3 Career Lessons the Most Successful People Can't Teach You
There’s no shortage of interviews with Steve Jobs discussing Apple, or Jeff Bezos talking about Amazon, or Mark Zuckerberg talking about Facebook. These guys are incredibly successful, so they’re clearly great sources for advice on leadership, innovation, and hard work.
But they’re also incredibly successful. They’re speaking from a place to which most professionals can’t really relate. (When’s the last time your company’s stocks sold for $120 per share?)
Enter: StartUp, a podcast about “what happens when someone who knows nothing about businesses starts one.” Unlike Jobs, Bezos, or Zuckerberg, the featured CEO (and host of the show) hasn’t yet achieved success. He’s still in the figuring-things-out stage.
StartUp is funny, it’s relatable, and almost incidentally, it has tons of takeaways for everyone—from an entry-level employee to a mid-level manager to, of course, a CEO. Here are a couple of the things I’ve learned so far. Bezos? Are you listening?
Lesson 1: Perfect Your Pitch
In the first episode, there’s a squirm-worthy pitch meeting between Alex Blumberg, the CEO, and Chris Sacca, a Silicon Valley billionaire. It’s uncomfortable because Blumberg has no clue how to pitch: He stutters, uses jargon, rambles, and basically makes investing in his company sound really unattractive.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you should definitely know how to sell your idea to investors. However, the rest of us need to master pitching, too. We’re always selling something, whether that’s our services, an idea, a product, or even ourselves (cough, job interview!).
Not sure you’re nailing your elevator speech? Check out: “3 Smart Ways to Upgrade Your Elevator Pitch,” “The Secret to Giving the Perfect Pitch,” and “Secrets for Nailing the Pitch from 7 Female Founders.”
Lesson 2: Don’t Cover Up Your Mistakes
Episode nine was a little painful to listen to as well, because Blumberg’s team really, really screwed up. Long story short, they unintentionally made a mom believe her son was going to be featured on This American Life (a famous radio segment from NPR), but really he was used in a Squarespace ad. The mom was mad, the media was mad, and—I assume—Squarespace was mad.
I wouldn’t know any of this if Blumberg and his employees hadn’t been completely open about what happened. Not only did they reach out to the mom, but they broadcast their mistake to the whole world via podcast. And guess what? That was the best thing they could’ve done to get everyone to calm down and move on. It’s hard to stay angry when the people you’re angry at have acknowledged their mistake humbly and without qualifying it.
The takeaway: When you mess up, admit it, make a genuine apology, and commit yourself to doing things differently in the future. For some help along the way, check out our ideas for how to turn a setback into a success.
Lesson 3: Don’t Be Afraid to Open Up
For 13 episodes, Blumberg has let his audience in on, well, just about everything. We hear his struggle to decide how much equity to give his partner. We hear his employees talk about how they’re at their breaking points. We even hear his plans to eventually take his company from purely content to content and technology.
You’d think sharing so much info would harm Blumberg, but it’s had the opposite effect. During his last round of funding, he actually had too many wannabe investors. Prestigious organizations (like Google Ventures!) volunteer to help him so they can be on the podcast. Most importantly, Blumberg’s decision to be transparent means he isn’t focused on beating his competition—he’s just focused on making a great product.
Even if you’re not a CEO, there are advantages to sharing what you’re doing rather than hiding it from your competitors. For example, if your department excels at meeting deadlines, consider sharing your secrets for success with a rival department. They’ll be grateful, your team will want to work even harder to re-establish its edge, and the company as a whole will benefit.
Or maybe you turn in reports your boss gushes over. Tell your colleagues what your manager appreciates about your reports—like your so-simple-a-four-year-old-could-get-it writing style—and watch everyone’s work get better.
For more on this, read up: “Why Supporting Your Competitors Is Good for Business,” “That’s My Idea! How to Deal With Competition as an Entrepreneur,” and “Why It’s Time to Share Your Salary With Your Co-Workers.”
StartUp is only in its first season, which means there are many, many more lessons and laughs to come. Click here to subscribe on itTunes.