Don’t Read Startup Porn

drink zest tea.

Why you should listen to me: I work at Lucid, the world’s largest platform for human answers. If MacGyver worked at a tech company, he’d do what I do. I’m the CEO’s right hand man. I see everything and execute on most things.

I got to my current position at Lucid through Venture for America, a non-profit that places recent college grads in start-ups across the country. This raw access to high growth companies is supposed to help us learn how to become entrepreneurs. Each year a new class of fellows is shipped out to cities like New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to help high growth companies in areas from marketing to accounting to product development. Although VFA seeks fellows with a range of interests, goals, and skills, there is a unifying thread amongst all fellows that must be addressed: an addiction to reading startup porn.

You know the articles I’m referring to. Elon Musk credits his success to these books. These 30 CEOs reveal their daily habits. Here’s why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same thing everyday. We also visit First Round Capital’s blog every day, we have a list of all the hottest podcasts, and we know the schedules of the latest Silicon Valley rockstar. I admit I was unhealthily attached to all of this, until I actually got a full-time job. I became an adult, and it was time to stop all the intellectual masturbation.

How did I break out of this?

At Lucid, all new hires have lunch with Patrick Comer, our CEO, and they get to ask him anything from company goals to what his favorite music is. During my new hire lunch someone asked two questions:

“What is your normal routine?”

“Who are your favorite entrepreneurs?”

Patrick’s face tightened; almost as if he was thinking, “Really?”

“I make sure my kids are ready for school, and I don’t think about what other people are doing.”

That made it perfectly clear — not only did he not care what others did, but he also flat out never thought about them in the first place. I stopped reading those articles. My “Morning Reads” Gmail folder grew to about 650 unread emails full of tips, tricks, and other industry insight. I realized that I am actually in the game, so why am I wasting valuable time tracking others when lessons were unfolding right at my feet? Quite simply, I wanted someone to tell me how to become successful. If I had the right morning routine, knew how to replicate Google’s company culture, and knew what Tristan Walker was reading then I could take my place alongside all of the other great entrepreneurs.

Step one: self-recognition.

There is no model

Lots of folks ask me what it’s like working directly for a CEO.

“So, like, how is he? What drives him? Are you taking notes on his style?”

“He’s cool. A Tesla, he’s a tech CEO what do you expect? I dress better than him so, no.”

The questions are all getting to the same point: Are you going to fashion yourself in his image? The answer is both yes and no. If you have seen my Linkedin profile picture you may have noticed something: I am Black. This means, in the most basic sense, that I am not like the vast majority of the individuals that are the subject of startup porn. In many ways, this has made the journey easier. Although I may achieve a degree of material success if I were to fashion myself as yet another entrepreneur, the inability to face myself if I were to sacrifice my Blackness to do so would practically negate any ‘progress.’ I have taken lessons from Leslie Miley’s journey and I find solace in knowing that there is no template for success.

At this point, I’ve realized that all the self-help content is bullshit. I’ve watched Patrick start as a carpenter in NYC to leading a tech company in New Orleans. I’ve seen a Silicon Valley darling begin to self-destruct. So, what does this mean for a philosopher that loves American muscle and Miles Davis? The world is mine. I can create what I want. I can become whoever I need to be. If Black men had an equivalent to #blackgirlmagic I’d be that. And if I can, so can you.

Step two: take control.

You may miss what is in front of you

In a one on one I received this little nugget of advice: “Do not be concerned with climbing the ladder. Build your own ladder and sit on top of it.”

This is perhaps the most important point of them all. As a wise man once said, “the grass is most certainly not greener on the other side. But it’s not browner either. It’s an open meadow, patches that were once brown may become green and vice versa.”

Essentially, focus on maximizing the insights from whatever your current position is. Although you may be a new saleswoman, recognize how that team is structured and how your goals relate to companywide goals instead of just cold calling. If you are a product manager, don’t simply blindly follow a quarterly road-map, question whether or not these initiatives fit the larger strategic objectives. Trust me. When you ask questions that you aren’t “supposed” to ask, the right people take notice. If you pay attention, your company will teach you what you need to know much faster than that Medium post you have bookmarked.

Step three: grind.

Why you shouldn’t listen to me: I know nothing. I’m a perpetual student that uses spellcheck far more often than I care to admit.

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