What do you want to accomplish in 2020 and beyond?
Each year I review the top lessons I learned, taken from the most interesting interviews I did and my own personal experiences as an entrepreneur.
This year I had the opportunity to have conversations with many amazing entrepreneurs, ranging from trailblazing artists to billionaire software CEOs. I also overcame burnout, discovered my true passions, and founded a new software company called Endpass.
Here are my top 8 insights from 2019 which you can apply to the coming year:
1. “Be patient. Running a startup is a long, long journey.” -Eric Yuan
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan had one of the biggest tech IPOs of 2019. I was fortunate enough to meet Yuan many years ago when his company had less than one hundred employees. Yuan has always inspired me to be a better entrepreneur and person, as well as a more selfless leader.
Yuan’s advice for successfully running the startup marathon: “Focus on your product, company culture, and recruiting the right team. You’ll be better equipped for the ride when you’ve done these things.” Running a startup can be overwhelming and feel impossible sometimes, but breaking down your priorities into these areas makes it seem more manageable. I think that patience is also the key to healthy growth and longevity for a company and its team.
2. “Don’t wait until you have burnout to realize your true passion.”
It took severe burnout to make me discover my love for rap and other creative pursuits. I was so obsessed with work and my business goals that I forgot why I wanted to achieve them in the first place. I’ve always loved writing, but during burnout I suffered from writer’s block, for the first time in my life. My creative passion was gone, and I had forgotten the joy of true self-expression.
Creating my rap persona, Razzlekhan, helped me rediscover that happiness, and reminded me of other creative talents I had completely forgotten for years. For a while, I was terrified that burnout would creep back again, but rap and other art forms have helped me create work life balance and given me a wonderful space for self-expression. Since I created Razzlekhan, I have been the happiest I’ve ever been. My only wish is that I had done this sooner.
3. “Use shamelessness as your superpower.” – Awkwafina
Technically I interviewed Awkwafina last year, well before Oceans 8 and Crazy Rich Asians came out, but I keep thinking about our conversation. Not only did it inspire my own creative pursuits, but to be more shameless as a female entrepreneur and leader. Like Awkwafina, I grew up a weird only child who never really fit in. Just as Awkwafina’s childhood hero Margaret Cho inspired her to shamelessly do her own thing, even if it was the last thing people expected from her, my conversation with Awkwafina motivated me to take a big risk with self-expression.
I didn’t realize it for a while, but it was my conversations with rappers Awkwafina and Mickey Avalon that subconsciously inspired me to start rapping and create Razzlekhan. Something else Awkwafina said also sticks out in my mind: “Shamelessness is especially important for women because a lot of times it gets confused with courage.” I actually think Awkwafina-level shamelessness takes great courage, whether she realizes it or not, but I hope my own shamelessness can encourage others (especially underdogs) to unabashedly be their real selves.
4. “Stay authentic, even when people reject you.” -Ashley Longshore
My interview with fashion art darling and badass female entrepreneur, Ashley Longshore, had a big impact on my year. If you don’t know who Longshore is, she’s the one doing the iconic feminist pop art you might see in places like Bergdorf Goodman. She regularly collaborates with brands like Gucci, and her paintings, which selling millions in hours on Instagram, feature everything from Lil Wayne to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Our conversation not only inspired me to strive for the next level of self-confidence, but her thoughts on fearlessly blazing your own path echoed my own life motto, “Be a goat; not a sheep.”
Anyone trying to do their own thing —whether they’re an artist or an entrepreneur —knows how difficult but important this is. While society loves celebrating innovative icons like Steve Jobs or Salvador Dali, there were many times when they were met with more criticism than popular support. While resilience is one of the most critical factors in success, staying authentic is a major precursor to happiness.
5. “Always have a noble mission.” – Keith Krach
It’s hard to pick just one tip from Keith Krach because everytime I talk to him I learn so much about leadership, business, and professional development. Keith Krach is the former CEO of two multi-billion dollar companies, Docusign and Ariba, and now works with the US State Department, furthering America’s global economic interests. After recovering from burnout, I was very careful about deciding what kind of software company I wanted to build next. I knew whatever it was, it had to have a noble mission I could feel passionate about since I might be dedicating the next 10 years of my life to this company.
Krach’s words greatly inspired me to move forward with my new software company, Endpass, which strives to stop global fraud, cybercrime and terrorism through AI-driven identity verification.
6. “Trade office politics for execution.” – Adam Foroughi
Adam Foroughi is an aficionado of productivity. As a young father of five and the CEO of a billion dollar software company, AppLovin, Foroughi has to be. What impressed me so much was Foroughi’s dedication to a meritocratic company cutlure, no matter how big that business becomes. Because of that, he doesn’t believe in pedigree, and would rather hire the person who struggled and took the road less-traveled over the Stanford or Harvard MBA.
By operating AppLovin under a culture of “just get stuff done,” and making sure his team only invites people to meetings if they will personally get value from the event, Foroughi truly embodies the idea of “think big, act small.”
7. “Never get too comfortable.” – Johnny Dang
Although Vietnamese immigrant entrepreneur Johnny Dang designs diamond jewelry and other bling for hip hop’s biggest stars, like Kanye West, Beyonce, Migos and Cardi B, he is all about staying humble and working hard. In my interview with Dang, he offered this timeless wisdom, “Success doesn’t always last, especially if you’re complacent. This is true for entrepreneurs and rappers with hit songs; you have to keep working hard if you don’t want to just be a one hit wonder.” And that’s something everyone should remember.
8. “Opportunity costs are often more ‘expensive’ than sunk costs.”
Fear of loss often drives people to make really bad decisions. But being afraid to cut your losses, and not walking away from time or money you’ve already sunk into something that’s not working out can prevent you from being your happiest and most successful. So don’t be afraid of letting go of “sunk costs” you already spent: instead remind yourself of all the potential amazing opportunities you’re missing out on (“opportunity cost”) when you don’t cut that loss.
Do you have other insights from 2019 you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.