In the startup industry, we have people whose stories and quotes we see everywhere. Everybody knows their names; everybody knows their products. You can only achieve such success through hard work. These people created and then shared frameworks and methodologies that paved their road towards success. Best of all, their teachings apply to any field and any type of person, as long as their goal is growth.
Steve Jobs – What differentiates the dreamers from the doers
Apple exists as long as personal computers do, and it never loses relevance. The reason is simple – Products well adapted to customer needs. Steve Jobs’s innovative strategy left a significant mark on the tech industry.
How many tech company owners do you know? I’m guessing the first person that pops into your head is Steve Jobs. Even today, we see his quotes almost everywhere. But his most famous one is closely tied to his childhood experience.
Jobs was twelve years old when he decided to build a frequency counter. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the necessary parts, which would’ve resulted in an unfulfilled wish if he thought like others. But instead of giving up, little Steve picked up a phonebook, looked up Bill Hewlett’s number, and gave the founder of HP a call. After some laughs here and there, Bill agreed to provide him with spare parts of the frequency counted and even went as far as to offer him a summer job. When Steve thinks back to this moment, he notes:
“Most people never pick up the phone. Most people never call and ask. And that’s what separates sometimes the people who do things from those who just dream about them. You gotta act. You gotta be willing to fail. You gotta be willing to crash a burn. With people on the phone or starting a company, if you’re afraid you’ll fail, you won’t get very far.”
Paul Graham – Lesson to unlearn
Y Combinator is one of the most famous accelerators in the world. Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, and other notable companies all started took off thanks to YC. The company’s founder, Paul Graham, is famous among the startup community not as a startupper but as a VC and essayist. In fact, he has published more than 200 of them, which we highly recommend you to check out here.
In one of the essays titled “The lesson to unlearn”, Paul debunks a very unhealthy habit all of us picked up from school: Trying to hack tests instead of learning anything valuable.
Only a few people learn basic lessons in school. Our attention is targeted at grades we receive from tests and quizzes. You probably remember how we studied for exams a couple of days before the deadline and then forgot most of what we had learned. We memorized only what was useful for the exam, not for us. Technically, our goal was to hack the tests:
“Is it so bad if learning is conflated with grades? Yes, it is bad. And it wasn't till decades after college, when I was running Y Combinator, that I realized how bad it is.”
So states Paul in his article, and then continues talking on how startups tried to do the same with VCs, without even realizing it:
“How, they would ask, do you raise money? What's the trick for making venture capitalists want to invest in you? The best way to make VCs want to invest in you, I would explain, is to actually be a good investment. At this point I've told the founders something you'd think would be completely obvious: that they should make a good company by making a good product. And yet their reaction would be something like the reaction many physicists must have had when they first heard about the theory of relativity: a mixture of astonishment at its apparent genius, combined with a suspicion that anything so weird couldn't possibly be right.”
Even for the startups of Y Combinator, getting funded seemed like a test they could hack. They didn’t realize that the answer to all of their questions was right in front of their noses: Build a valuable product, and you won’t need to hack the system. Money and users will naturally flock to you.
Which is better, to pass a test, get the funding, and then figure out that your product is worthless, or devote your time and energy to building a product that users will want?
Elon Musk – How to learn everything
Elon Musk always manages to stun people with his achievements. He hasn’t started his career as a rocket scientist. Neither as a car mechanic. Nor as an AI expert. He’s just another startupper who created PayPal, then sold it and invested all his money in things that drastically changed the world we live in. SpaceX, Tesla, and OpenAI all have the lead in their relative industries. No wonder one of his fans asked Musk a question we’re all interested in: “How do you manage to learn so much?”
“Most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.” – Elon Musk.
Imagine that you know nothing. Imagine that you forgot not only the lousy habit from school but also everything you learned after school. How would you start learning again?
Step I: Grow a knowledge tree
If we imagine any type of knowledge as a tree, then the most important thing is that you start learning from the roots and the thick branches. In short, Musk’s advice is this: Start from zero, and once you’ve mastered the baseline, only then move to the details. If you don’t understand the basics well enough, it won’t bring you much to master the leaves and branches – They’ll simply have nothing to hold onto.
Step II: Connect the trees
The second lesson about learning goes as follows:
“You can’t remember what you can’t connect.”
You always have to be on the lookout for connections between what you know and what you’re learning. This won’t just simplify your learning process, but you might even stumble upon some cool startup ideas – and this comes from another of Paul’s amazing essays.
Indeed, Elon Musk’s advice sounds like the truth that’s right there in front of our eyes: Learn only what you can make use of, and learn from the bottom up.
We like speed. Especially when it comes to learning new things. We want to know as much as possible, as fast as possible. That is why we often skip the fundamentals and start from somewhere in the middle. When we do that, can we say that we actually understand the subject?