Last week I was sitting in a hospital waiting room with my mom. Since I never really see my mom much, I was trying to explain to her what I’ve learned recently and just my general progress. I tried to explain the fact that I’ve (hopefully) matured, and that compared to a younger me 3 or 5 years ago, I’ve learned a lot. One thing I tried to convey, but not sure if I did, is that I now know the definition of power.
By physical definition, power is the rate at which energy is transferred. More strictly, it is the rate of work per unit of time. I think all through my upbringing, the only definition of power I could comprehend was that. Or otherwise while watching History Channel specials on Teddy Roosevelt, Mussolini, or Alexander the Great. Power was one of those abstract things that ‘great’ people have. I knew what power looked like, because it looked like strong people, and it looked like what those people did. But I never knew where it came from.
In the past year, I’ve been spending a lot of time learning more about the people who change things. Reading is one of the best ways to do this, and I’ve especially enjoyed the stories in Founders at Work, and of the inspiring personal stories of Stan Slap and Vikram Akula. This has given me context, and because of these books I’ve been thinking more about this topic.
But it hasn’t been until more recently that I’ve recognized what power actually looks like in the real world, because I am now coming face to face with it as I am meeting so many people with this unique trait. For the first time in my life, I am consciously aware of this when I interact with any new person I meet.
Power is the ability to make one’s vision become a reality.
Now, of course there are many levels of this. Personal power is much different than power in a community, or in a new way of thinking. But, this is the definition that I hold today which if you had tried to explain to me a few years ago I would have dismissed out of ignorance.
The best way to describe it is like this. If power is by definition the rate of energy spent per time, then people who do more in that time period are therefore more powerful.
Whether that person is doing cancer research, coding some software, practicing music, or lifting some dumbbells, there is some bothersome law of the universe that all energy is conserved. So, for every action, there is an output. You spend time in the lab, you get closer to the cure. You practice your music, you are better prepared for your performance. And, if you spend your time grinding sand, you end up with finer sand.
OK, so power is some measurement of effort. But what about the part about the vision? How does one’s vision affect how powerful someone is? Can’t I lift an entire truck and still be more powerful than someone who can’t? Or write more lines of code than anyone else in the world to hack into any system?
‘Intelligence without ambition is like a bird without wings’ - Salvador Dali
‘Potential with no ambition is the same as having no potential at all’ - random Tumblr quote
These quotes seem obvious, but how many people do you know fit this category of should-have-tried-harder, or could-have-reached-their-goals. I know I felt like that at many points in my life. According to my dad, I was always an undisciplined kid with potential, always underperforming. I used to argue back that I wanted to be more ambitious than he was, usually as my only defense.
There are certain people out there that when you meet them, you can feel their ambition. Sometimes it manifests in their charm. Other times, it’s sheer passion and exuberance for what they do. Or, it can be in determination, and a focus to work hard and not get distracted.
Whatever it is, that’s what you can usually feel in someone’s aura when you know someone is impressive. They have the raw strength to power through anything, and they have the vision and sight to guide it towards higher goals. Usually when you meet someone like this or are standing near enough to someone with these traits, it feels like electricity.
“When Bauhaus designers adopted Sullivan’s “form follows function,” what they meant was, form should follow function. And if function is hard enough, form is forced to follow it, because there is no effort to spare for error. Wild animals are beautiful because they have hard lives.”
Someone said last night that he don’t consider himself an entrepreneur anymore because he spends all day in meetings, and that he’s lucky if he gets even a few hours with emacs and photoshop open.
It’s made me appreciate the fact that I get to still do my own work myself.
There are two things every founder is always doing. One is fundraising; regardless of your incorporation status (non-profit, venture-backed), you’re always pitching the vision 12-months down the line to someone who can help you get there. And the other thing, I’ve most recently learned, is hiring. You are always looking to bring the most incredible people into your fold.
Hiring is extremely difficult, because it’s one of those things that can be so unrelated from the day-to-day of product development, sales, marketing, and even fundraising. As a background process, it varies with the focus and attention given to the rest of the startup. If suddenly everything is heightened under a time of massive growth, then the attention devoted to hiring is also heightened. If for some reason things slow down, fundraising stalls, or the product needs work, then hiring will also become for difficult and stagnant.
Finding the best people to join your family is also very illogical and non-sequential. Sometimes the best people come to you, sometimes you actively find the perfect match. It’s very much like being single and stepping into the dating world. One strategy I’ve taken (similar to past dating experiences too) is to spend as little time actively seeking people out, and leaning on serendipity to create opportunities for good matches. Of course, just like in dating, a common strategy to be successful is to put yourself in situations where serendipity is more likely to occur. Single-but-seeking people are much more successful at finding a potential date if they go out and are social. The equivalent to this for a startup is to have a strong and attractive brand.
The process of determining whether a match is a good fit for you, him, and the company is also a very time consuming task. For one, there is the upfront preparation you have to do as a startup to ask “what is my explicit hiring stategy?”, and this is something we learned the hard way at Microryza. Do you want a specialist or a generalist? Do you care more about strongly-held opinions or adaptability? Do you have a mental checklist for these and other trade-offs on paper somewhere? And of course, the act of actually doing the phone screens, technical evaluations, and interview days is very much a brute force task that you cannot avoid. So, if you’re going to commit time to it you might as well try to enjoy it. This can be done with actually fun exercises as well as high-quality conversation.
At the end of the day, the team that you build is a product in itself. Particularly in the early stages when you haven’t launched anything or traction isn’t quite there yet, having a team that could potentially deliver those things is hugely significant. A team that seems like it could deliver the next Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is worth a lot to outside eyes - i.e. investors. A team that you as a founder knows can actually deliver on the vision and potential of your product is worth much more - it’s the most valuable thing you can build.
We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery-it recharges by running.
A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun. If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you’ll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.
When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is - everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.
I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.