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The fact is, if you really want to help change the world the most challenging and rewarding career is that of a startup founder or early employee.
Startups offer the greatest imaginable flexibility and opportunity to anyone with the drive and ambition to really make a difference, and provide their founders and employees with infinitely more challenge and self-fulfillment than any other career path in the modern world.
We all know the world is far from perfect. There are more problems out there than any one person or company can fix. But when you dedicate yourself to solving one problem, you can certainly make a huge difference. In fact, that’s what startup companies are, essentially: they’re machines that someone built to provide a product or service that solves a problem for people.
How to find a career that will help someone change the world
Whatever your own interests and skills, there’s a problem out there you can solve. There’s an industry, product or service that needs shaking up. Chances are there’s a young company out there that could use your help. If not, build your own!
Nothing comes easily to the early-stage startup. Funding may not happen. Customers may not show up right away. Tech problems may seem insurmountable. Suppliers you count on might go out of business. But it is the fire of these challenges that forges characters, teams and products that change the face of the world.
The good news is that it’s never been easier to step up to that challenge, and you have never had a better chance of success!
1.) The Right Point in Time
We live in a period of history during which it’s never been simpler to start a company, there’s never been cheaper, more direct access to technology and talent, and the means of public advertisement have never been more accessible to the average person. We can do things and gain reach that would’ve been unimaginable even a couple decades ago.
Not only this, but the traditional employment model has collapsed. The twentieth-century ideas of “a job for life” and “job security” now seem quaintly obsolete. Talented people don’t expect to work for the same company their entire working life, and they don’t feel loyalty to a single employer, because the old contract no longer exists. Most professionals work a variety of “gigs”, and those who don’t are looking to move in that direction. The employment market has gone global and workers are no longer cogs in the machine, they are traders of skills and time.
This is great news for anyone with the desire and ambition to become an entrepreneur in any walk of life. You have the lowest barrier-to-entry of anyone in modern history.
Of course, big corporations hate it. They have gigantic offices, armies of lawyers and accountants, boards full of stuffed-shirt executives, legions of professionals on full-time salaries, all sucking millions of dollars out of the company every year. You don’t need any of that. Aside from basic equipment, most everything you need is available free, at low cost, or pay-as-you-go.
And yet, if you have what it takes, you can build a product that is better than theirs. Not such a bad time to be alive.
2.) Finding the Big Idea
This all means an explosion in young, motivated people with big ideas forming teams to make a difference. What’s more, this innovation is happening at all levels, in every facet of our lives – from startups looking at making life in their home towns easier, to revolutionary employment platforms changing the way we think about building businesses and earning money, to biotech startups making great strides in life extension technology, and everywhere in between.
The gloves are off, and the rule book’s out the window. So get going! But where do you start?
First off, remember you don’t have to be the “ideas guy”. You don’t even have to be the co-founder working long hours for equity at no salary. You can be an early employee making good money and doing just as much good as those other guys – if you have the right skills.
Start off by checking out the big tech and startup blogs – places like TechCrunch, TheNextWeb, KillerStartups, OnStartups. Get used to scanning through them, learning the state of the market, seeing what you find appealing. Start following some of the people you think are interesting on Facebook and Twitter.
Next, have a look at some of the companies you’ve identified in greater detail. What’s on their Jobs pages? What kinds of technologies do they use? How can your skill areas dovetail with their needs?
Then, do the rounds of the job boards and marketplaces. This can be a tough grind, but you’ll find out exactly what these young (and some more firmly-established) companies are really looking for, and how you can hone your skills to become a great part of their team. Just like a startup’s product has to have a stellar value proposition to its target market, you have to have a stellar value proposition to your target employers. Practice your skills, build expertise, fill out your portfolio with great work.
Online is fine, but nothing beats meeting people face-to-face. Your city probably has a thriving startup scene – if not, a few hours’ drive will probably take you somewhere that does. Look out for startup weekends, hackathons, meetups, lectures, accelerators and incubators. You’ll start building up a contact network before you know it.
Remember, don’t invent problems for yourself. People love to say things like “I can’t get a job because I don’t have a degree” or “I can’t work for company X because I don’t live in San Francisco” because it validates not having to try. Maybe this kind of thinking had a grain of truth years ago, but it’s not good enough in today’s market. If you’re not told “You absolutely need certificate X” or “You absolutely need to live in city Z” – then it’s not a deal-breaker. Even then, it’s probably negotiable if your value proposition is strong enough in other areas.
Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. If – or rather, when – you hear “no thanks” remember it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It just means that particular match-up wasn’t right, and that could happen for a thousand reasons, most of which are nothing to do with you. Either way, it doesn’t have any bearing on your next shot at a job. Every successful person has stories about the times they were turned away. Stephen King’s first novel was rejected by thirty publishers before he found the right fit! Sooner or later you’ll find a partner or a team that’s the right fit – and from there, the sky’s the limit.
3.) Being the Change
On the other hand, maybe you are the ideas guy. Maybe you’ve clearly identified the problem you’re going to fix. Maybe you know exactly who has that problem, and how you can reach out to them. Maybe you even have a handle on how you’re going to fix it!
If so, kudos. You’re well on the way to success. The most important thing to consider are the resources you’ll need. This takes us back to thinking about what a company really is. A company is not the sum total of all those things the big corporations waste their money on – all it really is, is a machine for solving a problem for some people. So that means you just have to figure out the smallest set of resources necessary to solve that problem adequately – and get paid for doing so – and then look at how you can get hold of those resources. The fewer resources you need, the greater the chances you’ll be able to get them.
For instance, when I started thinking about building Aegora, I knew I wanted to solve the problems that freelancers and their clients had finding the right partners and working with them. The freelancer-client business model has the potential to change the way we all work, freeing people around the world from the feudal, oppressive employer-employee model that prevents people controling their own income. But the existing freelance platforms weren’t fulfilling that potential.
I knew what their key problems were because I’d spent many years as a freelancer and a hirer-of-freelancers. I also knew that users hate features, because they have to learn them. So I set out to build a really simple product that consultants and entrepreneurs could use to easily find the right partners and work with them simply and comfortably, with the greatest possible chance of success and the minimum possible time spent learning.
Fast-forward two years, and we’ve just launched, with a few hundred beta-test users. Aegora is a professional network that uses degrees-of-connection to let you find the right people easily, a marketplace that lets you pay and get paid, and a project management system that lets you easily define projects and split them up into bite-size milestones. These three functions are seamlessly integrated into one another. It’s so simple our videos show you how to use Aegora to become an entrepreneur client or freelance consultant in only five minutes.
So this is a system people can use wherever they are in the world to radically improve their lives by finding great talent and great clients, making money and building businesses. Because I concentrated on keeping it super-simple, we were able to make this happen with a handful of supremely-dedicated people, two years of late nights, and a cash outlay of only a few thousand dollars. In contrast, our nearest corporate competitor has a staff of three hundred full-time employees, funding in the tens of millions, and an inferior product full of features no-one wants to use. We’re not going to cure cancer, but we can help people improve their quality and enjoyment of life, and that’s something.
So if you’re the ideas guy, ask yourself the basic questions about where you want to end up, what resources you really need to get there, and how you can acquire them. Once you have some believable, concrete answers, your startup roadmap practically writes itself.
4.) No Free Lunch
That’s not to say it’s going to be an easy journey, or that you’ll definitely reach the end in one piece. The writer Robert Heinlein popularized the phrase “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (or “TANSTAAFL” for short) meaning essentially, “you get nothing for nothing”. There are
no free rides in the startup world and a great deal will be expected of you – nobody gets to say “but that’s not in my job description!” You’ll have to be a ruthless self-disciplinarian. You’ll have to master skills you never planned on learning. You’ll have to do things you might think are beneath you. You’ll have to hold other people to that same high standard of work ethic – “when ditches need dug, everyone digs – no exceptions”. But it’s the world-changing vision that’ll pull you through and make you put your best self into your work. At the very least, you’ll come out of it a stronger, better-educated, all-round entrepreneurial fighter. And the more you work at it, the better the chances of success – of really changing the world for the better.