To succeed as an entrepreneur, everything you do must be fuelled by a desire to create, or assist in creating, something useful for the world. This desire is instrumental to everything you do in a startup. It influences what you do, how you do it and who you do it with. Countless entrepreneurs-at-heart have been at the same point where you are now. Many, in the process of trying to create something, make one big mistake: they’re driven primarily by financial freedom, and financial freedom alone. To their peril.
Why is this such a big mistake? Because creating something new and turning it into a business is difficult. Really, really difficult. Most people have no idea what they’re getting themselves into when they jump into the world of startups. They have romanticised ideas of becoming the next big thing and sitting across the table from the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. There’s no problem with dreaming big, but there’s a big problem with thinking that it was easy for the Zuckerbergs to get where they are.
Eric Ries (author of Lean Startup, which you’ll learn more about in Phase 2) said it best when he said,
“In the movies you see an entrepreneur come up with an idea, then there’s a fast-forward photomontage of all the work that goes in the middle, and then they come out with a successful, thriving business. What most people don’t realise is that in reality, that fast-forward photomontage is where all the actual work happens. And that’s where you as an entrepreneur spend almost all your time.”
The successful entrepreneurs you see in the world are not successful because they’re naturally gifted. They are successful because they worked for weeks, months, years on end to fulfil their vision. They sacrificed their time, energy, and very often their finances just to keep their startup alive.
Marc Andreessen is the perfect person to turn to in order to understand exactly what it takes to succeed in the startup world. He's an American entrepreneur, investor, and software engineer who co-founded Mosaic (the first widely used Web browser); Netscape; Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and is a renowned startups writer:
If this makes you worried, good. Feeling some fear and taking action anyway is the definition of bravery, which you’re going to need. Throughout this course you’re going to be expanding what you’re capable of. The Nomad Academy is designed to support you through positive changes, and that’s what you’re going to be experiencing. By the end of this course, you should have a greater appreciation of your capabilities and your ability to work hard.
“So if it’s not easy and chasing money is almost certain to lead to failure, what should I do?”
If you want any chance of being able to put in the work required to create something and keep it growing, you need to find something that makes you come alive. You need to discover what gives you a burning desire to keep going. You need to find: your vision.
To understand your vision, you first need to understand what you enjoy, what’s important to you and what you can do better than anyone else. And so, that’s where we begin.
Knowing your passions, values, strengths and weaknesses is vital because it allows you to understand what idea, product and startup is truly meaningful to you. Starting a startup based on an idea that is meaningful to you is the most important step to creating a startup, because it determines the level of drive and perseverance you will have for that startup, and the sacrifices you will make.
Phil Knight, creator of Nike, paints a clear picture of the value of meaning for an entrepreneur in his memoir Shoe Dog,
“I’d been unable to sell encyclopedias, and I’d despised it to boot. I’d been slightly better at selling mutual funds, but I’d felt dead inside. So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves. Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.”
When the thing you are creating and selling has meaning for you, not only will you be more driven to do whatever it takes to succeed (which is the only way you’re going to win this uphill battle), but others around you will see your authenticity and want to join you as customers, employees and investors.
In order to have the best chance of succeeding in a startup, meaning must be inseparable from your idea and eventual business. Steve Blank, the Silicon Valley legend you were introduced to in a previous section, captures this sentiment perfectly:
“Entrepreneurs are closer to artists than they are to any other career”. And just like artists, you are bringing something into the world for a reason. Meaning is about answering this question, “What value do I want to bring to the world, and why?”
– Steve Blank
The best startups are meaning-driven, and those are always a reflection of the founder’s own meaning in life. Jordan Peterson touches on the importance of meaning in this fascinating talk:
Jordan Peterson is a phD in Clinical Psychology and lecturer at Harvard University:
Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of Asana, adds a great piece titled Do Great Things:
In his book Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Can Create a Powerful Purpose for Their Lives, Isaiah Hankel provides an absurdly motivating look into your purpose meaning and why you need it. Go through the short excerpt below on your “Why”, and we’d seriously recommend you order the full book too at some point.
The most important part of changing your life is knowing why you're changing it in the first place. Knowing why you want to make something happen is more important than knowing how, or even the goal you want to achieve itself.
Put simply, without this strong why, your purpose won't survive and you won't escape mediocrity.
Diving into "why"; we're aware that people do things for two reasons: to avoid pain, or to experience pleasure. Of the two, and this is true for everyone, pain is the more powerful motivator (more precisely, the motivation to avoid pain).
So rather than fighting against that, you can harness that understanding. Focus on what is causing you pain, then make the decision to never experience that pain again. Do that, and you'll have the seeds of a strong "why" to live your life by.
Now it’s time to bring it all together and create your vision. Your vision is the point on the horizon which gives you the motivation and constant direction required to make difficult decisions, do hard work and move forwards towards building your startup. As Hankel said in Black Hole Focus,
“With every aspect of your being focused on moving you towards that purpose, you'll be able to transcend normal careers and a mediocre life – giving context to your everyday struggles and pushing you to grow in a direction that fulfils you.”
Your vision is a combination of your meaning, strengths, passions and values. It’s your definition of what you want to achieve with your startup, how you want to influence the world, how you want to feel about yourself and how you want others to feel about you. Like your personality “type” and passions, you don’t have one static vision. It’s constantly evolving and it’s your responsibility to frequently check in with your vision to make sure it still rings true for you.
There are two signs that indicate you have a solid vision: 1. the thought of it coming true makes you uncontrollably excited; and 2. the thought of actually taking action to try achieve it makes you a little scared, anxious and overwhelmed. When you feel these simultaneously, you’ve hit the sweet spot. You’ve identified a vision that truly means something to you.
Before moving onto the activities to identify your vision, take a look/listen to this episode of Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu. Bilyeu is the co-founder of billion dollar nutrition company Quest Nutrition and host of The Impact Theory, in which he interviews some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs to identify and extract their secrets to success. In this empowering episode, John Assaraf is going to give you a masterclass in upgrading your mind. Take your time to work through it and don’t be afraid to stop and Google something if you’re not sure what they’re talking about. Choose your favourite between video and podcast, and enjoy!
Now you’re ready to focus on yourself. The below activities require time and focused attention. We recommend taking a moment to find a nice quiet place where you feel comfortable and can get yourself into an open and positive frame of mind.
You might prefer working through these with a pen and paper instead of the computer. If so, submit a photo of your work into the relevant folder.
There is no limit to how many answers you provide for each question. When you struggle to think of another answer to a question, take a minute or two and let your mind relax. Then come back to the question and see if you can come up with one more answer. The biggest insights often lie a few layers below the surface, only reachable through a bit of struggle!
Most of all, remember to have fun and enjoy this process!
Answer these questions as honestly as you can. Take your time; the more you put in, the more you will get out of them.
1. In your ideal future, how do you want to feel about yourself when by yourself?
2. What would you need to tell yourself everyday to feel this way?
3. What activities, situations, events and people should you engage with to support this feeling?
4. In your ideal future, how do you want others to feel about you?
5. What would you need to tell yourself everyday to feel this way?
6. What activities, situations, events and people should you engage with to support this feeling?
7. In your ideal future, what status, respect and influence do you have?
8. In your ideal future, what material possessions do you have?
9. In your ideal future, what are some potential careers you’d like to have?
10. In your ideal future, what knowledge do you have?
11. In your ideal future, who do you want to help?
12. In what way do you want to help them?
Create a vision board – start by sketching it out by hand. Vision boards are immensely powerful as the crystallise the vision thoughts you’re having, make them beautiful and can act as a regular inspiration for you if you’re brave enough to put is somewhere prominent (like as your desktop background!)
Below is an example of a vision board, from Isaiah Hankel – complete with his values, inspiring sentences, pictures that capture the themes of what he wants from his future, and a central statement of his name and future business.
In doing this, you’ll have an advantage that 99.9% of others don’t; you’ll be aiming towards something in your life. And that makes all the difference –it gives you a way to hold yourself accountable to your actions, a way by which to make decisions in your life, will get you feeling scared and alive by admitting you’re ambitions. But more importantly, just by delving into these deep questions and manifesting them into the world as images and writing, your vision board will infiltrate your subconscious; and it is your subconscious that will steer you towards your vision over the coming years almost without you realising it.
“The only way to get to where you want to go is to ruthlessly evaluate where you are now. The key here is that your biggest obstacle in life is always yourself—not external factors.”
– Isaiah Hankel