How to build a community around your Startup

market 1
(Photo credit: tim caynes)

What are the reasons that some startup succeed while some fail? Why do products instantly attract a multitude of users while other still lag at user acquisition, even after considerable marketing expenses?

The answer to this can be a variety of reasons such as user interface, design, customer service, utility value and sometimes even price. But very often one feature that gets left out is the impact and support of the community around.

A vibrant community can be a magical marketing and sales tool for a startup. While it is imperative for a startup to have a great product/service, an enthusiastic community around it can aid the company in garnering more attention, providing insights and gaining critical early feedback

While in India, our ecosystem surrounding Startups is still in the nascent stage, there are communities developing in Bangalore and around the Delhi/NCR region. One of the biggest problems facing tech entrepreneurs in India is the relatively small number of early adopters. In an excellent article about the “two speed” state of Indian market adoption, Mukund Mohan writes, “The Innovators (less than 1 % of the population or 12 Million individuals) in India (entrepreneurs mostly) who conceive and develop products for the Indian market and the early adopters (less than 5% of population or approx 60 Million individuals) together make up the entire “early adopter” category. Unfortunately less than 30% of them have both the interest, and the desire to be early adopters of technology.”

If you are a technology company, how do you build a community around your company?

1.Start early; make the community an integral part of your system: Start a blog before you actually launch and let people know what you are doing. Building a community takes time. Be patient.

2.Value your initial customers: Those first few people who sign up for your product are there out of choice, they have found your product and they are sticking by it because they love it. Treat them well. Value their feedback.

3. Let your customers know they are special: Marketing dollars might get you signups but word of mouth will get you user engagement. Don’t just value customer feedback; let your customers know that you are ‘listening’ and that you value their feedback.

4.Establish a mutual relationship: Once your community starts growing, as difficult as it might be, acknowledge contributions and hold events where your customers can interact with you or your team. This can act as a cohesive force and take people beyond just a bunch of people using your product

In a day and age when online customer loyalty isn’t really high, a community around your product can not only be your loyal user-base but also your very own cheering squad.

Do share your thoughts.

What are the key differences in being a tech entrepreneur in US and India?

I read this question on Quora and thought of adding my perspective to it. I am going to address the point of key differences between these two countries and their eco systems.

1. In India, our ecosystem surrounding Startups is still in the Nascent stage. Most people would say that the ecosystem is absent, but I don’t think as of today (May 2012) that is the case. We have certain IIT’s(Indian Institute of Technology) running incubators, we have Accelerators and Incubators such as http://themorpheus.com( who are in their 7th batch) and we have multiple VC’s investing their money in Indiann startups.

2. Though the First wave of Tech innovations in the US came around 1997-2001, we in India were a little late to catch on and had a good run around 2002-2005. These companies either had decent exits, got acquired or went to IPO’s. Which brings me to the important point, in India we are Now seeing second generation entrepreneurs. These people have seen the ups and the downs and are willing and able to mentor the current crop of entrepreneurs. This segment would include fantastic people like Mahesh Murthy & Alok ‘Rodinhood’ Kejriwal.

3. One of the biggest differentiating factors between being a (Tech) entrepreneur in the US and in India is that, in the US, failure is celebrated. In India, that may not be the case. In India we are very particular about the importance of “Completing one’s Formal Education”. Until the turn of the millennium, if an Indian girl/boy told their parents that they were “dropping out of school” to take up entrepreneurship, life would be very difficult (not impossible, but extremely difficult) for them. This mindset is also changing and most students are already forming small companies and servicing clients well before they are done with college.

Desert Rider
Jugaad: A mix of a motorbike and a tempo (Photo credit: Meanest Indian)
 4. To conclude, Indians, by nature are extremely entrepreneurial. They always find ways to complete a task in a way that would require less time and make optimal use of resources. Hence Local innovations in Agriculture and other such sectors which Indians have been introduced to for decades see a lot of Jugaad (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jugaad) But technological adoption in India has been slow through the 1980’s to 2000’s. Now that Technology has made inroads into India, I definitely hope to see some path-breaking innovation coming out of India in the near future.

For more on answers on this question, you can go to this link on Quora

You can also Follow me on Quora

Let me know your thoughts.

Microsoft, Facebook Announce Patent Agreement

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

Microsoft just announced a Patent agreement with Facebook (you can check out the original Press Release below) According to Robert Scoble (Startup Liaison Officer at Rackspace Managed Hosting), this can get extremely interesting for a few reasons:

1. It shows Microsoft has no chance at all to get into social game other than to license Facebook.
2. Facebook needs more weapons to use in negotiations with Apple.
3. Facebook needs more weapons to hold off Google+ (or Amazon) from cloning everything and moving users to Google (or Amazon).

This is a well calculated move on Microsoft’s part as this paves the way to get Facebook on-board as a key partner in all Windows initiatives including Windows 8 and Xbox.

The Press Release is paraphrased below and can be viewed in full here

REDMOND, Wash. and MENLO PARK, Calif. — April 23, 2012 — Microsoft Corp. and Facebook announced today a definitive agreement under which Microsoft will assign to Facebook the right to purchase a portion of the patent portfolio it recently agreed to acquire from AOL Inc. Facebook has agreed to purchase this portion for $550 million in cash.

In the initial AOL auction, Microsoft secured the ability to own or assign approximately 925 U.S. patents and patent applications plus a license to AOL’s remaining patent portfolio, which contains approximately 300 additional patents that were not for sale.

As a result of today’s agreement, Facebook will obtain ownership of approximately 650 AOL patents and patent applications, plus a license to the AOL patents and applications that Microsoft will purchase and own.

Upon closing of this transaction with Facebook, Microsoft will retain ownership of approximately 275 AOL patents and applications; a license to the approximately 650 AOL patents and applications that will now be owned by Facebook; and a license to approximately 300 patents that AOL did not sell in its auction.

“Today’s agreement with Facebook enables us to recoup over half of our costs while achieving our goals from the AOL auction,” said Brad Smith, executive vice president and general counsel, Microsoft. “As we said earlier this month, we had submitted the winning AOL bid in order to obtain a durable license to the full AOL portfolio and ownership of certain patents that complement our existing portfolio.”

“Today’s agreement with Microsoft represents an important acquisition for Facebook,” said Ted Ullyot, general counsel, Facebook. “This is another significant step in our ongoing process of building an intellectual property portfolio to protect Facebook’s interests over the long term.”

The parties are evaluating the accounting treatment for these transactions. These transactions are also subject to customary closing conditions, including clearance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, as amended.

Want to ‘Social’ise your Startup? Heres How

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Image via CrunchBase
  1. Build a company that’s social from the beginning. Create your social media accounts as you grow to develop an early fan base. Whether it’s limited to only a twitter account or you want to indulge various mediums depends on the nature of your product, but the important thing to remember is that you should use your account for more than just marketing. Get the word out, engage your prospective customers, find employees, and you could even solicit potential partners.
  2. Maintain a Blog. Everyone loves a success story. People love to read stories of people who start off from the bottom and work their way up. Tell your story. Connect. Create lasting relationships. All this while keeping your stakeholders informed about the developments within the company and a sneak peek into things to come.
  3. Focus on the platform that’s most important to you. Analyse the strength of your product and choose a platform which complements it. Pinterest might not work for some, as could be the case with Youtube. Keep in mind that content is very important and stretching over too many platforms might dilute your message.
  4. Consistency creates recall. Ensure you product has similar handles across multiple platforms. This breeds recall, which over time can create brand value.
  5. Identify key influencers and treat them like they mean the world to you. Every product has early adaptors, treat them with love, and incorporate their suggestions. Remember, they are not getting paid to do this; they are doing this because they love your product.
  6. Most Important: Drive traffic back to your website. Creating a community on Facebook that never visits your website might not be the best idea. In most of your posts, ensure you link back to your website. Give people a reason to come to your website, find ways to engage them there, and help them get into a habit of coming there. Goes without saying that you should ensure you have social plugins to enable users to bring their friends onto your site.

Breaking News: Facebook just agreed to acquire Instagram for $1Billion

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Posted by Nameet Potnis

15 minutes ago Facebook has agreed to acquire Instagram. Mark Zuckerberg just shared the following update on his Facebook Timeline.

I’m excited to share the news that we’ve agreed to acquire Instagram and that their talented team will be joining Facebook.

For years, we’ve focused on building the best experience for sharing photos with your friends and family. Now, we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests.

We believe these are different experiences that complement each other. But in order to do this well, we need to be mindful about keeping and building on Instagram’s strengths and features rather than just trying to integrate everything into Facebook.

That’s why we’re committed to building and growing Instagram independently. Millions of people around the world love the Instagram app and the brand associated with it, and our goal is to help spread this app and brand to even more people.

We think the fact that Instagram is connected to other services beyond Facebook is an important part of the experience. We plan on keeping features like the ability to post to other social networks, the ability to not share your Instagrams on Facebook if you want, and the ability to have followers and follow people separately from your friends on Facebook.

These and many other features are important parts of the Instagram experience and we understand that. We will try to learn from Instagram’s experience to build similar features into our other products. At the same time, we will try to help Instagram continue to grow by using Facebook’s strong engineering team and infrastructure.

This is an important milestone for Facebook because it’s the first time we’ve ever acquired a product and company with so many users. We don’t plan on doing many more of these, if any at all. But providing the best photo sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook and we knew it would be worth bringing these two companies together.

We’re looking forward to working with the Instagram team and to all of the great new experiences we’re going to be able to build together.

Indian Government gets ready to ‘spy’ on Blackberry users emails and BBM

Blackberry’s highly secure BBM service could now be open to Government scrutiny. Back in March 2008 the government of India had asked Blackberry to allow them to intercept emails sent over Blackberry’s servers to monitor unlawful activity.

If recent reports from India Today are to be believed, the government will soon be able to do just this. Unnamed Indian officials were quick to point out to India Today that their forthcoming ability to capture and crack BBM messages will be used strictly to intercept communication only from handsets of people suspected of criminal or terrorist activity.

Close on the heels of a 12% cut in prices of its handsets in early April 2012, Blackberry has been bucking the international trend, and has posted considerable sales in India. Trak.in, in their latest research report states “While OEMs such as Nokia and Blackberry have traumatic global challenges, they are expected to continue to be significant in India given their strong brand presence, distribution network and consumer affinity in India.”

What remains to be seen is whether the government’s snooping on Blackberry’s secure servers gives Blackberry’s Enterprises users a shiver.

Five Fundraising tips for start-ups

An assortment of United States coins, includin...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Post adapted from

As an entrepreneur, scaling your business is both an exciting and difficult task. You have a great idea, a great team, and an interesting business model but moving from 5,000 customers to 500,000 and then five million is a complicated and capital-intensive process. For enterprises that aim to create social impact, an added component is that the product or service also serves to impact a social issue. How do you convince an investor that your business is the one to invest in? How do you learn the investor’s language so that your business is communicated as a viable and scalable prospect? Most importantly, how do find the investor best suited to your business?

Here are five tips to get the most out of your investor-entrepreneur relationship:

1. Understand Your Business Model Investors want to know that you know your business inside out. A great pitch comes from someone who doesn’t need to look at their PowerPoint. Being able to cite your financials from memory will really impress an investor and differentiate you from other promoters.  Providing a clear understanding of where you are now will convince an investor that you can accurately predict where your business is headed.

2. Identify the Relevant Investor With the mushrooming number of seed stage funds, impact investors, angel investors and venture philanthropists, in addition to mainstream venture capitalists and private equity funds, the investor landscape is becoming increasingly complex.  Find the right investor faster by knowing exactly what level of funding you require and what investors work in that bracket and what they are typically looking for. For example: high net worth individuals typically look for return on investment, while venture capital funds look for financial returns in addition to scalability and exit.

3. Accept That You Have Competition It is highly unlikely that your business model is unique and no one has ever thought of it. Chances are that investors have seen it or something like it before, considering they see hundreds of business models a year. What they are betting on, however, is a host of other factors that differentiate you from your competitors and your ability to leverage these. Therefore, don’t hide that there is competition, just prove that you can do it better.

4. Remember That Investors Want to Grow Your Business Investors are interested in investing in models that are scalable.  An asset-heavy model where a large percentage of invested capital is poured into infrastructure is far less attractive than an asset-light model where the product being invested in can be replicated without a long gestation period.

5. Go to Market When You Don’t Need the Money The best way to get an investment is to show the investor that your business will be fine without their money. Plan ahead. Start your investor outreach a year before you will actually need their investment. Don’t obsess over receiving investment, obsess about increasing your revenue. Investors will fund you the moment they feel that you will succeed without their money.

Read the original post at the Sankalp Forum Blog. The information in this post is based on workshops and lectures at the Sankalp Residential Bootcamp held at ISB Hyderabad. All rights reserved and Copywrite Sankalp Forum.

blog maverick

I hear it all the time from people. “I’m passionate about it.” “I’m not going to quit, It’s my passion”. Or I hear it as advice to students and others “Follow your passion”.

What a bunch of BS.  “Follow Your Passion” is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get.

Why ? Because everyone is passionate about something. Usually more than 1 thing.  We are born with it. There are always going to be things we love to do. That we dream about doing. That we really really want to do with our lives. Those passions aren’t worth a nickel.

Think about all the things you have been passionate about in your life. Think about all those passions that you considered making a career out of or building a company around.  How many were/are there ? Why did you bounce from one to another ?  Why were you…

View original post 208 more words

One of the most innovative Pinterest Campaigns so far by Kotex

Red Pinterest logo
Red Pinterest logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For brands trying to get their heads around Pinterest, here’s a clever engagement of the site’s users by Kotex. For a Kotex campaign called “Woman’s Inspiration Day,” Israeli agency Smoyz targeted 50 “influential” Pinterest users, studied their Pinterest boards, and then made handcrafted gifts for those users based on the items they liked most. The results: 50 gift boxes, 694,853 total impressions—thanks to the users pinning images of the gifts themselves on the site. Pretty labor intensive, but smart. Any brand message centered around female self-expression could do well on Pinterest, if the tactics don’t overwhelm the target.

Via Adverblog.

 

What do you think?

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Funding a Start-up in India to be classified as Taxable income!

A recent clause in India’s 2012 Budget proposes taxing Indian start-ups 30% of the amount invested by Angel investors by terming the investment as income.

The Memorandum of the Finance Bill 2012 states
“It is proposed to insert a new clause in section 56(2). The new clause will apply where a company, not being a company in which the public are substantially interested, receives, in any previous year, from any person being a resident, any consideration for issue of shares. In such a case if the consideration received for issue of shares exceeds the face value of such shares, the aggregate consideration received for such shares as exceeds the fair market value of the shares shall be chargeable to income tax under the head “Income from other sources. However, this provision shall not apply where the consideration for issue of shares is received by a venture capital undertaking from a venture capital company or a venture capital fund.”

Where does this leave entrepreneurs who get Angel funding pretty early in the start-up life cycle when perhaps the only assets they have is a great idea on its way to execution?

In the Hindu Businessline, Mr Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of Indian Angel Network, explains: “An angel investor may invest Rs 1 crore in a company that has no revenues and no profits and the tax official, unless otherwise ‘persuaded’, would tax the company at 30 per cent for no reason at all and convert an investment into income.”

Possible ways of working around this clause are suggested by Deepak Shenoy, who is a co-founder at MarketVision. He says, ” If you are a founder, you could use a sweat equity approach or use convertible debentures or since the law applies only to companies, you might be able to start a Limited Liability Partnership. Read his in-depth analysis here.

On a similar note, the U.S is mulling passing the “Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act,” (Pdf Link) which allows entrepreneurs to raise up to $2 million from individual investors without having to be approved by securities regulators. You can read more about this on his blog here.

I have rarely seen online petitions change anything in India, yet I am hopeful and have signed a petition. If you would like to do the same, you can do so at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/no-startup-tax/

What do you think about the proposed law?

The Story of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’

Keep Calm and Carry On was a propaganda poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the event of invasion.
The poster was rediscovered in 2000 and has been re-issued by a number of private sector companies, and used as the decorative theme for a range of other products. There were only two known surviving examples of the poster outside government archives until a collection of about 20 originals were brought in to the Antiques Roadshow in 2012 by the daughter of an ex-Royal Observer Corps member.
Here is a video that explains how and where the poster was rediscovered and its rise to fame.

Homeless people as the new 4G wifi hubs!

An unconventional experiment which involved using homeless people as 4G mobile wi-fi hotspots has gather a lot of crowd at the SXSW happening at Austin, TX. The project is defined as a “Charitable Experiment“.

A lot of homeless men equipped with Verizon MiFi’s wearing specially printed t-shirts which say, for eg., “Hi, my name is Clarence, I am a 4G hotspot, SMS HH Clarence TO 25827 for access” with a URL of the Homeless Hotspots website. It suggested that public pay $2 for 15 minutes Wi-Fi access to the internet. Suddenly, a lots of sparks generated around the world as the news spread, some thought of it as an awesome idea, which may help the homeless people, while other called it downright demeaning.

Launched as a ‘beta test’ by advertising firm BBH Labs said “there’s an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villainises us, in many ways is good for the homeless people we’re trying to help”, on their blog. The advertising firm, apparently says that it is trying to modernise the concept of street newspapers, which are created and sold by homeless people. Instead of selling a newspaper, the homeless person now sells Internet access as well as access to the newspaper’s content.

BBH Labs Director of Innovation Saneel Radia said, “It’s unfortunate how much information being shared is incorrect, this project is not selling a brand and there is no commercial benefit whatsoever to BBH Labs. Each of the Hotspot Managers keep all of the money they earn. The more they sell their own access, the more they as individuals make.”  What do you think?

via: BBC and DNNetworks

How to do what you Love

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We’ve got it down to four words: “Do what you love.” But it’s not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.

The very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn’t—for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun.

And it did not seem to be an accident. School, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.

The world then was divided into two groups, grownups and kids. Grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work. Kids didn’t, but they did have to go to school, which was a dilute version of work meant to prepare us for the real thing. Much as we disliked school, the grownups all agreed that grownup work was worse, and that we had it easy.

Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn’t fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodgeball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn’t just do what you wanted.

I’m not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want. They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later. [1]

Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn’t think he meant work could literally be fun—fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.

Jobs

By high school, the prospect of an actual job was on the horizon. Adults would sometimes come to speak to us about their work, or we would go to see them at work. It was always understood that they enjoyed what they did. In retrospect I think one may have: the private jet pilot. But I don’t think the bank manager really did.

The main reason they all acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you’re supposed to. It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas.

Why is it conventional to pretend to like what you do? The first sentence of this essay explains that. If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do. That’s where the upper-middle class tradition comes from. Just as houses all over America are full of chairs that are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of chairs designed 250 years ago for French kings, conventional attitudes about work are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of the attitudes of people who’ve done great things.

What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do. You can’t blame kids for thinking “I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world.”

Actually they’ve been told three lies: the stuff they’ve been taught to regard as work in school is not real work; grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork; and many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. [2] Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house. [3]

It was not till I was in college that the idea of work finally broke free from the idea of making a living. Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on. Ideally these coincided, but some spectacular boundary cases (like Einstein in the patent office) proved they weren’t identical.

The definition of work was now to make some original contribution to the world, and in the process not to starve. But after the habit of so many years my idea of work still included a large component of pain. Work still seemed to require discipline, because only hard problems yielded grand results, and hard problems couldn’t literally be fun. Surely one had to force oneself to work on them.

If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong. That about sums up my experience of graduate school.

Bounds

How much are you supposed to like what you do? Unless you know that, you don’t know when to stop searching. And if, like most people, you underestimate it, you’ll tend to stop searching too early. You’ll end up doing something chosen for you by your parents, or the desire to make money, or prestige—or sheer inertia.

Here’s an upper bound: Do what you love doesn’t mean, do what you would like to do most this second. Even Einstein probably had moments when he wanted to have a cup of coffee, but told himself he ought to finish what he was working on first.

It used to perplex me when I read about people who liked what they did so much that there was nothing they’d rather do. There didn’t seem to be any sort of work I liked that much. If I had a choice of (a) spending the next hour working on something or (b) be teleported to Rome and spend the next hour wandering about, was there any sort of work I’d prefer? Honestly, no.

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.

As a lower bound, you have to like your work more than any unproductive pleasure. You have to like what you do enough that the concept of “spare time” seems mistaken. Which is not to say you have to spend all your time working. You can only work so much before you get tired and start to screw up. Then you want to do something else—even something mindless. But you don’t regard this time as the prize and the time you spend working as the pain you endure to earn it.

I put the lower bound there for practical reasons. If your work is not your favorite thing to do, you’ll have terrible problems with procrastination. You’ll have to force yourself to work, and when you resort to that the results are distinctly inferior.

To be happy I think you have to be doing something you not only enjoy, but admire. You have to be able to say, at the end, wow, that’s pretty cool. This doesn’t mean you have to make something. If you learn how to hang glide, or to speak a foreign language fluently, that will be enough to make you say, for a while at least, wow, that’s pretty cool. What there has to be is a test.

So one thing that falls just short of the standard, I think, is reading books. Except for some books in math and the hard sciences, there’s no test of how well you’ve read a book, and that’s why merely reading books doesn’t quite feel like work. You have to do something with what you’ve read to feel productive.

I think the best test is one Gino Lee taught me: to try to do things that would make your friends say wow. But it probably wouldn’t start to work properly till about age 22, because most people haven’t had a big enough sample to pick friends from before then.

Sirens

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know? [4]

This is easy advice to give. It’s hard to follow, especially when you’re young. [5] Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

That’s what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you’re going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies.

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.

Similarly, if you admire two kinds of work equally, but one is more prestigious, you should probably choose the other. Your opinions about what’s admirable are always going to be slightly influenced by prestige, so if the two seem equal to you, you probably have more genuine admiration for the less prestigious one.

The other big force leading people astray is money. Money by itself is not that dangerous. When something pays well but is regarded with contempt, like telemarketing, or prostitution, or personal injury litigation, ambitious people aren’t tempted by it. That kind of work ends up being done by people who are “just trying to make a living.” (Tip: avoid any field whose practitioners say this.) The danger is when money is combined with prestige, as in, say, corporate law, or medicine. A comparatively safe and prosperous career with some automatic baseline prestige is dangerously tempting to someone young, who hasn’t thought much about what they really like.

The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?

This test is especially helpful in deciding between different kinds of academic work, because fields vary greatly in this respect. Most good mathematicians would work on math even if there were no jobs as math professors, whereas in the departments at the other end of the spectrum, the availability of teaching jobs is the driver: people would rather be English professors than work in ad agencies, and publishing papers is the way you compete for such jobs. Math would happen without math departments, but it is the existence of English majors, and therefore jobs teaching them, that calls into being all those thousands of dreary papers about gender and identity in the novels of Conrad. No one does that kind of thing for fun.

The advice of parents will tend to err on the side of money. It seems safe to say there are more undergrads who want to be novelists and whose parents want them to be doctors than who want to be doctors and whose parents want them to be novelists. The kids think their parents are “materialistic.” Not necessarily. All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards. If your eight year old son decides to climb a tall tree, or your teenage daughter decides to date the local bad boy, you won’t get a share in the excitement, but if your son falls, or your daughter gets pregnant, you’ll have to deal with the consequences.

Discipline

With such powerful forces leading us astray, it’s not surprising we find it so hard to discover what we like to work on. Most people are doomed in childhood by accepting the axiom that work = pain. Those who escape this are nearly all lured onto the rocks by prestige or money. How many even discover something they love to work on? A few hundred thousand, perhaps, out of billions.

It’s hard to find work you love; it must be, if so few do. So don’t underestimate this task. And don’t feel bad if you haven’t succeeded yet. In fact, if you admit to yourself that you’re discontented, you’re a step ahead of most people, who are still in denial. If you’re surrounded by colleagues who claim to enjoy work that you find contemptible, odds are they’re lying to themselves. Not necessarily, but probably.

Although doing great work takes less discipline than people think—because the way to do great work is to find something you like so much that you don’t have to force yourself to do it—finding work you love does usually require discipline. Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to do when they’re 12, and just glide along as if they were on railroad tracks. But this seems the exception. More often people who do great things have careers with the trajectory of a ping-pong ball. They go to school to study A, drop out and get a job doing B, and then become famous for C after taking it up on the side.

Sometimes jumping from one sort of work to another is a sign of energy, and sometimes it’s a sign of laziness. Are you dropping out, or boldly carving a new path? You often can’t tell yourself. Plenty of people who will later do great things seem to be disappointments early on, when they’re trying to find their niche.

Is there some test you can use to keep yourself honest? One is to try to do a good job at whatever you’re doing, even if you don’t like it. Then at least you’ll know you’re not using dissatisfaction as an excuse for being lazy. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll get into the habit of doing things well.

Another test you can use is: always produce. For example, if you have a day job you don’t take seriously because you plan to be a novelist, are you producing? Are you writing pages of fiction, however bad? As long as you’re producing, you’ll know you’re not merely using the hazy vision of the grand novel you plan to write one day as an opiate. The view of it will be obstructed by the all too palpably flawed one you’re actually writing.

“Always produce” is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you’re supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. “Always produce” will discover your life’s work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.

Of course, figuring out what you like to work on doesn’t mean you get to work on it. That’s a separate question. And if you’re ambitious you have to keep them separate: you have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible. [6]

It’s painful to keep them apart, because it’s painful to observe the gap between them. So most people pre-emptively lower their expectations. For example, if you asked random people on the street if they’d like to be able to draw like Leonardo, you’d find most would say something like “Oh, I can’t draw.” This is more a statement of intention than fact; it means, I’m not going to try. Because the fact is, if you took a random person off the street and somehow got them to work as hard as they possibly could at drawing for the next twenty years, they’d get surprisingly far. But it would require a great moral effort; it would mean staring failure in the eye every day for years. And so to protect themselves people say “I can’t.”

Another related line you often hear is that not everyone can do work they love—that someone has to do the unpleasant jobs. Really? How do you make them? In the US the only mechanism for forcing people to do unpleasant jobs is the draft, and that hasn’t been invoked for over 30 years. All we can do is encourage people to do unpleasant work, with money and prestige.

If there’s something people still won’t do, it seems as if society just has to make do without. That’s what happened with domestic servants. For millennia that was the canonical example of a job “someone had to do.” And yet in the mid twentieth century servants practically disappeared in rich countries, and the rich have just had to do without.

So while there may be some things someone has to do, there’s a good chance anyone saying that about any particular job is mistaken. Most unpleasant jobs would either get automated or go undone if no one were willing to do them.

Two Routes

There’s another sense of “not everyone can do work they love” that’s all too true, however. One has to make a living, and it’s hard to get paid for doing work you love. There are two routes to that destination:

The organic route: as you become more eminent, gradually to increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don’t.

The two-job route: to work at things you don’t like to get money to work on things you do.

The organic route is more common. It happens naturally to anyone who does good work. A young architect has to take whatever work he can get, but if he does well he’ll gradually be in a position to pick and choose among projects. The disadvantage of this route is that it’s slow and uncertain. Even tenure is not real freedom.

The two-job route has several variants depending on how long you work for money at a time. At one extreme is the “day job,” where you work regular hours at one job to make money, and work on what you love in your spare time. At the other extreme you work at something till you make enough not to have to work for money again.

The two-job route is less common than the organic route, because it requires a deliberate choice. It’s also more dangerous. Life tends to get more expensive as you get older, so it’s easy to get sucked into working longer than you expected at the money job. Worse still, anything you work on changes you. If you work too long on tedious stuff, it will rot your brain. And the best paying jobs are most dangerous, because they require your full attention.

The advantage of the two-job route is that it lets you jump over obstacles. The landscape of possible jobs isn’t flat; there are walls of varying heights between different kinds of work. [7] The trick of maximizing the parts of your job that you like can get you from architecture to product design, but not, probably, to music. If you make money doing one thing and then work on another, you have more freedom of choice.

Which route should you take? That depends on how sure you are of what you want to do, how good you are at taking orders, how much risk you can stand, and the odds that anyone will pay (in your lifetime) for what you want to do. If you’re sure of the general area you want to work in and it’s something people are likely to pay you for, then you should probably take the organic route. But if you don’t know what you want to work on, or don’t like to take orders, you may want to take the two-job route, if you can stand the risk.

Don’t decide too soon. Kids who know early what they want to do seem impressive, as if they got the answer to some math question before the other kids. They have an answer, certainly, but odds are it’s wrong.

A friend of mine who is a quite successful doctor complains constantly about her job. When people applying to medical school ask her for advice, she wants to shake them and yell “Don’t do it!” (But she never does.) How did she get into this fix? In high school she already wanted to be a doctor. And she is so ambitious and determined that she overcame every obstacle along the way—including, unfortunately, not liking it.

Now she has a life chosen for her by a high-school kid.

When you’re young, you’re given the impression that you’ll get enough information to make each choice before you need to make it. But this is certainly not so with work. When you’re deciding what to do, you have to operate on ridiculously incomplete information. Even in college you get little idea what various types of work are like. At best you may have a couple internships, but not all jobs offer internships, and those that do don’t teach you much more about the work than being a batboy teaches you about playing baseball.

In the design of lives, as in the design of most other things, you get better results if you use flexible media. So unless you’re fairly sure what you want to do, your best bet may be to choose a type of work that could turn into either an organic or two-job career. That was probably part of the reason I chose computers. You can be a professor, or make a lot of money, or morph it into any number of other kinds of work.

It’s also wise, early on, to seek jobs that let you do many different things, so you can learn faster what various kinds of work are like. Conversely, the extreme version of the two-job route is dangerous because it teaches you so little about what you like. If you work hard at being a bond trader for ten years, thinking that you’ll quit and write novels when you have enough money, what happens when you quit and then discover that you don’t actually like writing novels?

Most people would say, I’d take that problem. Give me a million dollars and I’ll figure out what to do. But it’s harder than it looks. Constraints give your life shape. Remove them and most people have no idea what to do: look at what happens to those who win lotteries or inherit money. Much as everyone thinks they want financial security, the happiest people are not those who have it, but those who like what they do. So a plan that promises freedom at the expense of knowing what to do with it may not be as good as it seems.

Whichever route you take, expect a struggle. Finding work you love is very difficult. Most people fail. Even if you succeed, it’s rare to be free to work on what you want till your thirties or forties. But if you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there.

Notes

[1] Currently we do the opposite: when we make kids do boring work, like arithmetic drills, instead of admitting frankly that it’s boring, we try to disguise it with superficial decorations.

[2] One father told me about a related phenomenon: he found himself concealing from his family how much he liked his work. When he wanted to go to work on a saturday, he found it easier to say that it was because he “had to” for some reason, rather than admitting he preferred to work than stay home with them.

[3] Something similar happens with suburbs. Parents move to suburbs to raise their kids in a safe environment, but suburbs are so dull and artificial that by the time they’re fifteen the kids are convinced the whole world is boring.

[4] I’m not saying friends should be the only audience for your work. The more people you can help, the better. But friends should be your compass.

[5] Donald Hall said young would-be poets were mistaken to be so obsessed with being published. But you can imagine what it would do for a 24 year old to get a poem published in The New Yorker. Now to people he meets at parties he’s a real poet. Actually he’s no better or worse than he was before, but to a clueless audience like that, the approval of an official authority makes all the difference. So it’s a harder problem than Hall realizes. The reason the young care so much about prestige is that the people they want to impress are not very discerning.

[6] This is isomorphic to the principle that you should prevent your beliefs about how things are from being contaminated by how you wish they were. Most people let them mix pretty promiscuously. The continuing popularity of religion is the most visible index of that.

[7] A more accurate metaphor would be to say that the graph of jobs is not very well connected.

Thanks to Trevor Blackwell, Dan Friedman, Sarah Harlin, Jessica Livingston, Jackie McDonough, Robert Morris, Peter Norvig, David Sloo, and Aaron Swartz for reading drafts of this.

Original Article:  http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#f4n