Ben Horowitz is the cofounder of a16z, one of the most successful VCs in the USA. In May 2015 he gave an inspiring commencement speech at Columbia University.

Speech by Ben Horowitz at Columbia University.

The speech had three powerful conclusions:

1. Think for yourself

2. Do not follow your passion

3. You live in the age of opportunities

Think for yourself

In order to create something incredible:
Think for yourself.
Think different.

Many people prefer to be liked rather than unique.
But being liked is much much less important.

Because if you want to be liked you tend to say things other people want to hear. And they like hearing stories they:

  • know.
  • understand.
  • feel comfortable with.

So you keep repeating the same stuff.
Complaints about government, news from TV.

Doing this you can easily overlook some groundbreaking ideas.
Concepts which emerged from your unique sets of experiences and connections between them.

Groundbreaking ideas often sound ridiculous.
Hard to believe.
But it doesn’t make them false.
So the fact that other people do not get them shouldn’t discourage you.

The world has its secrets on which you can build awesome things.
1) Like the fact that people feel pretty comfortable renting entire apartment from a stranger for a weekend (Airbnb).

Airbnb was built on an unique experience of Joe and Brian, who rented 3 air matresses to people. ‘Surprisingly’, people didn’t consider them to be serial murderers. Hotel chain is a relatively new invention. In the past people used to sleep in inns or at other people’s. Source:

2) Students around the world massively search for study help online (Brainly).

Problems with homework and study are common around the entire world. On general Q&As students often do not find satisfying answers to their problems. On the other hands sources like books or Wikipedia do not offer personalised solutions and students find them less useful. Also they lack a community feel that is very tempting for teenagers. Source:

3) Second hand shopping experience can feel just as shopping at one of the most famous clothing brands (Videdressing).

There is a strong need for exclusive second-hand websites like Videdressing. General platforms like eBay lack community touch, but also great experience and trust of clothing brands and fashion magazines. Source:

Your job is to try to figure one of these secrets.
And build on it.

To achieve this you will need to think differently.
Think for yourself.

But those are the things; those are the only things — things that YOU believe, that everybody around you doesn’t believe — that when you’re right that create real value in the world. Everything else people already know. There is no value created. It’s just business as usual. So it’s so important to think for yourself.
Ben Horowitz

Do not follow your passion

You may know that doing what you love will make you successful.
Sometimes it’s true, sometimes not.

There are a lot of success stories.
But also a lot of examples of people who did what they love but haven’t ever succeed.

But let’s try to play with it for a while and turn it around.
What if I tell you that being successful at something will make you love what you do?

Maybe this is the recipe?
Starting with things that you are successful at and align them with your passions.
Rather than focusing too much on your passions.

It may sound counter intuitive, but it’s pretty reasonable.

Think about the problems with following your passion:

1. Passions are hard to prioritise
You can have a lot of passions. Which one to follow then?

2. They change with time
What you are passionate about today is not neccessary something you will be passionate about in 2, 5 or 10 years.

3. You may be not good at them
If you love doing something it doesn’t necessary mean that you are good at doing it.

4. They are very egocentric
It is better to look around and find out how you can contribute to the world.

You should search for contribution instead of passion.
Something that you are good at.
More — something that can change peoples’ lives for the better.
It will make you successful and happy.

Find the thing that you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow.
Ben Horowitz

You live in the age of opportunities

We are living in a pretty safe world.
Thanks to the Internet we can immediately access information…
Connect with people around the world…
Create and contribute.

Yet there are still a lot of problems.
Choose one of them and attempt to solve it.

Can you imagine any better circumstances?

If you contribute, if you put your contribution into the world, if you think for yourself, then I believe that you will be the greatest generation. Because when we look back 50 years from now, 100 years from now, 500 years from now, you will be the generation that unlocked human potential.
Ben Horowitz


Ben is not the only person who says that following passion is not the most important thing:

You’ve got to put something back into the flow of history that’s going to help your community, help other people (… ) so that 20, 30, 40 years from now (…) people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.
Steve Jobs


This post was originally published on my blog.

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Published in Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking


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Wojtek Skalski

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Head of Growth @ Brainly || Startups | Innovation | Education ||

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