What I Learned from a Summer of Startups

A photo of me in front of the draft board of my first Deep Learning for Rookies blog post

Spending a summer in the startup scene in the beautiful Frankfurt am Main has taught me a lot. I met interesting people and have luckily been inspired by some true entrepreneurs. I’ve also made mistakes, “contributed” to misunderstandings and miscommunication, and observed different leadership styles. Here are some thoughts for others who are exploring startups and entrepreneurship.

While this post has nothing to do with my series on Deep Learning for Rookies (link 1 and link 2), I feel compelled to write what I learned this summer. The next Deep Learning for Rookies post will be up soon ;)


On Personal Development

  1. Most people you have met are replaceable. Be irreplaceable.
  2. An easy way to be irreplaceable is to be a generalist-specialist in seemingly unrelated fields: Be a top strategy consultant who knows how to hack AI; be a great artist who knows the intricacies of blockchain.
  3. Generalist-specialist doesn’t mean “generalist”. It means interdisciplinary specialist (my personal interpretation of Peter Thiel’s sharp opinion against generalists in Zero to One).
  4. Curiosity and open-mindedness drive learning. Be a life-long learner and reader. The moment you stop learning is the moment you become replaceable.
  5. So learn, learn, and learn. Yes you can do math. Yes you can paint. All you need is passion, practice, and perseverance.
  6. Communication matters (I need to continue improving on this in multi-cultural context). Writing matters. (I got 2 new internship opportunities, both of which require generalist-specialist skill sets and solid writing skills in English).

On Career and Leadership

  1. Do your research. What’s the company’s mission and vision? What’s the company culture on learning? What’s the hierarchy? How does the leadership presents itself?
  2. Money doesn’t matter if you work for a company with great vision, mission, and leadership. But if that’s not the case, then the company better pays you well (spoiler: they usually don’t).
  3. Leadership is crucial for startups. Bad leaders with a lot of self-entitlement and very little self-reflection are common. They are bullsh*t.
  4. Learn from bad leadership by heart so that you don’t make the same mistakes.
  5. Life is too short. Don’t waste your time with bullsh*t. If necessary, build up a f**k-off-account of savings so bad leaders can f**k off (credit to my good friend Isak Nilson, and please pardon our language).
  6. If the leadership sucks and you can’t change it, move on. You just saved yourself from being jobless in the future.
  7. Everyone has potential, the team is everything. Nurture and encourage your people. Don’t belittle them. Appreciate and respect your team.
  8. Be happy when someone gives you wise criticism. His/her words might just save your company or your career sometime in the future.

Entrepreneurship

  1. A lot of people are playing startup but are not living startup. You don’t work in a startup to have cool co-working space, play rubber gun fight (I love it as well), or have a 9-to-5 lifestyle. Startup world is tough. It’s survival of the fittest. So work hard and learn hard.
  2. You work in a startup to get shit done. But more than that, you achieve a mission and fulfil a vision.
  3. Solving a problem but without a mission or vision? Then you don’t get talented, motivated people. Great startup people live for the great dreams.
  4. Don’t work on something you don’t believe in. Don’t work on something you aren’t passionate about. Don’t waste your life.
  5. Have low tolerance for bad quality work, for bad leadership, for bad product, and for bad business ideas. The more tolerant you are, the more miserable your life will be.

Life

  1. Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
  2. Nothing mystical, but karma exists ;)
  3. And don’t forget to take some time off and recharge! (Input from Martina Mariani)

Disclaimer

Please note these abstracted lessons are my personal observations on experiences from myself and my friends from SSE, and are not directed to any specific company or profiles.

I am Nahua, a student based in Stockholm exploring entrepreneurship, startups, AI, neural nets, and blockchain. Do you agree or disagree with my personal lessons? Do you want to share your stories? Please leave a comment below.