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[Also, see my answer on Quora to I’m a 24 year old New Yorker with $10k in savings. How do I know if I’m ready to leave my job and pursue the life of an entrepreneur?]

I grew up in Siberia where my dad was a political journalist. He was against everything that was going on in the country politically and tried his best to tell controversial stories on TV. I’m sure this was an impossible task. He taught me to question everything around me and to take nothing at face value. My mom was a non-political non conformist by nature, best expressed by the fact that, if she wanted something, there was no stopping her. It didn’t matter how the system worked or what people around her thought or did. She set her own rules.

These two traits - questioning everything and being unafraid to go after what I want - defined who I am.

By the time I moved to the US with my dad’s family (my parents got divorced when I was 12), I knew that I wasn’t going to accept an average “9 to 5” as a career. My time had to be spend on something big, all encompassing and long term and, most importantly, something I would be really passionate about and could really get behind. I set out for college (Cornell) determined to find my passion.

In college I moved quickly from one subject to the next looking for my passion, taking classes ranging from psychology to computer science, neuroscience, fine art and finally film. Although learning was always fun, something wasn’t connecting. I just couldn’t get sufficiently motivated by academic goals set in that artificial environment. This led me to leave Cornell after 4 years of school and only 2 classes short of graduation. I later found that solving real problems and building something around opportunities I discover is what I’m truly motivated by. Today, I’m fortunate to say that I have, in fact, found my passion and am doing what I love - building a startup around a set of problems that I believe need solving.

In the meantime, I continue to observe people of all ages around me struggle with finding a job they love. Looking at my own path of getting to do what I love I’m observing four main lessons.

1. WHEN YOU KNOW IT’S NOT WORKING, QUIT FAST.

Many people hate their jobs and know that they want to do something different, but stay in their hated jobs for a long time nonetheless. Their main reason for not leaving is that they haven’t actually figured out what it is that they want to do. This thinking is flawed because you won’t learn or discover your ideal career or job by sitting around and thinking about it. If the current situation isn’t working you need to find something else.

What happens when you leave even without knowing what you will do next is that, suddenly, figuring out your next steps becomes urgent. That urgency may be a bit uncomfortable, but it can also be incredibly powerful because it frees you up to invest all of your energy into finding the next thing. Finding the next thing goes from optional to required.

I personally have left several jobs prematurely, not only not knowing what I will do next, but also having no savings to see me through the period of not working. The very last job I left was a startup where I found myself wanting to do a lot more and the company not really needing what I wanted to give. I was at this startup for about 9 months and found myself in a position where it felt that I was simply exchanging my time for money. This made me feel awful because I’ve always wanted my time to add up to something greater and simply getting a paycheck with no additional growth made me feel like my life didn’t matter. Frustrated, I tried giving feedback to the management and eventually gave notice without much planning. To my surprise, I was offered two weeks of severance which were much-much needed since I had no savings to hold me over until I found my next thing.

In all cases, I found that leaving was the right thing as it forced me to keep searching for my next step with urgency and to eventually found the company I now love building.

2. FOLLOW YOUR CURIOSITY.

Even though you may not have a clear vision for your career, you are probably curious about things which may or may not be obvious to you. It’s important to follow your curiosity and uncover your less obvious interests. The reason it’s important is that those interests tap into your unique motivations that separate you from others. Pursuing them sets you on the path of unlocking who you are and your creativity. Frequently, these will be things that do not appear pragmatic and sometimes seem downright frivolous. A classic example is Steve Job’s curiosity for typefaces which led him to attend a seemingly useless class on typography and to develop his design sensibility. Later, this sensibility became an essential part of Apple computers and Apple’s core differentiator in the marketplace.

A good way to tune into these interests is to ask yourself what you would do if you had a billion dollars. By my third year of college, I looked through Cornell’s entire giant catalog and couldn’t get excited about any of the classes in it. I had sampled many of the disciplines and felt that I was at a dead end. Frustrated, I finally pushed myself to think about what I would be interested in doing if money were of no concern. To my surprise, that led me to fantasize about drawing and painting. I also realized that I perceived both of these disciplines as forbidden. I believed that my parents would disapprove and that it would be a highly impractical area of study to pursue. Yet, I also realized that I was genuinely excited about fine art and took the plunge which became an important stepping stone on my path.

3. DON’T MAKE MONEY YOUR PRIMARY CONSIDERATION.

My first startup was in NYC. I was fresh out of college, had college loans and limited income from freelancing as a video editor. My dad and my stepmom lived in NJ, outside of NYC and I couldn’t afford a place of my own. One of the partners of my startup invested a small amount of money into it - just enough to do the basics, such as open a small office in NYC. Commuting to my parents house was a pain, so I brought in a sleeping bag to our office, got a gym membership and would often stay at the office overnight. It was not ideal, but alternatives, such as spending my time on making money instead of working on the startup, didn’t make sense to me.

If you’re looking to spend your life doing something you love, the best way to start is to treat financial concerns as secondary. If the practicality of what you do and how much money you earn are your primary criteria you will instantly limit your options to what’s predictable and getting to do what you love will be tough. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to pursue your curiosity, you will find yourself in the position of power and, eventually, in the position to earn money on your terms. Connecting to your unique interests and motivations and coming into your own authentic self, gives you power in your chosen discipline that others can’t claim. The reason for this is the unique fit of these interests to who you are. For others, what you choose to do may seem like a huge chore, but for you it won’t even feel like work. When your work fits who you are so well, you stand out as being uniquely capable and uniquely powerful. And the better you get at expressing yourself through your work, the higher your earning potential will be in that capacity.

4. DON’T SET AN ARTIFICIAL CEILING FOR YOURSELF.

Your professional ceiling is set by you.

At some point in the past, I hired a designer and didn’t give her an official title. When I started receiving email from her I noticed that she added the word “Junior” to her designer title. I found that quite surprising since that title had never been discussed. I realized that for her this was a way to limit the amount of responsibility she took on, as well as the expectations others would have of her. Since then, I’ve seen many examples of how people define their own ceilings and avoid responsibility and growth. If you do so by choice, I respect it. On the other hand, if you want more growth, then don’t hide behind the belief that someone else needs to empower you to do what you want to do.

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You can’t go anywhere today in the tech industry without hearing that women entrepreneurs face challenges. From Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller Lean In to the continued discussion of how women continue to be outnumbered and underpaid compared to their male counterparts and the need for more female coders — it’s all over the media. As an entrepreneur myself, I also occasionally meet female founders who are early in their careers and seem to focus more on these questions than on building their startups. I wish they’d stop focusing on this instead, look at the opportunities available to them.

I believe we live in a time when you can, if you so desire, build something huge and amazing as a female entrepreneur. Sure, you might be the only woman in the room, but if you start building something of substance, you will find many great supporters in the industry.

For example, as the solo female (and non-technical) founder of Wanelo — a community for all of the world’s shopping — I feel embedded and welcomed in the tech community. I am surrounded by incredible advisors, and I know I have unlimited access to any startup or individual in the community to help with any questions I may have.

So for women looking to jump in the startup world, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Don’t have a chip on your shoulders about being a woman in tech. I’ve met female entrepreneurs who carry it unnecessarily as a burden. Get rid of it. If you’re concerned about being a woman in tech, you’re missing the point and probably wasting your energy. Worry instead about your product, your team and the things that actually move your business forward.

Dream big and do what you said you would. Entrepreneurship is ultimately not about gender. Some of the best principles of finding success will apply to both men and women.

This is one of my favorites: You have to start with declaring really big dreams (even if they seem inaccessible) and then close the gap between what you said you would do and doing those things. The smaller the gap, the more powerful you will be!

Embrace being a woman. Feminism 1.0 was about getting the same rights and blending in with the men in suits. In tech, that made women feel like they needed to be a “dude in a sweatshirt.” Fortunately, we’re over that. Today, women can truly embrace being their authentic selves and express their personal styles — both in terms of how they run their teams and in what they wear. True power is almost always about doubling down on who you really are and what makes you different and embracing that.

Know your role models. Because we do see many more successful male entrepreneurs in the media, it may be hard to avoid modeling yourself after men or feeling that you aren’t good enough because you aren’t a guy. To avoid this, you need to consciously cultivate an image of a powerful female entrepreneur that inspires you. Make sure you know what that woman looks like.

Get where you need to go. Investor Mike Maples sums up startups well: “You need to go from A to Z and there’s no known path in between.” Your job as an entrepreneur is to get to Z in whatever way you can figure out. Any entrepreneur will encounter immense challenges, which can include being judged for being a certain age, gender and race, among other traits. The important part is finding a way to overcome those challenges and get where you need to go.

Be the role model by actually building something great. Who would you rather be: a woman who talks about promoting female entrepreneurship or fighting gender inequality, or a woman who has built something that shows how powerful female entrepreneurs can be and inspires by example? Building and getting results speaks for itself. I believe we live in a time when female entrepreneurs have tremendous opportunity to build, transform and lead by example.

This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

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Empowerment remains a common theme throughout my life. I learned to be independent at a very early age and knew by age 15 that I was in control of my own destiny.

For a while, I was in search of meaning and passion, questioning everything along the way. So I continued to do just that, and I zeroed in on a problem in the real world: shopping. Why is shopping so unbelievably primitive and fragmented? Why is finding products and stores I love so difficult? Why can’t I follow all my favorite stores, products and people whose style I like in one place?

I knew this was a problem worth solving and wanted to build a solution. I had no resources or money, no degree in design or technology, and knew nothing about starting a company or raising funding, but I empowered myself to go after this thing regardless.

Here are three ways to empower yourself as an entrepreneur and build something you love:

1) Surround yourself with the right people.

Great things come from being in touch with amazing people. People will surprise you, open new opportunities, and result in mind-blowing conversations and experiences.

My father was the first empowering person in my life. He always encouraged me to think bigger, even as a child, and I was brought up with the idea that there was no ceiling for what I could accomplish. I knew from a young age that I didn’t need to have an average job. I was in a position to find something bigger — something that was magical, fun and something that I’d work on for the rest of my life.

When you attempt to build something, you will find yourself surrounded with all sorts advice and advisors. Everyone will have something to say and some of these people will sound very certain. So how do you know whose advice to take seriously? It’s pretty simple, listen to the people who make you feel empowered.

2) Don’t ask for permission.

Many people have the perception that you have to be granted power, when in reality, you just have to claim it.

Power isn’t limited to the possession or command over others. Power is the currency of making $%!^ happen.

A few years ago I hired someone to work for me, and when she proposed her ideal role, she gave herself a junior title. What she didn’t realize was that she had set an artificial ceiling for herself, simply because she didn’t feel comfortable aiming higher.

Yes, claiming additional responsibility can be intimidating and scary, but ultimately you have to realize that there is no single authority that will remove this uncertainty for you. Learn to embrace the uncertainty along with the power. Find your voice and empower yourself.

3) Remember that the future hasn’t happened yet.

People often act as though the future has already happened because of experiences in the past. We assume that because something happened one way before, it will be that way again in the future. This is a dangerous assumption because your vision of the future is limited and entirely based on the past.

Instead, it is much more powerful to create the future from scratch. Disregard the past, but learn from it.

When I first started fundraising, I was rejected about 40 times by investors before finally closing a deal. Even though I was frustrated and there was no reason to believe that Wanelo would succeed, I didn’t treat any single rejection as truth. The magnitude of my belief in the problem and in the corresponding opportunity and the irrational desire to see it happen kept me going.

Treat the future like it hasn’t happened and you have an open field to create. To me, Wanelo is about creating my future out of nothing and empowering myself to build something I love and something that has unlimited potential. Several years after having the initial idea, it’s really amazing to see Wanelo now used by millions of addicted shoppers. And we’re just getting started.

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

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Wanelo Blog: How We Rebuilt Wanelo from Scratch and Lived to Tell About It
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Human beings are fundamentally social. We’re born into a rich set of cultural notions that range from when it’s appropriate to yawn to our definitions of success. Our ideas and notions are deeply rooted in social dynamics developed over thousands of years and are specific to this cultural moment in time. We literally make sense of our entire lives through the social context of everything around us.

When we look at a piece of content, we want to know who created it, who likes or hates it, who uses it and so on. The social context around content is a critical source of information about that content and most of us are expert decoders of it.

Increasingly insane amounts of content are being produced and made available online. So the question is, how do we know which of this content to consume and which to ignore. At a high level, there are two ways this problem could be solved: through social context and social shortcuts or through data science. The data science-driven approaches that work are actually rooted in social context (such as Google’s PageRank which relies on people’s decisions to link to particular content, where a link to content is treated as a vote on the value of that content).

So, really, all we have is social context to solve this problem. Without social context, there can be no relevance. And we’re seeing this in play everywhere. People don’t want content in a vacuum; they want content in social context. I don’t go to news sites directly; I get content through the about 230 people I follow on Twitter. The entire web is being increasingly reorganized around people.

Here’s the current taxonomy of the social web:

  • Facebook is for friends
  • Twitter is for news
  • Pinterest is for images
  • Youtube is for videos
  • Soundcloud is for sound
  • __________ is for shopping

That’s right. Commerce (specifically the trade of products), which is one of the most important aspects of the global economy is the one area today that’s really lacking social context. Most of our shopping happens on ecommerce websites where all we get is the retailer’s information about the product (how old school!). Sure, we occasionally get some reviews, mostly from people we don’t know (i.e. we don’t have the social context around these people), but we don’t yet have a platform that tells us what products and stores specific people like (friends or others) and we don’t have a platform that links products, stores and people in a single network.

This is what Wanelo is building. Our goal is to reorganize all of shopping around people and the opportunity we’re after is tremendous. I feel very lucky to be recently supported by an incredible group of investors and advisors who share our vision and to be working with the most amazing team. We have a lot to build and I’m psyched about the next few months.

MORE RECENT POSTS:

Startup CEOs, stop acting like victims People are shortcuts

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The overwhelmingly popular top answer to the Quora question: "What does it feel like to be the CEO of a start-up?" has received a whopping 931 upvotes and at least one down vote - from me! (Anyone else down voted that? Let me know :) )

Read the answer and a sad-sad picture of a victim with extremely unhealthy dependencies emerges. As a startup CEO, you can’t sleep! You don’t have weekends! You live with endless guilt (assuming that you spend any minute of the day on anything other than work). You can only relate to people through business opportunities and you can’t enjoy vacations. Sure, there are some nice upsides and you may learn to have fun or enjoy working with people, but the general sentiment is that you’re quite a hero and you work oh-so-hard for your startup that you don’t really have a life.

Sleepless nights, endless worrying, perpetual dissatisfaction, always searching for more and better, no time for anything outside of work. The startup CEO is glorified as a victim. This is a position of weakness and I want to have nothing to do with that.

MY TAKE ON WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A STARTUP CEO

It’s incredibly fun. You’re passionate about a problem and an opportunity and you don’t need any reasons to pursue it other than intrinsic enjoyment of building something you love. You’re usually up to some great challenge, but, guess what? - you’ve chosen to have these challenges because if you didn’t have them, you’d be bored to death on a daily basis.

You get to work with amazing people who, like you, love building huge, amazing things. How incredible is that?! It is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world.

You get to question everything, and, in doing so, you get to express yourself and be creative in unique ways. You creativity is in how you choose to communicate, what you share, what company culture you create, what ideas you pursue, how you empower others and so on. It really is wonderful and endless and it becomes an organic extension of who you are.

Your startup is your territory for endless personal growth. You get to push your comfort zone literally every day and that is an incredible opportunity. The challenges you overcome, the things you learn about yourself, the value you create, the people you get to know give you a sense of freedom, play and empowerment.

You get to decide on a moment by moment basis what to do with your time, how to spend it in a way that is aligned with your goals and your startup journey and you get to make bold choices.

MAKE YOUR CHOICES AND STOP COMPLAINING

Let’s stop perpetuating the notion and the glorification of startup CEOs as victims. Yes, we deal with challenges. Yes, we fail. And, yes, it can be really hard. But what’s the point? We are building startups because they offer us incredible opportunity to live amazing lives.

So let’s take an empowering point of view on the challenges we choose for ourselves. Let’s make choices and commit to living the lives we want. Let’s not be victims to startups or foster an illusion that we need success for happiness (all evidence is against that idea anyway). Do you want to sleep well at night? If yes, commit to solving this the same way that you solve problems in your startup. Do you want to be healthy and not go crazy? Then make exercise a priority. Do you want to have fulfilling friendships? What’s it going to take? Choose to spend time with friends if that’s important to you. Do you want to commit all of your time to your startup? Great! You can make that choice as well and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you know that it’s a choice you’ve made.

Make your choices, live the life you want and stop complaining.

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Have you ever had the experience of meeting one incredible person and that meeting leading to other incredible people or opportunities? I’ve certainly had many of these, but it took me a while to get here.

Until a year and half ago, the concept of spending time on optional meetings with people didn’t actually make sense to me. I was living in LA, running a UX agency and iterating on Wanelo on the side. I was fully aware of the fact that successful startups I was reading about in Techcrunch and other startup blogs seemed to have impressive people involved with them. These were advisors, mentors, investors and teams. Yet I didn’t have those types of people in my life.

My over-simplified view of the world at that time was that if I had a question or a task or a problem, then I would just go find a direct solution. I was incredibly independent. I would work on the problem, research things online, or read books. Talking to people in general as a way of creating value or solving problems seemed like a very indirect way of dealing with the issue at hand. 

Luckily for me, I have since learned that I was 100% wrong. 

Let’s examine what it means to be in touch with a person. Every single one of us has spent our entire lifetimes processing the world and accumulating knowledge. We read books and blogs, watch movies, travel, talk to other people, think about problems, build business, make mistakes, have successes and so on. In every one of these tasks an individual makes choices. I choose what to read and what I read leads me to find and read other things. I choose who to talk to and those people lead me to other people, things to read and so on. The accumulation of these choices represents the world I have created for myself.

Thus, every single person represents a particular set of heavily filtered knowledge, opinions, expertise and connections. For example, if you talk to me about personal growth and ask me for recommendations on books to read, I will recommend a very narrow and specific set of books. This set of books will represent my entire lifetime of personal growth and searching for answers. I’ve read many books, blogs, talked to people, gone through personal growth courses, thought about stuff endlessly and, as a result, I can produce a conveniently packaged and very small list of things for you to read. 

In other words, I have become a shortcut. Surely, you could go through everything I’ve gone through to get to these books. But given the limited number of hours in a day, it’s quite impractical to do so. You’re much better off talking to people who have already done a lot of this work themselves and using them as a shortcut and a filter to get to relevant stuff quicker. 

This is why our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds are so relevant to us. Individuals we follow become the only way to cut through the intense and growing quantity and complexity of data and content in the world. Each individual represents a world of context, and humans have powerful intuition to gauge that context. When a particular individual shares something, we intuitively know the context of that person’s world and thus we know what to make of the thing being shared.

In the last year and a half, I have learned first-hand that the power of human shortcuts is absolutely phenomenal. This is why it makes sense to make finding and connecting to incredible people the absolute top priority in life, pretty much regardless of your goals. Finding a single incredible individual essentially means that you plug into that person’s entire world and that leads to a host of consequences. 

I moved to San Francisco in April of 2011. Since that move, I’ve been having repeated experiences of plugging into the worlds of incredible people. Since I used to have this very limited perspective on the importance of meeting and knowing people, I started out on faith. Essentially, my reasoning was, hey, I don’t really know why I need to meet with this person, but I’ll just do it anyway since that’s what other people seem to do.  And so I met with people in spite of myself and initially those meetings were entirely unnecessary and optional in my opinion, but some of those people turned out to be amazing. And they introduced me to other amazing people and at some point the entire thing blew my mind a little.

A year later, I’m running a ridiculously exciting funded startup with an incredible team and an amazing network of supporters. I continue having regular optional meetings with awesome people who become shortcuts into other great things. Every so often I doubt this strategy (after all, these are optional), and almost every time I’m proven wrong. More than that, the resulting opportunities are often surprising and entirely unanticipated. The key, of course, is finding the right individuals to serve as your shortcuts to all things awesome.

In startups this means that the quality of your network plays a huge role in your ability to succeed. This network will define the level of opportunities that come your way. It will define who else you meet, who joins your team, who advises you, who introduces you to future investors, who puts what on your radar. It’s hard to underestimate and it has a snowball effect.

In future blog posts I’ll write about how this applies to the social web and to what we’re building at Wanelo.
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Last week I met with a friend who’s a founder of a pre-IPO company. Two things we discussed struck me as fascinating: 

(1) just like every other person (myself included) who’s obsessed with success, my friend, although insanely accomplished by most people’s standards, was comparing himself upwards. He was looking at companies that have achieved rare world-class success and feeling dissatisfied with his progress. What a familiar pattern! And how funny it is that it never ends for ambitious people as we continue finding ever-renewing sources of upward benchmarking that cause us to feel unsatisfied with our progress, while observers would consider us extremely successful.

(2) we chatted about the challenges of managing a post-IPO company, one of which is managing the public opinion that determines the price of your stock. Although I’m nowhere close to dealing with an IPO, this sounded shockingly familiar.  The logistics of an IPO or of managing a public company are very different from raising typical VC funding, the determining factors of success remain the same: you have to tell the story of your company in a compelling manner to get people to see the promising future of your company. If your story resonates, you win and people give you their money. If it doesn’t, your stock price drops. Facts play a role in this, but public opinion is really based on the non-factual factors, such as analysts making statements about your company.

What did this all mean? For one, I was reminded that happiness and fulfillment are not derived from external circumstances. Thinking that they are is an illusion and a trap. More on that in later posts.

The second point was a reminder that the game doesn’t change as you grow and evolve. Regardless of the stage of the company, your biggest job as an entrepreneur is to continuously create and manage the story of your company for the world. 

A critical point about storytelling is that stories are not fact or reality (yet). A story (a term I use very broadly) of a company usually focuses on creating the future to compel some sort of an action (investors giving you money, employees joining, etc.). The story starts as an idea (an imagined course of action) of a better future: a future where a particular problem is solved, your customer is delighted and the world is a happy place. 

This future doesn’t exist. There is no one in the world who can make a reliable judgement on the probability of your version of the future existing (everyone tries, naturally). Investors try to come up with good justifications for their decisions, but they are human like the rest of us and all they have to go on is their judgement (see http://www.bvp.com/portfolio/antiportfolio).

Storytelling is a risky proposition. The future hasn’t happend yet and your story is not reality. You could easily be wrong! You could even - gasp! - fail! It takes real courage and commitment to continuously create your story for yourself and for the rest of the world.

Where do you find the courage to cross the gap between current reality and your vision of the future? You find it in the realization that there is no absolute authority and no one person who knows how things will go. And if there are no guarantees of the future, all you have is your commitment. There’s a gap, and the only way to cross is to jump. 

Commitment is fascinating. True commitment is internally generated and is an acknowledgment of your ability to have agency (i.e. capacity to act), to be the source of experience and reality. It’s also the source of leadership. A leader is someone who commits to a vision and has the courage to put himself on the line for making his story a reality.

Most people want a definitive opinion on how the future will go because uncertainty is uncomfortable and it’s easier and safer to not be responsible for creating the future. Yet realizing that there are no authorities on the future and that nobody can tell you how things will go gives you power. Your power is in your courage to create, commit to, and share your story.

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Wanelo: The Big Picture
I recently attended the Summit Series event near Lake Tahoe. The event had about 600 people, rich content around entrepreneurship, science, and art and music/dancing at night - a pretty solid mix. I had an amazing time, was inspired from the moment I got there and met the most incredible people. All throughout the event I was interested in understanding what makes this event work and what makes it different. This was my first Summit, and prior to the event I noticed that there was a lot of unusual excitement around it. I was wondering what al the hype was about and what the hell was I getting into.

Having attended, I get that everyone at the event was high on what is best described as “peak experience.” The event brings together ambitious, intelligent, and creative people who value experience above all. It creates an environment of trust and openness making it possible for people to connect, to imagine an incredible future, and to have fun. What I’m seeing is that everyone, myself included, is addicted to peak experience as a drug. It’s our favorite thing and we want to know how to get more of it. I believe that it’s possible to live a life at peak experience, and here’s my recipe. 


TELL A STORY ABOUT YOUR FUTURE

The first thing you’ll notice about the Summit Series is that everyone seems to be inspired. How does that happen? The organizers are hugely successful at creating an aspirational vision and story of the future around the event. Talks and presentations create a message that the attendees are amazing people who are up to big things and are fully able to create an incredible future for themselves. It’s a story of empowerment. 

This is probably the most important ingredient of the recipe. You have to be able to consciously and continuously create a compelling vision for where your life is headed and for what’s coming in the near and long-term future. You can think of it as a story of your future. Dreaming (and even better practical dreaming, or dreaming combined with commitment) is a critical skill. Our lives today are fully colored by what we think is possible for us in the future and our future plans. A simple example of this is scheduling a trip or a vacation  - once a trip is scheduled, you start experiencing excitement about it even though the actual experience is not going to take place until later. Keeping aspirational experiences in your future is key to being inspired today. 

Most people live their lives as if their future is predictable and has already happened. The reason for this is that we have a tendency to see our past as definitive. Things have gone a certain way for us in the past, and we naturally assume that this is how things will be. We let our past define what’s possible for us in the future. I’d like to assert that there’s a huge opportunity in seeing the future as independent (after all, it really hasn’t happened yet) and in that getting the opportunity to own or create it. It all starts with telling yourself a “story” about what you’d like to see happen in your future.


CREATE THE RIGHT CONDITIONS

Experiences occur in situations and conditions. For example, if most of your day is spent in a confined work cubicle, that is not a condition for peak experience. If you are not part of an active community that is after big things, you don’t have a condition for peak experience. Here are 3 things I’ve identified for myself that make it possible to have sustainable peak experience:
  • People
    • most great things in life come from being in touch with amazing people. People will surprise you, open new opportunities, result in mind-blowing conversations and experiences.
    • being in touch with incredible people who are up to big things is critical. Logistically, this probably means living in a location full of these people. It also means prioritizing and investing in having relationships as an ongoing effort. There’s no end to it, you’re simply creating a condition of always being in touch with amazing people.
  • Physical health and being in good shape
    • a condition for sustained energy, overall happiness, being up to physical challenges.
    • it’s also a condition for being attractive :)
  • Being up to big things
    • the most interesting people in the world are up to big things and they are interested in being in touch with other people who are also up to big things. So it’s circular: in order to be in touch with people who are up to big things, you have to be up to big things yourself. 
    • being up to big things results in big challenges. Challenges are a requirement for creativity (no challenge = no room for creativity) and for growth experiences.
There can be many more conditions, but the above is a good starting point for me.

BE EMOTIONAL

This last component is something I’m only recently becoming aware of. I thought it was fascinating that, unlike any such event I attended, the Summit opened with a beautiful dance performance accompanied by great music. Right away, this created an emotional charge to the event. I don’t really have a rationale for this, but I know that this works. By comparison to the Summit, I’ve been to events with similar other components: amazing people, great content, etc. But if the emotional connotation isn’t there, the event does not have the same power.  In creating a vision for yourself, or for others, being open to the emotional side of the story makes it possible to have a rich experience, as well as to develop a deep affiliation with the message.

Sustainable peak experience is possible and I have experienced it. It’s also the only life I’m willing to live.

Thanks to kristinatastic for reading this and giving me feedback (and also for being one of the awesomest people in my life)!

A few months ago I switched to the Paleo diet. My main reason for doing so was curiosity and the fact that I kept coming across smart interesting people who had concluded that Paleo was the best thing for their health and energy. 

The basic idea of Paleo eating is that our bodies are adopted to eating what our cave ancestors ate 10k years ago and that agriculture is a relatively recent phenomenon that our bodies haven’t fully evolved to digest. Note that I don’t claim to know whether these claims are valid. I do like the idea of questioning the status quo diet, as well as relying on my own experience of eating this way.

So a quick summary of what you eat on Paleo: 

  • you cut out grains, beans, as well as most nuts
  • you reduce your carbs to about 25 grams per day
  • eat lots of fat and protein
  • cook with coconut oil, gee or lard, rather than vegetable oils
  • cut out all dairy except cheese and full-fat cream
  • vegetables are fine, as are potatoes (especially sweet potatoes or yams)

The reason for this post is that I was just getting ready to leave the house when I realized that I will not have time to eat a meal between 10am and 5:30pm. In the past this would have been a problem, but one of the effects of eating Paleo is that you can fairly easily go for hours with no eating or minimal food. Since you get your energy from slow-burning sources like fat and protein, you can fairly easily last for a while. (And, don’t worry, I will definitely snack.)

Overall, my experience with Paleo has been very positive. In the past, I ate all the time, I ate too much and thought about my weight. Since switching to Paleo, I feel a lot less dependent on food overall and my weight just feels very stable - none of those ups and downs that I used to experience in a single day of eating really occur any more. Energy-wise, I’ve found that I’m a lot less likely to feel tired after a meal and my energy seems not too dependent on food. 

Paleo guidelines have some gray areas, and it becomes a personal mix of choices that work for you. My tweaks include:

  • I eat a fairly large amount of very dark chocolate (it has lots of fat and not a ton of sugar).
  • I did not give up drinking as some would suggest :)  My drink of choice is vodka-soda (especially with potato-based vodka if it’s available) and occasionally wine.
  • I’ve found sweet potatoes to be very important for me on this diet. Without them I just don’t seem to get what I need from my meals. I eat them almost daily.

The best thing about Paleo is that you become a fat snob. You’ll find yourself going to a coffee shop and requesting full-fat whipping cream for your coffee. Trust me, that’s a request they don’t get often! It’s way more radical than asking for a double-soy-half-caf-moca-frappuccino-latte. Bacon and butter will become your best friends.

So why should startup founders eat Paleo? Because it seems to be the most sustainable diet for your energy and for going through an entire day without eating while meeting with investors, recruiting and running around :)

Oh, and here’s my favorite resource for learning about what real people do when eating Paleo: http://paleohacks.com/.

1

My favorite part is that this was written in only 20 min! That’s just too great. 

via http://www.brepettis.com/blog/2009/3/3/the-cult-of-done-manifesto.html

I present to you a manifesto of done. This was written in collaboration with Kio Stark in 20 minutes because we only had 20 minutes to get it done.

The Cult of Done Manifesto

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.
12

We’ve already established that startups are nothing but endless uncertainty. It’s natural for us to try to reduce the amounts of uncertainty we deal with by working with or talking to other people. 

It’s also no secret that you will get conflicting thoughts and advice any time you talk to someone about your startup. So what is a poor confused entrepreneur to do? How do you know who to listen to and what to do with it?

Here’s the deal. The reason there are so many opinions and so many different ways of looking at a startup situation is precisely that the situation can be seen and can go in any one of those ways (plus the ways that no one has even thought of yet). You can prove this to yourself by thinking of all the different success scenarios from the past. It’s actually possible to find proof that various ways exist to succeed and that some of those ways may even appear to be polar opposites. So it’s precisely the uncertainty of the situation that invites all of the opinions. 

It’s tempting to look for the one opinion that is correct. But, hopefully sooner rather than later you realize that the correct opinion simply doesn’t exist. Opinions are just that: opinions. And some of them may even come across quite convincing due to all of the impressive past experience of the person sharing the opinion. And although there’s some validity to the past experience, it’s actually helpful to look at the definition of an opinion here: A view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. 

Pretty dead on. 

So with all this in mind, how do you pick who to continue working with or getting advice from? Because we are dealing with uncertainty of outcome with numerous variables, no one opinion will be right. That actually means you get to choose. You may notice that when you work or talk with certain people, you feel empowered. When you work with or talk to others you feel negative and dis-empowered. Although this is not something that’s set in stone for any individual, most people will have a default way of operating in regards to uncertainty. For some people this default is about minimizing their risks, looking for safety, security and known ways of doing things. Others will seek out a way of looking at each situation creatively, looking for solutions, and looking to make the most of what’s going on in creating the future.

I have experienced this in a very literal way in getting recent feedback and advice on Wanelo and having many conversations with really great people about our future. I have noticed that people have varying responses to our growth with some people getting really excited about it and others responding with caution. Our growth is good, but not at a point when there’s no room for interpretation. In other words, it’s up to us to keep going and get it to a point where interpretation is no longer necessary.

Initially, I, too, was in a place of trying to assess our growth as being either good or bad. I have now gotten to a point where I no longer see it as that, but I focus on what we can do with what’s going on and how we move forward rather than seeing our current results as a final destination. 

Back to answering the question. The most helpful way to choose who to surround yourself with and who to take advice from is by paying attention to which conversations leave you empowered to move forward and minimizing the conversations that don’t. The second kind of conversations will actually drain your energy and, in the end, assuming that our goal is to produce results, will largely waste your time. Meaning, you will not get results from those conversations. Worse, if you take them for the truth, you might give up altogether.

When you do find those people who leave you empowered, especially in situations of high uncertainty, hold on to them. Those are the people who you want in your support network and who will help you build your business.

14


Startup culture encourages startup advice. Entrepreneurs want to write it. Other entrepreneurs want to read it.

You can read all sorts of things from people who know exactly what they are talking about. Don’t raise funding. Raise as much as you can. Build an amazing product and they will come. NO, don’t worry about your product, just figure out your distribution - it’s the only thing that matters. And so on.

This creates a temptation to learn by reading about other people’s experience. Now, I would venture to say that it’s unlikely that any of the people who are writing about their experience have gotten it from reading others’ advice. In fact, we are interested in these folks’ writing precisely because they have experienced the things they are writing about first-hand. They’ve made their mistakes and have put in the hours.


I started thinking about this because I realized that all this reading was actually slowing me down. It’s possible that this is highly personal and that for others reading is a good way to learn about various aspects of running a startup. Personally, however, I have started to see a negative impact in three ways.

1. Reading/research clutters up your digital workspace.
First, every day I would open and keep open literally tens of browser windows and tabs. It would not be unusual for me to keep 8 browser windows with say 10  tabs per window. And some of those, I would keep open for a week or more because I didn’t want to lose the valuable information that I haven’t had a chance to process yet.


As an entrepreneur, I’m working on several major aspects of my startup at once. So naturally, there is a lot out there that could be relevant for me to read. I would sit down at my computer and instead of working on the task I set out to work on, I would have to deal with all of the open windows/tabs, frequently getting distracted, or getting pulled back into my research. 


2. You’ll put yourself into the box of doing things the “right” way.
I noticed myself recently operating from the position that there’s some “right” way of doing things and that I should figure it out by doing all the reading I need, or talking to all the people I can or should talk to, and then I will know what it is. As soon as I started to let go of this desire to find the answer by reading, I have empowered myself to move forward with speed by being comfortable with NOT knowing the perfect answer, but instead by giving myself the room I need to try things on my own, to make mistakes and to learn from them.

3. The time spent reading or researching is the time spent not doing. 
Yes, sometimes you need to read and research to learn. But if you’ve done the work of identifying your highest value task for the day (I will write about this in the near future, but for now see my guest blog post at Women 2.0), it will rarely be to read or research. Most likely, it’s something about talking to people, designing, hiring, etc.

For the purposes of productivity, you can look at your time as a single track. You choose what the track is filled with, but there’s only one track, so you have to choose wisely. If you’re overdoing the reading or researching part, you simply don’t have the time to take other actions at the same time. So it’s a trade off.

4. There is absolutely no end to how much you can read or research.
I have long been comfortable with saying no to push sales. If you’re a marketer or a sales person who tries to call me, you will get a straight and simple no. I will not even give you a chance to speak because it’s clear to me that this is not how I want to find out about services under any circumstances. I know that when I need a service or a product, I will seek it out, do my research, call the right people and so on. The push approach to sales does not work in my world. 

I have realized that I can and should apply the same thinking to the reading/research I do. ENDLESS amount of startup reading comes my way on a daily basis. I’m coming to terms with the idea that it’s not possible to read it all, save it or organize it all and that, on the flip side, it is possible to seek out the specific information I need exactly when I need it. I may not be able to find that perfect source that would come my way in the previous approach, but -hey - that approach is simply unworkable. 

Entrepreneurs are known for inventing new ways of doing things. And yes, learning by reading can be good. But at best its role should be supplementary to your experience from doing. The focus and prioritization should always be on doing first.

As I became aware of all this, I have started to consciously pull back from the desire to read or research and am using the following guidelines:

  • I no longer allow myself to keep browsers open unless they pertain to the specific task I’m working right now. I have on a couple of occasions simply shut down all of my open windows without worrying about going through them. It can be uncomfortable, but the benefits outweigh the costs.
  • I consciously give myself permission to make mistakes. I’ve found this liberating and empowering and in tune with my natural way of learning. As soon as I do this, the pressure to be perfect goes away, and instead I’m just having fun doing what I love doing and learning from it.
  • I am adopting a pull approach to reading and research. I tell myself that I will find this information if and when I need it. I first consider ignoring it, then, if it seems worth reading, I save it to my Instapaper account for possible future reading. I make an effort to not read it now because that would take me away from the task I’ve set out to work on. 

Of course, the irony is that if you’ve made it this far in the post, you’re reading. But, hey, that’s your choice :) 

Happy doing!