[This is a cross-post from the Dorm Room Fund Blog]
Many students look at their idols — Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg — and are attracted to the idea of leaving school to start a billion dollar company. The likelihood of a student building a massive, billion dollar company such as Snapchat or Tinder out of a dorm room is incredibly small, although I challenge any student reader to join such highly esteemed ranks.
For most undergraduates, staying in school to get a degree seems like the most reasonable and appealing option. For me, that wasn’t the case during my junior year. In December 2012 I knew I wanted to pursue another opportunity before continuing on with my formal education.
In my last blog post, I talked about managing commitments. If you can’t cut any of your commitments, and yet you still are overwhelmed, you need to keep yourself sane by giving your mind the opportunity to recuperate on a daily basis.
What can I do to keep my stress levels down if I am burning myself out and can’t cut a commitment?
Here are a few quick tips on how to maintain your sanity:
"There’s just way too much shit on here," I thought to myself as I stared at my proverbial plate. As I struggled in classes, half-assed extra curricular commitments, and failed to meet deadlines at my part-time job, I recognized that something had to be done.
If you consider yourself a busy person, you’ll agree it’s difficult to say no to any awesome new opportunity that comes along. If you say yes to everything and overload yourself, I can promise that you’re either going to under-deliver and hurt your reputation, reach a breaking point, or become an emotionless workaholic robot.
How do you avoid burning out in the first place?
The answer to this question is simple, and quite often harder to act upon than one might expect. Just say no. Don’t agree to that new project that’s gonna suck up 5 more hours of your week when you’re already overcommitted. That’s stupid. Go make yourself a spreadsheet and lay out your time (there are only 168 hours in a week!) with the average lengths of time you spend across each commitment, and you’ll see just how stretched thin you are.
Okay, you’ve already overcommitted. How do you handle this?
Sitting around the table at the first board meeting of the year, I looked my teammates in the eyes and addressed them as a full group for the first time.
"As I look around this table, I see some of the most talented and promising of my peers at this University. While I may be the President, I don’t believe that puts me on any different level than each of you. I will not sit here and say I know more than any of you, because that is simply not true. I look forward to learning so much from each of you and I hope I can return the favor in some degree."
As I look back on the past year as President of the Entrepreneurs Club, I see the E-board and club members and find it tough to put into words how much I appreciate what they’ve accomplished and helped me learn.
Here are 10 invaluable things I learned:
It’s the first week that the two new super talented developers are starting at influencers@ and the product team is growing. As we have on-boarding conversations, we discuss deadlines we’ll need to meet for bug fixes and features.
When you’re involved with product, it’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the mass of possibilities of what awesome stuff you can create right now. Feedback comes from all directions: the company’s executives, the development team, other internal departments, customers, and users. Often, this constant influx of opinions and thought can quickly become overwhelming if not handled properly.
As a Product Manager, I learned very quickly that having a ruthless grasp on the resources available and the needs of the stakeholders are absolutely key. Relentless prioritization must be a focus and at the forefront of all decisions made. Since becoming a Product Manager myself, there are a few core take-aways I’ve learned when prioritizing anything in a business situation:
As I was walking out of the classroom towards the end of the semester, my professor and I sparked up a conversation. “Hey Matt. You know, I’m working on this big research project, and I’d really like to have you working on it with me” my Professor said. I responded with “I’d definitely like to learn a bit more about what this is…can you send along some documentation so I can take a deeper look?”
After scheduling a meeting, we sat in a room together discussing the possibility of how we can turn her idea into a massive company. The idea was awesome, and it seems as though there is a definite need for it in the market. “And I have no problem at all splitting this 50/50” she told me as she pitched me the company. It sounded like a great deal, and without much thought aside from the support of the idea and my zeal for entrepreneurship, I agreed.
A few months later, we sat down in a cafe after a “quick” meeting was scheduled on my co-founder’s end. We had recently been butting heads when it came to next steps. I felt as though we were spending far too much time on the little details of stuff like logos and our marketing site, and not enough focusing on finding development talent to join us to actually begin building the product.
"Matt, I just don’t think this partnership is working out anymore. It’s not about how passionate you are about it, or how hard you’re working for it, I just don’t think we’re a good fit to found this company together."
At the end of the day, looking back, I made a lot of stupid mistakes in how I went about things leading up to our mis-aligned vision of where we wanted to go and how we were going to approach it. I realize now many of the reasons that contributed to the problems that led us to a dead-end together.
When initiating a founding relationship, consider the following points:
As I step outside and roll my bike alongside me, I look in each direction. “Hmm…I haven’t gone that way yet” I thought to myself as I looked in the southwestern direction of Boston. Having no idea where I was heading, I hopped on the pedals and set off, picking random roads to bike down with no care for destination or knowledge of my current location. About an hour and a half later, far outside the bounds of Boston, I looked around at the suburban streets and the quaint houses, the skyline nowhere to be found.
At this point, I was genuinely lost and didn’t know my way back. However, I knew I had my phone to check my location if I needed. Thing was, I didn’t want to know where I was. I wanted to challenge myself to figure out my way back .”I got myself here. And now, it’s time to get myself back home.”
The feeling of getting lost is exciting to me. Not knowing where you stand, not sure where “home” is, without bearings, without solidified reference points, without a true grasp on where you’re heading. With each of these comes thrill, uncertainty, and excitement.
It’s okay to get lost. Just know a way back.
With such an elaborate metaphor, what’s the point? What am I trying to get at? So what…you get on your bike and go get lost in the city…doesn’t that just make you careless? That’s dangerous. Why would you do that? That doesn’t even sound fun.
"Okay class, I’d like to get to know each of you a bit. Let’s go around one at a time and come up to the front of the room say your name, your major, why you took this class, and what you hope to do once you graduate."
"Ugh, this again," I thought to the September 2010 freshman version of myself. "I hate these stupid intros. I always get caught on my words, get red in the face and wind up looking like an idiot. Okay, if I just go first it will get it out of the way and I won’t have to worry about it. Great. They started on the other side of the room. Eight, nine, 10 more people to go. And then it’s my turn." I could feel my heart start racing and already pictured my face turning red when it was my time speak.
Fast forward to September 2012 and I’m in front of a room of 250 people giving an engaging 7 minute presentation about what the Entrepreneurs Club is all about. Without noticeably stumbling across my words and no thought at all to the color of my face, I was later complimented on how great of a presentation I gave — something that freshman me would have scoffed at.
Going from shaky words to powerful rhetoric took some time. Casey Hogan, Executive Vice President of the Entrepreneurs Club, also has come an extremely long way with her public speaking since I met her 2 years ago & is well on her way to mastering the skill.
Along the way, I picked up on some very key things that helped me get 100x better at public speaking:
So, this is ChatterMob. A developer spent a few months on it at the beginning of the year. It hasn’t been touched much since. Your goal…get it launched in September. We need to hire developers, create roadmaps, potentially re-brand, do user testing, conduct concept testing, start sales, and overall make sure this thing works, makes sense, and is something people actually want to use.
In a nutshell, this is how Greg Skloot got me set up on my first day at influencers@ as a Product Manager on July 2nd, 2012. After playing with the site and realizing we had a completely non-functional product, it was time to figure out where to begin piecing such a broken puzzle together in such a short time span.
During those two months, a lot of decisions were made on how I wanted to approach this process, and there are a few things that kept me (and can keep you) on a very clear track to get a product launched:
It’s 11pm at the end of a long, non-stop day and it’s myself and Ariel left around the office. We just spent about an hour talking about influencers@ & ChatterMob, from the history to the future of the company. Not having eaten anything since lunch, I was ready to head home and nothing was going to stop me. As I step towards the door, I hear “Oh wait, what if we were to go about things this way…would that be more effective?” With a true shine in her eyes to learn and present new ideas, I was happy to spend another 30 minutes talking through all of them together.
The more I work in leadership positions, the more I see one trait set individuals apart - the “Teachability Factor.”
Ariel Winton, currently on the ChatterMob team & leader in the NU Entrepreneurs Club, is a definitive example of this. By asking for more things to do, constantly calling me with new ideas, and finishing deliverables at an alarming rate, she has a clear desire to learn and be taught.
From being in the position of both the mentor and the mentee, I’ve found the following 5 Ways to gain the “Teachability Factor” in the eyes of a mentor: