Race to Saturn

Remember Your Strengths

In my conversations last week for the Founders Project, I noticed something coming through occasionally in founders’ plans that has given me some trouble too: Forgetting your strengths.

This happens, I think, especially when people are starting something that’s a bit different than what they’ve done before. They look at what other people have done, and try to be like those people.

There’s a place for finding specific examples of people who have figured out how to do something you want to do - and using those examples as targeted guidance. But be careful if you’re trying to emulate others on the fundamental course of your company or who you will become.

Founders might say: “How did Mark Zuckerberg do it?” and try to emulate that. Copying specific growth strategies or how Facebook built its team can work. But founders often go too far, trying to essentially copy Mark (or Jeff or Elon, etc.) in setting out the type of company they want to build and how they see themselves.

Superficially, it might seem like Facebook’s success happened naturally as the result of a good idea + good features. So founders trying to copy that example might spend time focusing above all on features and trying to get that perfect idea, expecting things will take off if they get those things right.

But Mark Zuckerberg is a very particular type of person. Someone who had for years built different tools, and had a particular type of access to people when he was at Harvard. And the story of Facebook’s growth is more about the access that Mark and his team had to people and how they used that access, than about a particular idea and feature set.

And, either way, the world doesn’t need more Mark Zuckerbergs. It doesn’t need more Jeff Bezos-es, or Elon Musks.

It needs you. The experiences and skills that you’ve built up and the things that you actually care about. Not the skills you think you should have or the things you think you should care about. Your skills and what you care about - those make up the foundation for your successful company.

Along these lines, Jared Friedman from Y Combinator has a nice overview of “how to get startup ideas,” where he makes the point that about 50% of the successful companies Y Combinator has funded pursued an idea that the startup team was especially good at - where they had an “unfair advantage” in executing. Jared goes into further depth, talking about laying out the unique skills you’ve learned from your prior work, what seemed broken in those experiences, and what solutions you came up with yourself.

Here’s the full video if you’re curious for more:

But this is not just about the idea your company is pursuing. It also applies to challenges, opportunities, and innovations that arise as you are moving forward.

As you make decisions, keep these things prominent in your mind: The experiences that you’ve had, what you understand uniquely well, what you can do at a high level, and, especially, what you really enjoy doing.

If this resonates with you, we can work on it together as you set your goals for the coming week in the Founders Project.