Musings post-Africa

Jul 20, 2013

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I’ve been home from Africa for about a week now, but only made it back to L.A. a couple days ago. I took a few days in Florida to sleep, hang out with my parents, brothers, and grandparents, and just all around make the time zone shift less jarring (7 hours is better than 10 hours)… anyways. The trip was awesome. I met so many amazing people and had 10 days to get out of the daily grind and think about my future. I’ll write more about the entrepreneurs I met and details of my trip later, but the biggest thing I came away with was this: As I met with smart kids building companies and apps across the world in Africa, I realized where my passion lies… I’m an entrepreneur, straight up. I can’t get around it. I started my first company when I was 10 years old and that was the coolest thing ever. When I got started getting “real jobs”, I worked for a tiny organization, then a mid-sized company, and now a massive global consultancy. And it’s been a good ride; I’m happy for my time in corporate America. My time in consulting has taught me a lot of things - for example, to be successful you need to find your niche, network until you get where you want to be, work your ass off, and build your own career (‘cuz it ain’t gonna build itself).

On that note, I was talking to one of my consulting buddies today and he reminded me of an event we both attended with a bunch of new hires at our firm. The main question coming from about 90% of them, mostly kids fresh out of college had to do with how they would get promoted. Not insightful questions about industries, technology trends, our clients, etc. Everyone wants to know how to keep moving up. Everyone wants a career path. And at the big firms, they sell you on a career path. To partner. To managing director. To whatever the pinnacle is at the firm. And the best and brightest and most importantly, the most tenacious, get there. The rest, burn out or drop out, whether from exhaustion or realizing they want to be somewhere else. And while few of us actually survive the rat race, when it comes down to it, these big companies are the only ones that really can offer a somewhat settled career path for their employees.

But, these jobs are not the future and many of them are going away. The new economy is for go-getters who aren’t afraid to blaze their own trails. And thankfully, the old economy taught me a little of what I need to survive in the new economy. One of the other things I’ve learned over the last few years is how clunky big organizations are. Some of them have such momentum in the marketplace that they can afford to have whole departments operating highly inefficiently and still be ok. And the internal resistance to change can be so huge. Plus liability, plus legal considerations, plus corporate bureaucracy… it all adds up to keep the Fortune 100, 500, 1000 pretty damn sluggish. Sure, there is innovation but it is so limited by the above factors. And I’m tired of spending my time pushing against it. There’s a lot of money to be made in helping big companies make tiny little incremental process improvements. But what fun is there in that? The real innovative change is going to come from low-friction, highly-flexible business environments pushing in to take ground from the big guys. Startups. Upstarts.

So I’ve decided, I’m moving out into the brave world of Silicon Beach, Silicon Valley, Silicon whatever. I don’t exactly know when, and for now I’m still plugging along with the big guy. But I know I want to spend a significant portion of my life building things from the ground up, and then hopefully helping other people do the same by investing and mentoring. I think prescient investors know that the next frontier is Africa and the Middle East and there are so many smart kids there who are going to kill it once governments open up and the internet juices start flowing freely (African entrepreneurship is taking off, with some notable exceptions, including Ethiopia… for a multitude of reasons). I’m excited for the next chapter of my uncertain career path, and even more excited for the next chapter of innovation and global entrepreneurship, which I’ve decided I want in on. More to come soon about all the cool entrepreneurs I met in Africa.

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