Last Thursday, the New Venture Challenge application was due and I’m still trying to catch up on sleep.
Before we find out, I want to write a post sincerely congratulating all the Boothies that applied to the NVC. Hopefully one day when we sell the company we’ll be as fly as Leo.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why certain people choose to pursue various things in life. Which is a kind of obtuse way of saying, “Why are you doing that?” The old adage is to “pursue your passion”. Ben Horowitz offers a new take on this by encouraging us to “pursue our contribution” and make sure we’re adding value to this world.
When interviewing at Microsoft for a college internship, I had a PM tell me, “You know, I could be curing cancer and saving millions of lives, but instead I work on Windows and impact over one billion people”. How should we respond to something like that? Impugn the person for not conforming to our values? Be impressed that they have calculated their “life contribution” so specifically? Or perhaps we should just recognize that the way they view the world is very (very, very) different from us?
Recently I’ve started to think that instead of passions or contributions, people should pursue their values. Which is to say, find out what matters to you in life, prioritize the hell out of it, and execute. How is this different? Well, my passion is coffee. If I could drink nothing else and not be unhealthy, I probably would. But, I don’t think I’m going to be a professional coffee drinker any time soon. My contribution is coding. I know I’m good at it, and currently coding adds a ton of value to this world. But after working as a professional software engineer there were still some itches I had yet to scratch. My values are more generic: family and creativity. The most important thing is that I work hard to have a healthy, happy home like my parents created for me. The next most important thing is that I create businesses and products that work. Those are my values. Using that as a generic framework that guides me ensures that I won’t get caught up continually trying to measure the value (lives saved or clicks?) or be upset if there’s a day at the office I’m just not feeling it. Pursuing my values means that as long as my priorities remain relatively unchanged I’ll have a steady, yet flexible compass.
And this insight makes me think of the Boothies tirelessly slaving away at their NVC applications. (Sidenote: #whybooth — because the school puts an incredible amount of resources and energy behind you, including assembling an amazing cohort of classmates). Business school is incredibly time-intensive and it’s easy to be pulled in a million directions. But these classmates have prioritized ruthlessly, dug in deep, and taken a huge bet on themselves and the startups they’re dreaming up. For weeks and months they conducted hours of customer interviews, worked through dozens of prototypes, and crafted their messaging until they had to let go at 9:59:59AM.
Just being a part of that kind of group makes me proud. So, if you submitted your app congrats on making it this far. And to my team, thank you for all your hard work and I really hope that SmarterCloud makes it in! I pledge to you to always pursue our values. That way, no matter what the outcome is, we’ll be happy we made the effort.