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Career Tips for Entrepreneurs from VC Marc Andreessen

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We just came across a series of four careers advice posts by Marc Andreessen (hat tip, Satvik Beri).

We’re always on the look out for thoughtful careers advice from very successful individuals aimed at people looking to make a big impact – we think it’s one of the best sources of careers advice, and we think these posts qualify. Andressen co-authored Mosaic (the first web browser), founded Netscape, and then led a successful career in venture capital.

The advice is particularly orientated towards people who want to enter the technology industry, which we think is a particularly promising path to social impact.

The posts are here:

Key points made

1) Do not plan your career because the world is too unpredictable. Rather, focus on developing skills and pursuing the best opportunities open to you.

We agree there are problems with making detailed career plans and that the future is highly unpredictable. Our solution to planning is to focus on high quality evaluation of your opportunities over the next few years, and to otherwise be guided by a broad long-term vision. We may favor slightly more long-term direction than Andreessen, because we think some causes are more promising than others (though he also agrees that some industries are predictably better than others).

We wholeheartedly agree that it’s very important to develop a useful package of skills that will serve you well in a variety of potential paths. More generally, we emphasise building useful skills, useful connections and good credentials, which we call career capital.

2) If you want to make a big impact, be prepared to take on risk.

Andreessen thinks that the best opportunities generally involve significant risk, so it’s difficult to have substantial achievements without taking on risk.

We think this is plausible. Some additional evidence is provided by high expected returns from start-ups, set against very high risks. Overall, however, we’re unsure about the extent to which taking on more risk will allow you to have more impact.

3) Assess opportunities in the context of your entire career.

Andreessen explains that people tend not to accept enough risk because they assess opportunities in isolation, neglecting that they can diversify the risk of individual decisions by taking many bets over their careers.

We haven’t come across this bias before, so we don’t put much weight on it. Nevertheless, we think the broad advice to “assess opportunities in the context of your entire career” makes a lot of sense.

4) Early in your career, emphasise building skills and experience, and sacrifice income security.

5) If you’re dissatisfied with your field, leave.

6) It’s normally better to be at the geographical hub of your industry.

We’re aware there’s an economic literature showing that geographical hubs can involve much higher productivity. We’ve also found empirical evidence that Silicon Valley is the best place to be a software engineer. We regard this as a slight update in favor of working in hubs, though we’d like to see more systematic studies.

7) Study substantive, quantitative undergraduate degrees.

Andreessen thinks these help you learn how to do something difficult and useful; teach you to think logically and rationally; and signal seriousness to future employers.

We broadly agree with this, and have found evidence that employers prefer STEM degrees. However, it can also be useful to get high grades, especially for academic careers, which means it’s also important to study subjects that motivate you.

8) You can make up for an unimpressive undergraduate degree with a strong graduate degree, though it’s even better to have two impressive degrees!

Andreessen thinks that the combination of an MBA and engineering undergraduate is particularly valuable, because there’s a shortage of people with strong quantitative skills and business sense. We think this is an interesting idea that we’d like to explore further.

9) Gain as much work experience and do as many internships while at school as possible.

10) Aim to be in the top 25% for a rare combination of 3-4 skills.

Andreessen thinks that the top levels of success generally come from being the best at something, or being one of the only people with a valuable combination of skills (we’ve found this idea in other places e.g., Cal Newport’s ‘winner takes all’ vs ‘auction’ market distinction). He thinks the second strategy is much easier than the first.

11) The most useful skills to develop are communication, management, sales, finance, and international awareness.

We’ve also thought that communication, management, and sales are among the most useful transferable skills. Finance and international awareness were new, so we’ve updated in favor of considering them.

12) Young people today are hardworking, but may find it difficult to deal with really screwing up.

13) Pick young industries or old industries that are ripe for change.

Andreessen thinks that growth and change in an industry open up more opportunities for an ambitious young person.

14) Always aim to be a small fish in a big pond.

Andreessen thinks that working with the best people is the quickest way to learn and come across good opportunities.

15) For development, go to small, high growth companies, and aim to learn how the industry works.

We find his reasons plausible: In high growth companies, you can perform a wider range of tasks; there are more promotion opportunities; you’ll get used to being in a high-energy environment; and if your company grows a lot, it’ll look good on your CV.

He thinks that working at big companies teaches you skills that are mainly applicable to other big companies, and signals that you want to spend your career in big companies. He cautions that start-ups are highly variable in quality, so they are not automatically better for skill building.

16) Build killer skills and experiences at a high-growth company before going to a start-up or starting your own.

This seems to be a point of division in the start-up world. Some people recommend entering start-ups immediately, while others recommend building skills first. We’ll write more about this in a future post.

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About the Author

This article was produced by 80,000 Hours. 80,000 Hours is a web platform that is dedicated to helping as many people as possible lead high-impact careers.They do this by providing career advice for talented young people who want to have a social impactsee more.

Entrepreneurship

Is There A Coworking Space Bubble?

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An annual growth rate of nearly 100%, almost five years in a row? More than 60 coworking spaces in a city like Berlin? Are these the characteristics of a bubble? Nope, these are characteristics of a lasting change in our world of work, which has been further catalyzed by the recent economic crises in many countries. But what makes this change different to a bubble? We’ve summarized some arguments of why the coworking movement is based on a sustainable change. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to open a good working coworking space.

Five reasons why the growth of coworking spaces is based on organic and sustainable growth: 

1. Coworking spaces invest their own money and create real wealth

Already, there is a convincing argument supporting why coworking spaces are not developing in a bubble: the fact that they create real wealth.

Whether referring to the dotcom bubble a decade ago or the real estate crisis in Spain or the United States, the crisis originated in a glut of cheap money, in an environment in which the sender and the recipient were unacquainted. From funds and banks, money flowed in steady streams to investments which offered little resistance and the most promising returns – which only a little while later turned into delusions and ruined investments.

Redistributed risks create illusions. Those people who distributed the money rarely wore the risk of investment decisions. The risk was mainly taken by small shareholders or people who bought parts of those investments. This was because either both parties’ (better) judgement was drowned out by the noise of the market, or because shareholders were unaware of the risk, and were at the mercy of banks and funds for reliable information.

Another fundamental condition for the creation of bubbles are the sheer amounts of money that flow from various locations globally and are concentrated, by comparison, in much fewer places.

Most coworking spaces, however, receive their funding from local or nearby sources and do not operate within this financial system. In fact, the founders mainly inject the bulk of the required investment, and turn to friends or relatives for additional support. They wear the full brunt of the risks that are involved in small-time investment.

They have access to much more information, because it is their own project, rather than a foreign one thousands of miles away. This also includes failures and mistakes that are encountered along the way, but the risk is less redistributed, thereby decreasing the probability of failures.

2. Labor market changes demand on certain office types lastingly

Most users of coworking spaces are self-employed. The proportion of employees is also on the rise, in many cases simply because they work for small companies that increasingly opt to conduct their business in coworking spaces rather than in traditional offices. The industry of almost all coworkers fall within the Internet-based creative industries.

With flexibilisation of work markets, new mobile technologies that are changing work patterns, and the increase of external services purchasing from large and medium-sized enterprises (outsourcing), the labor market has changed radically in many parts of the world.

The long-term financial and emotional security of becoming an employee no longer exists, especially for younger generations of workers. Bigger companies are quicker to fire than hire, and precarious short-term contracts are on the rise. Promising options on the labor market are more often recuded to freelancer careers and starting your own company.

And that’s possible with less money to invest. All you need is a laptop, a brain and a good network. For years, the number of independent workers and small businesses has been growing worldwide – particularly in internet-based creative industries. Anyone who has sufficient specialized skills and the willingness to take risks may adapt more quickly to market conditions if they own a small business or are self employed; more so than if they were to work in a dependent position in an equally volatile market.

Coworking spaces provide an environment in which to do this. Once they have joined a (suitable) coworking space, these factors become apparent to coworkers, who will remain in their space for years to come.

Furthermore, independent workers rarely fire themselves in crises, and even small companies are less likely to give their employees the boot – compared to their large counterparts. This combination enables more sustainable business models – and less business models à la Groupon.

3. Coworking spaces don’t live on crises

Global economic growth is waning while the number of coworking spaces is continually growing. Do coworking spaces thus benefit from this crisis?

The current crises accelerate the formation and growth of coworking spaces, because they offer solutions and space for the resulting problems. Coworking spaces are therefore not a result of a crisis, but the product of change that pre-dates their existence. A crisis is simply the most visible expression of change.

The first coworking spaces emerged in the late 1990s; the movement’s strong growth started six years ago – before the onset of economic downturns in many countries.

4. Coworking spaces depend on the needs of their members

Most coworking spaces are rarely full. Does this mean they are unsuccessful? On average, only half of all desks are occupied. But the average occupancy rate of 50% refers only to a specific date.

In fact, coworking spaces generally serve more members than they can seat at any given time, since members do not use the spaces simultaneously. Coworking spaces are places for independents who want to work on flexible terms. Smaller spaces rely more on permanent members. Larger spaces can respond more flexibilty to the working hours of its members, and, can rent desks several times over.

If a coworking space is always overcrowded or totally empty, the purpose of said space would be defeated. Firstly, it is rather impossible to work in an overcrowded room. Second, it’s impossible to cowork in an empty room. Given the nature of flexible memberships, a coworking space only can survive if they fit the needs of their members. Members would otherwise be quick to leave, and membership would be much more transient.

5. The coworking market is far from saturation

Less than 2% of all self-employed – and even fewer employees – currently work in coworking spaces. Reporting on coworking may increase, but inflated reporting on the coworking movement in the mainstream media is still far away.

Coverage of coworking space are most likely to be found in the career or local sections in larger publications – front cover coverage remains the dream of many space operators. This is because the whole coworking movement can’t be photographed in one picture. What appears to be a disadvantage, however, is actually a beneficial truth: niche coverage allows the industry to grow organically, and avoid over inflation.

Conclusion

Coworking spaces don’t operate in parallel universes – like the financial market. Demand and supply are almost exclusively organic and operate in the real world economy.

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that opening a coworking spaces will be automaticly successful. Anyone who fails to learn how to deal with potential customers in their market, or is unfamiliar with how coworking communities function, will have a difficult time of making one work. In the same way that business people in other industries will fail if they do not understand their market.

Those who simply tack on the word ‘coworking’ to their space’s facade will need to work harder. The structure of most coworking spaces is based on real work, calculated risk, and real-world supply and demand.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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Callum Connects

Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy

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Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses.

What’s your story?
I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services.

What excites you most about your industry?
The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest.

Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest.

Who inspires you?
Christopher M Duncan.

At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things.

Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa
They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time.

How do you unwind?
Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner.

Shameless plug for your business:
I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads.

Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (https://www.chillicrab.com/nationalday)

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/djtehkh) or visit www.rebirthacademy.sg for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @ www.tinyurl.com/dexclar

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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