Taking The Leap

I’m taking time off from Carnegie Mellon. Imagine telling the parents that have done everything in their power to provide you with a good education that you want to leave school. Yeah. It’s been a busy past few weeks, but I’m excited to say that I’ll be moving to San Francisco on January 8th, joining the awesome Chartboost team as their 2nd engineer.

Risk. Technically I’m on a leave of absence, so if things don’t work out I can always come back next fall or spring. Sure, leaving school is “risky”—I won’t have a degree that “certifies” me: I’ll only have my skills, network, and experience to fall back on.

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy where you’re guaranteed to fail is not taking any risks.” – Mark Zuckerberg

Success. I was discussing life and such with Daniel Tunkelang (who gave me an awesome perspective) and he asked me what I consider long-term success and why I want to start a company. For the money? For the thrill of the ride? Once you figure out your end goals, you can work backward from there. For me personally, it’s neither. What really drives me is having an impact on the world. While I’m on that roller-coaster I know I’ll love the thrill of the ride, and if what I do really does impact people, the money will be there—those last two aren’t my end goals, they’re byproducts. That framework really helped me evaluate where I want to be and made me more confident in my decision.

“I talk to these founders with these big ideas, and they jump from the problem they’re solving to who they’re going to be or what they’re going to get. I hear ‘It’s going to be a billion dollar company’ and I have this switch in my head that slowly shuts off. Because they’re jumping to the effect. You have to be the cause…If you want to be Mark Zuckerberg the best you’re going to be is second place. Because Mark Zuckerberg will always be a better Mark Zuckerberg than you.” – Ashton Kutcher

Learning. My parents (and people in general) are quick to point out that college dropouts who become successful are “outliers” (a fact that seems true after looking at statistics). But the statistic is misleading – Victor Cheng, an Inc 500 CEO Coach, mentioned: “Most people who drop out of school also drop out of learning.” Dropping out of learning is a sure-fire path to failure. Looking at the “outliers” you’ll notice that they maintain a passion and hunger, always having a burning desire to learn more. They merely drop out of formal education – they never drop out of learning. Personally, I’m a huge fan of learning—there’s just so much out there that I don’t know. I’ll be learning about success, failure, scaling to millions of users, dealing with customers, and so much more, hands-on. I’ll get the time to take Stanford’s wonderful Natural Language Processing course online (among others), to meet people, to make things, to live. I really am looking forward to learning—learning informally, non-institutionally, in the real world.

The future. The most common question I’m asked is “What’s your five-year plan?” Nowadays, everyone seems to have their own perfect formula for success – for people who think they want to eventually go into startups it sounds something like: “I’m going to go to [Carnegie Mellon], get three solid internships at [big companies], graduate with a double major, work at [Google] for three years, get my MBA, and start my startup.” A couple people even add in a quick 5-year Masters in there—the more the better, right? Not necessarily – I’ve never had a five-year plan. Instead, I’ve always had a really firm ten-year plan: I want to create a startup that improves the way people go about their daily lives – I just realize that there are so many ways to get there.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path, and that will make all the difference.” –Steve Jobs


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