Entrepreneurship isn’t easy but if anyone has made it look that way it is Joe Lonsdale, founder of Palantir. Here is his advice on becoming a great entrepreneur.
What would I advise an aspiring young entrepreneur? Certainly I’d say read the works of great entrepreneurs and investors like Ben Horowitz, Peter Thiel, and many others. But what’s more important is to get real experience at a great startup.
Learn from those that have done it before you
Don’t go to a big company to learn about how to be a great entrepreneur — go to see an example of what you want to do in action.
If you aren’t already obsessed with an idea you have to work on right away, join a successful technology company. Figure out how you can add value and then learn — and remember, a great entrepreneur needs to build strong skills around product (+engineering) or marketing (+sales) or both.
Successful technology companies can be found all over the world, but the highest concentration is in Silicon Valley. It’s not a coincidence that top technology companies are often built in the same area — you learn a huge amount from being part of a top team and seeing a great technology company function firsthand.
There’s no substitute for experiencing ups and downs — seeing how it’s okay that things are overwhelming or broken sometimes and how companies recover from mistakes. You learn how a top engineering team works with a sales team, or how marketing strategy impacts other parts of the organization.
You can learn what types of adviser relationships are helpful, and how to create a culture of transparency — and all sorts of other leadership lessons for attracting and retaining the best people.
If you are able to learn from a successful fast-growing technology company, you can later leverage your colleagues and industry friends and work on something new — ideally with the support of the leaders of your former company, who can be great mentors and investors.
Create success for those around you
One of the best pieces of advice I got in my early twenties was that it isn’t important to make money myself in the near-term, rather, it is important that I create success for people around me — friends, colleagues, and investors.
Great entrepreneurs see the world with a positive sum mindset.
Their higher levels of success come from the people around them whom they have helped in a variety of ways. If you make a million dollars for yourself, you have a million dollars, but if you make $100,000 for ten great people around you, you have several eager allies who are going to support you and bring their friends to add fuel to the fire in whatever you want to do next.
Each success is a platform for your next success, and nothing worth doing works without great allies who trust you and want to see you succeed.
Work on something unique
When it comes to actually building your business, one challenge is to work on something that nobody else is doing. In my experience, some Europeans seem to have more trouble with this aspect of entrepreneurship because their culture is more politically correct or consensus-minded — for example, if everybody says working on a “green business” or “web 2.0” is good, let’s do it!
Unfortunately, if everybody says something positive it’s probably a bad idea for a successful venture — and if you receive a lot of accolades right away, it’s probably a negative indicator.
A great entrepreneur will form their own opinions and doesn’t need accolades — your goal as an entrepreneur is to figure out a way the world is broken and a unique way that you can fix it.
Most of the time this involves something slightly esoteric — and it almost always involves building a really strong technology team and culture, and iterating on hard problems as you figure out the business.
Share your idea early on
Another sound piece of advice I got as an entrepreneur was to share my idea with smart friends and have them challenge it and iterate on it, rather than keep it secret.
Inexperienced entrepreneurs often want to keep their plans secret, but this is never how I’ve seen any of the great companies get built.
Imagine if five people have the same general idea in a space and four of them keep it secret and start trying to build, and one goes and chats with lots of smart people and iterates. Who do you think wins?
Finally, entrepreneurship is really hard — leadership can be lonely. Great mentors help — sometimes they even play the role of therapists — and everybody trying to build something new has ups and downs.
Creating a successful technology company is not a job, it’s an obsession that’s often thankless for years — but the impact and satisfaction you can create is enormous.