What would a life-long technology guy say to a recent graduate?
Reed Sturtevant and I met at an event, where he was invited to give a speech about his career. There were three things I noticed from his speech: his smile, his wrinkles and his soft speech tone. He kept smiling to us throughout the event. Every time he smiled, his wrinkles were so obvious that one could not ignore it. Even though he laughed a lot, his voice was still soft and calm. Magically, his smile, wrinkles and soft tone added up to an illusion that I did not think that he was any older than me. “I must talk to this guy and hear more stories from him.” I told myself.
Reed Sturtevant is not a typical investor, who you would meet at a networking event. He is an investor with a hard-core engineer inside. Staying curious is the important thing for Reed. He relies on his curiosity to make decisions, to discover, to create products and to enjoy the world.
Reed started his adventure on the night he dropped out his university — MIT. It was a big deal for Reed, since he dropped out at the time when college degrees were worth a lot. Reed had always been a good kid who did everything his parents told him to do.
“It was fine,” Reed said, “But the night I dropped out from MIT, I realized that I had to start to do things just for MYSELF.”
It was the “ah-ha” moment for Reed.
The “ah-ha” moment did not let Reed get a job immediately, but it was the starting point when he got his spirit of adventure.
A couple weeks later, I spent a hot afternoon with Reed in The Engine, which is a new venture capital firm and startup initiative launched by MIT . He started to work on the Engine a month ago. Reed was an engineer and coder in the early age of personal computers. He built a first-generation presentation graphics program that was bought by Lotus . It was a big thing until Microsoft beat the company. If someone went through Reed’s resume, he would be surprised by the number of products he built during the beginning of his career. Reed is a truly a creator from the inside.
Microsoft hired Reed in 2007. Things went well until he got fired by Microsoft two years later. Reed said that it was a sudden decision and Microsoft just decided they no longer needed Reed’s team. Reed was in shock, but soon recovered. His friend Katie Rae proposed the idea of becoming an investor. Since Reed still had money saved from the Microsoft job, he decided to take a chance on investing. That was when Reed switched his identity from an engineer to an investor. Nothing big, nothing special.
Many people approached Reed for strategy consulting. Reed coaches many startups on their pre-seed time. But there are more than strategies that Reed can offer. Under the soft and calm tone, Reed delivers a few words of worldly wisdom to help startups and me as well. They are simple, but truly powerful.
Lesson 1: The №1 Rule about Persuasion
Reed is the co-founder of the Awesome Foundation. The Awesome Foundation is a global charity organization, where each local chapter “trustee” contribute 100 dollars per month with a total of $1,000 dollars to finance any project a local chapter likes.
The Awesome Foundation starts with a little idea. Everybody can contribute to the world by giving 100 dollars. It has grown to be one of the most important philanthropic organizations in the U.S. Each year, the Awesome Foundation raises millions of dollars to finance projects. Reed shared one key thing to make the foundation happen —
“you don’t want to be the one who wants to control everything.”
How people react on tiny things can truly show their attitudes towards the world. The idea of “don’t being a control freak” opens another world for me. No matter how open-minded I claim to be, I always have the tendency to control every detail. And then I screw up. Sometimes you just have to let others do their jobs.
“All you have to do is letting them know how they can contribute to the success.” Reed added.
Lesson 2: Making Choices
Are choices important? Of course! But are choices that important? Maybe not.
“People just won’t have enough information when they are making choices.” Reed said. Neither you nor the choice you make will be the perfect one. Reed told me that if we do not worry too much on the uncertain consequences, the process of making choices can be much easier.
When we were young, we were told the importance of making the right choice. It is a slightly different story when Reed makes choices. He told me that he is always interested in the unknown. When it comes to making a decision, especially career choices, he takes the unknown challenge every time.
When people are making choices, they are naturally risking the uncertainty. Often times, it means their unemployment. Reed is not upset about having an absent time between two jobs. Every time Reed left his earlier jobs, he made himself busy by doing little side projects. Again, such a habit tells us that there is always a little engineer living inside Reed’s genes.
I graduated in May. While people say there will be a whole world in front of me, I feel anxious. Firstly, I have no idea if a college degree can get me a job. Secondly, when the world is too big, I feel even smaller. One month later, I met Reed Sturtevant. This man dropped out of university in a time period when people greatly valued a college diploma. He experienced his ups and downs. Yet, life has still turned out great for him.
The Internet has given so many great changes to the world, but it makes the world run faster than ever before, forcing the millenniums to deal with extra anxiety and a fast-paced lifestyle. There is not much we can do to change the situation, but we can still adjust ourselves, by being ok with imperfect choices, by trusting others and by working hard.
The life of Reed Sturtevant is just one little story for people who still hesitate about themselves. After all the ups and downs, Reed still laughs and stays curious. Things will always be fine.