If anyone asks me what the most important lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is, it would be that your team matters more than anything else. I’ve always known the importance of surrounding myself with incredibly smart and talented people — after all, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most amount of time with. However, what I’ve learned is that it’s not only important to surround yourself with smart people (you can find them everywhere), but with people who share the same core values as you, and those are rare to come by.
I titled my talk at the Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference “How to surround yourself with the right people” as I think that is the biggest factor of my so-called “success.” I know I’ve been so fortunate to come across great people who have fundamentally helped shape me, taught me everything I know, kept me sane, and inspired me to be a better person. I’ve learned that I am motivated by being with the right people.
When I was looking for a job last year, I didn’t take the traditional approach and apply to jobs. Instead, I went on tons of coffee chats to meet people. I didn’t explicitly interview with any company because I was not looking for a job; I was looking for someone I wanted to work with. I was looking for potential bosses and colleagues. Fortunately, I found him.
Where This Mindset Took Me
Currently, I am the Marketing Manager at a startup called Wirkn and how I came across this job is a funny story for another day. But long story short, I met Anthony, the General Manager, for coffee early in the new year. People say first impressions are everything and you judge someone within 30 seconds of meeting them. I’m not sure if it was 30 seconds or 3 minutes that convinced me, but I remember having such a great conversation with Anthony that I knew I wanted to work for him, even after explicitly telling him I wasn’t looking for a full-time job.
Even after our conversation, I wasn’t really sure on the position Wirkn was hiring for, but I sent him an email that night of what I wanted to learn and what my values were (in general) to follow up. What sold me on this job/this person and the reason I am at Wirkn today was that he took the time to reply point-by-point my values and everything I wanted to learn and how he was going to help me achieve it. After that email, I showed up at the office 9:30AM the next day.
Since then, I’ve had the great fortune of working closely with Anthony and learned everything I can from him. It was a relationship very much based on trust. 80% of the reason I took this job was because of Anthony, and when there were moments I wasn’t sure if I made the right choice, his presence motivated me to stay. The best way I can describe Anthony is that he’s my aspiration, both personally and professionally. If I can be half as good (in every sense of that word) of a person as he is, I’d be pretty happy. To have a role model and mentor like that who continuously fights for me, invests his time into me (I know very few people who’d be willing to give me an hour of his time each day), and cares about me, I would quit any job to work with him. My conversations with Anthony often starts with going over a deck and ends up talking about our internal moral compass. I have continuously said that being at Wirkn has made me a better person, and I attribute a lot of that to having a great boss. Whether it’s the consequence of psychological mirroring or that Anthony is (un)consciously manipulating me as part of his world domination plan, his mere presence of being himself have emitted an inspiration in me to unleash my utter best.
One Good Mentor could be more informative than a college education and more valuable than a decades income.
Everything Was Great Until…
He drops two bombs on me two months after I started full-time: 1) he’s leaving and 2) he wants me to take over. You can imagine my shock and sadness when I learned he was leaving as he was the reason I took this job. However, his second bomb threw me off too — how did he expect me to take over marketing from the former VP of Mastercard with 16 years of experience in digital marketing to a fresh graduate who’s had 16 days of experience in marketing? While I was still trying to process what all this meant, I found myself getting and taking more and more responsibilities until one day Anthony left.
The weeks after Anthony’s departure were very difficult, not only because I had no idea how to do my job, but I was scared that my motivation was faltering in dealing with all the challenges that came with this job. Fortunately for me, Anthony left me in good hands with my CEO, Derek, who I haven’t had many opportunities to work with until then. I don’t know if it’s the Queen’s connection, the shared values, or the fact that Derek is the most likable person on Earth (probably all of the above), I have slowly built that same level of trust, respect, and admiration for my new boss, even though he is completely different from Anthony. I have made it clear to Derek that a big part of my motivation to stay at Wirkn involves him (and pray that he doesn’t drop the same bombs Anthony did).
What This Means For You
Working in a startup is hard. SO hard. Let’s emphasize that again — working at an early stage pre-product market fit startup is one of the hardest jobs out there. Having someone who cares about you, invests in you, and most importantly, believes in you makes a huge difference at work. This last part about believing in you is important, as I’ve always wondered why Anthony (or my other mentors who are successful busy people) chose to spend their time investing in me? I don’t feel that I’ve done anything special to deserve it, but they all saw something in me. And the only way I can thank them is to work hard and show them that they are right.
But it doesn’t have to be your manager — he/she can be a colleague, a mentor, or anyone at work. Find someone you respect with similar values, and then become his/her right hand. Spend time with them and learn how they manage their time, make decisions, solve problems, and observe their thought process. This is the most valuable type of learning you can get that is not accessible at any mentorship program.
I know how lucky I am to find Anthony and Derek, and being my first two bosses out of university, they’ve spoiled me so much I don’t know how I’m going to find my next boss. Thanks guys. Maybe I just have to keep working for you.
But actually, to Anthony and Derek — thank you. Whether you continue being my boss or not, thank you for taking a chance on me by believing in me, the mentorship that has shaped me early in my career, and always being a source of my inspiration.