This week the Business Builder’s brought in Michael Lee all the way from San Francisco. Michael Lee is an Ohio State and Harvard alum with a degree in Finance. He has worked for GE, had experience on Wall Street doing investment banking, started a new division of a solar power company in China, and now has his own Electricity company, Evolve. Evolve, sells wholesale electricity that uses machine learning to predict price spikes of the market in order to cut people’s electricity bills in half. For this meeting Michael took a more laid back approach in order to obtain a truly candid and genuine conversation. He did this by letting the audience dictate the point of conversation. He reminded the audience to take everything you hear with a grain of salt, as no one’s advice is always the perfect solution, and that you should always know the perspective of the person you are receiving advice from. Michael went through a list of Professional Advice, Startup Advice, and Life Advice and then ended with an ‘Ask Me Anything’ formatted Q&A. Everything you see below is a paraphrased form of what Michael had to say.
- Your job is not yet invented. The world of today is not what will be making you money, it is the world of tomorrow. Technology is constantly changing and you have to be able to adapt to a rapidly changing market in order to understand and optimize a business idea or business process and ultimately make money.
- Delve into an industry and stay in that industry. It is extremely important to find an industry within the first 5-7 years of your career and to become an expert in that industry. With the complexity and regimentation of big business industries now-a-days, if you are able to become an expert in an archaic industry, understand it, and then change it, it can become a multi-billion dollar opportunity. You can either choose to start your own industry, like Facebook did with social media, but risk a much higher chance of failure, or choose to take an industry that is already built to its peak with money and customers, and transform it. Find your share of the wallet that customers are already buying products in and find a way to make their product/experience better. That is how you make money.
- Sell yourself to employers by having a unique specialty that makes you valuable. When you have a specialty within an industry, you are able to become an expert of a very particular aspect of that industry and set yourself apart. If everyone on a team has their own unique specialty and experience, then that team is able to better understand the industry than a team with generic value.
- Know your why. The honeymoon period is always gonna end, and when it does, you better love what you do and you better love why you do it. If you don’t know your why, then you're never going to be able to fully delve into something. Once you find out what you want to do and why you wanna do it, the passion and motivation that will push you to invoke change in an industry will fall into place.
- Time is on your side. Don’t hesitate to start entrepreneurship, but don’t rush it either. Michael did not start his business until 10 years after he graduated from Harvard Business school. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that you can choose to pursue it at anytime in your life. Don’t be afraid to try, especially in college, because no one’s holding you accountable. Create your own self, climb the mountain of entrepreneurship.
- Love uncertainty. There is always a lot to worry about and you can never predict the future. As an entrepreneur you will always be short of capital. No investors are going to give you 3 years of runway. Your job as a founder is to bring that uncertainty onto yourself and clarify it.
- Start something if you know you can sell it. Start something because people are asking for it, not because you want them to buy it. Tesla is the perfect example. Tesla gets cash for ideas before they are even able to produce what their idea is. The best case scenario for a business is to get revenue before you even sell your product. Rather than constantly pushing, know how to pull.
- Know how to dip your toes in before you jump, and know when to jump rather than dive. Everyone always tells us to “dive into entrepreneurship”, which in certain situations can work out, but don’t be afraid to test the water first. Dip your toe in, see what it’s like, but just don’t hesitate to start once you feel it out.
- ABC: Always Be Closing. In order to succeed in business and in life, you must learn how to sell. Whether it’s selling an idea, selling a product, or selling yourself, you are always selling. And selling doesn’t mean cold-calling people for money. It means being able to get people to listen to what you are trying to communicate. The key to selling is focusing on what the value is for the other side of the table. Don’t think about what you are getting out of a deal, but rather what value your customer is getting out of you.
- Know the steps of pursuing an idea and don’t skip one and two. 1: Know Your Thesis 2: Test/Acquire Feedback 3: Pursue the Idea 4: Reevaluate the Business Model 5: Grow and Develop. Don’t rush into an idea and get carried away with it. Hypothesize and test your idea. See what people are saying. When you’re confident in your product and confident in your commitment level, pursue your idea. Work on your business not in your business and don’t forget your why.
- Avoid the golden handcuffs. It is a common error made by so many graduates every year. They take a good job that pays well, but isn't ideal. They get good at whatever their job is. They get a promotion. They get paid more money. Before they know it, they are being paid way too much money to quit their job. Worst of all, they aren’t happy. They have a family and responsibilities now. They have bills to pay and are on the track that is defining their career, even though it feels like the wrong one. Michael defines success as doing the things you want to do. Money doesn’t matter. And quite honestly, if you love what you do, then you’ll become good at what you do, and if you’re good at what you do then you will most likely end up making a lot of money from it. People with golden handcuffs are not happy, and they are not successful no matter their resumes. Be unbounded. Do what makes you happy.
- Know that entrepreneurship is a sacrifice. As a college student we have to keep a healthy balance between school, social life, and well-being. Know your priorities and know how to say no. Be intentional with your time and never forget to take care of yourself.
- Choose the person you want to spend the rest of your life with wisely and intentionally. The biggest key to a successful relationship is not only being attracted to someone, but sharing similar values with them as well. Values are not visible, but they run the entire relationship.
- Take care of your mental health and take notice of it. Know the difference between on the surface successful people and truly being successful. Social media is a direct outlet for people to share a very curated part of their lives that often has a much larger story going on behind the scenes. When you look at a post of someone you often subconsciously believe that you had an interaction with that person, and use that fake interaction as an excuse not to reach out to them. This isolated and counterfeit interaction does nothing positive for your relationship and ultimately damages it. Entrepreneurship is a highly stressful lifestyle and in order to stay sane in the madness of it all, you must take care of yourself. Both physically and mentally.
Top 5 ‘Ask Me Anything’ Questions and Answers:
“What skills should we be building at OSU?”
- Emotional Intelligence. Everything will be automated 20 years from now and learning how to read people and engage in meaningful, face-to-face conversations is extremely important. People buy from people they like. Smile when you talk to someone. Actually get to know someone when you talk to them. In the end it will make all the difference.
- Time Management. It is not about what you say yes to, it’s about what you say no to. Your time is valuable and when you only have so much of it, choosing it wisely is extremely important.
“What is the best job to get right out of college?”
- Work for a Startup. Don’t go corporate. In the corporate world, you are going to be given a 5 year plan before you even step foot in the door. Your role is extremely defined and leighway is minimal. Embrace the chaos of a startup. See what it is like to have several undefined roles and not have your future predefined for you. You will learn a massive amount more about yourself and in general.
“How do you learn the Ins and Outs of an industry without having spent years in that industry?”
- Students have the best excuse to talk to someone new, yet this power is so often overlooked. There are so many alum that would be eager to talk to a student that is actually interested in what they do. Get on LinkedIn and show the interest you have for an alum’s industry and they will gladly tell you all about it.
“Because our future job might not be invented yet, what are the most important skills for us to have to prepare us for the future?”
- Always be learning. Stay curious. Don’t graduate from learning when you graduate from college.
- Know how to get a job at a Startup. Look at all the different deals that close on a day to day basis by using interfaces like Crunchbase. Startups from series A to E are closing deals and looking to deliver capital. They need people to help deliver this capital and are always looking for hires.
- Look at macro trends in the market in order to orient your skills properly.
"What’s your best advice on how to grow your professional network?”
- Don’t talk to people your own age. The people that boost your career and give you context are the people with more experience than you. Don’t talk to the 60 year old CEO’s because their knowledge is limited. They are too far removed from the industry. Talk to the people that are somewhere in the middle. The people that know the ins and outs of the industry, kind of hate their job, and most importantly know what’s wrong with it. They will be of the most value to you. Then as their career grows, they’ll often bring you along with them.
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