I want to start by discriminating some rather important information. CEO, for this purpose stands for Creator of Entrepreneurial Opportunities (kudos to who coined it). Also, although managing an amazing team, taking some mildly executive decisions and, from time to time, calling the shots, I want to talk here, not as a CEO, but as a learning specimen that aims to be one in the future.
After interning in, apparently, the best workplace and the best people to work with in the world (even Hollywood validated this), I decided to pursue the Mecca of straightforward students and the arch-enemy of successful entrepreneurs: write and deliver an academic dissertation. But doing just that sounded boring. I can’t do just one thing. As Master student I was doing stuff, and more stuff and even winning some stuff.
So now, as expected, I decided to create my own entrepreneurial opportunity and, instead of being one more thesis student, future grad and summer intern, I became a CEO.
The message I want to pass here is not regarding the fails and successes of the project I launched, it’s rather what I learned and why acting on something bigger than yourself can teach you more than any internship, degree or dissertation. After designing, creating, proposing and building my project, alongside some great co-founders and a great team, I am happy to advise all to seek the creation of a company, a non-profit, an event, anything that can go from paper to reality. The personal and professional growth you are exposed to is beyond imagination.
Your University does not teach this
Step 1: Selling your vision
First, as the only believer in your dream, you have the challenge of selling a vision to somebody. Whether you’re trying to get money, support or the technical skills you need for your team, your sole purpose is to pass the image of success and achievement to receive the forsaken “yes”.
Your University does not teach this.
At most, you are going to be “selling” a 10-page paper turned into a 15-slide PowerPoint on a known topic, proposed theme or randomly chosen idea. Nothing incites you to seek disruption or innovation. Actually, Universities seem to abolish innovation when it comes to fulfilling academic work. Apparently, delivering a well-prepared Big Mac is better than doing a sushi with pasta and making it look good.
Step 2: Finding the “buyers”
Even if you succeed in selling your dream to driving stakeholders, you need to convince the ones that will validate its success. Success-validation-agents are customers, clients, business partners, anyone who, in the value-chain, impacts in a meaningful way. To do this you might need to repeat your “I am this for that” one thousand times (the best I have heard is “I am Foursquare for Government Corruption”); or maybe you will show endless presentations with your value-proposition; or even pitch-elevator anyone to death until they agree by exhaustion.
Your University does not teach this. Again.
As a student aiming to finish a degree, a thesis candidate looking to deliver “the beast” or even an intern seeking the satisfaction of a boss, you know exactly who the customer is, and most of the time what they need to be “happy”. All you need to do is follow a standardized set of practices, do them as well as you can, and hope to achieve the minimums that will allow you to pass to the next stage of your life. In the process of creation, nothing is standardized. You are blind, walking through a bottomless swamp, filled with fire-breathing piranhas ready to have your legs as apperitivo. You are not seeking to please one person; you need to answer to your team, your investors, your customers and even your family. And if you pass one of the stages: congratulations! Now you have ten thousand more puzzle blocks to mount; each one harder than the previous ones, simply because expectations are increase after each success. Commanding the helm of an entity throughout this environment offers you invaluable skills, unmatched by any other experience.
Step 3 and Final Step (!?): Wearing all hats to make it work
Last but no the least, even if you succeed in the herculean task of getting a team, getting a product and getting that one first customer (or at least knowing where he/she is), you still need to do an immense set of tasks to achieve your end proposition. And possibly you have a small team, low resources, and no time (multiply this if you are a student, doing other things at the same time, with no money to pay). You will wear pretty much every hat while working at your project. You will do product management, you will manage engineering efforts, you will recruit people, create a culture, motivate busy human beings, you will do PR, implement marketing initiatives, manage P&L’s, write and research legal stuff, and thousands more tasks from hundreds of fields.
Your University does not teach this. Times three.
No degree exposes you to these many fields or obstacles. Even if you are lucky and intern at a very dynamic company, who builds an incredible internship project for you, it will never give you the exposure, responsibilities and challenges that a CEO-experience will. If you are writing an academic thesis, although a challenge, it’s still a paper on a specific field with a pre-chosen methodology. It’s a tunnel of experiences, and what you need is an open field, and a freaking turbo-horse. And by the way,the (!?) means that there is no final step, every day new stuff appears and new learnings are available.
Just start something. Anything.
As I said before, the aim of this post was not to pass failures or successes. The aim was to inspire, motivate and offer any student or fresh grad the reasoning to create an entrepreneurial opportunity, aka, become a CEO. I believe professional experiences, more than providing knowledge, should inspire people to step up on their next moves.
The gains from embarking in your own venture will be embodied in everything you do in the future. It will be a tangible asset for your up-and-coming endeavours. And even if you opt to join a big or small company, the skills you gained from wearing all the hats will grant you unique advantages and skills to look at the big picture. No internship or University can offer this.