.”
Be ready for anything. You’re at a casual cocktail party (finally, an event that isn’t precluded with “networking”) and you strike up a conversation with a stranger–who happens to be able to connect you with the investor of your dreams. Do you stumble over your words, trying to sum up your startup’s goals before she loses interest?
If you’re Monica Rogati, VP of data at Jawbone, you’re already killing the pitch. “Demos are powerful, efficient ways to communicate what you’re working on,” she says. “If you have a 30-second, three-minute, and 30-minute demo handy at all times, you’ll constantly be prepared for that serendipitous encounter with someone who can change your career trajectory.” Don’t end up kicking yourself over slippery opportunities.
Hush the voices. The best entrepreneurship advice Elisa Jagerson, CEO and owner of Speck Design, ever received was from her grandfather, a hall-of-fame quarterback. He said, “There is a voice inside you that will tell you that you are not good enough, prepared enough, or worthy enough to fulfill your dreams. Quiet that voice.”
Remember why you got into it. Many entrepreneurs today want to make a difference more than they want six-figure salaries. “Technologists aim to enhance lives,” Jagerson says. “To that end, my advice: Relentlessly seek to make the user’s life better. To do this well, learn how to deeply understand their unmet needs.”
Before becoming cofounder and CEO of Lumo BodyTech, Monisha Perkash started a consumer Internet company that helped users make college more affordable. “I love applying technology towards solving important problems,” she says. “Being an immigrant whose life was transformed by education, I gravitated towards the idea of using tech to improve educational access for others as well.”
Words of wisdom are often well-meaning, but can be far off-target. To those suggestions, these tech leaders said, “thanks, but no thanks:”
Wait around for your moment. The worst advice Tara Syed Williams, business analyst at Pinterest, has ever heard? “Just wait.”
“Great opportunities come to those who do more than what is asked of them,” says Williams. “Be curious and ask for context around decisions and work that falls on your plate.”
Hide your light. The worst advice Jagerson has ever heard: Quash the doubting inner voices completely. Your personal pep talks shouldn’t turn into delusions of perfectionist grandeur, but rather, tempered with humility.
The voices Perkash heard came from outside, and said she needed a new desktop screensaver. “Investors will question your commitment to the startup” if you have baby pictures displayed proudly, some told her. That’s noise to her, and she’s not buying it–instead, she says her best advice is to avoid comparison to others.
Keep your head down. “Be a good foot soldier,” someone told Ren when she raised questions about her path. Staying content to be a cog in the system wasn’t true with her ambitions: “The statement discouraged me from pursuing other opportunities in the company. So glad I ignored it.”