"The Start-up of You" - Book thoughts and summary

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was reading Reid Hoffman's "The Start-up of You."  I just finished the book, and wanted to jot down and share a few of my impressions and lessons learned. 

If you can't tell from my earlier post, I'm a huge fan of the book. It gave me the push to create this site, and to be more active in networking (I started looking more into those networking apps like Glassbreakers and Weave). I'm going to highlight a few of the important points in the book that really stuck with me.


Don't be like Detroit

Towards the beginning of the book, Reid writes about Detroit and the once powerful automotive industry. He describes how Detroit used to be like the old version of  Silicon Valley in the mid 20th century with the rise of local start-ups like Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. The city was once known for it's entrepreneurship, innovation and technology, attracting people all over the nation to move there. But down the line, those automotive companies became stagnant, as they "clung stubbornly to their decades-old practice" (p.15) and started losing to the competition. They didn't invest in lean manufacturing, didn't create more fuel efficient vehicles, and weren't able to keep competitive with international Japanese companies. Fast forward a couple decades - we all know what happened to Detroit: the government had to bail out GM, and the city now has one of the highest crime rates in the nation. 

The moment you being to take success for granted is the moment a competitor lunges for your jugular.
— page 15

After reading this story, it really gave me that push because we are all at risk of becoming the next Detroit (or getting phased out / passed over by a more qualified, accomplished candidate).  So, in order to prevent something like that from happening to your career, Reid makes suggestions like ABZ Planning, creating a personal brand, and strengthening your network. 

Plan A, Plan B, and Plan Z

This is the idea is that wherever we are in our professional journey, we should always have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan Z (or ABZ Planning). What we are currently doing is our plan A. Where we want to be is our Plan B. Our Plan Z is our "safety net"  - something that we should always feel comfortable falling back on incase the other 2 plans fall through. In our careers, we should always be adapting, evolving and growing (permanent beta, as he calls it), so ABZ Planning is crucial. 

While you’ll always be tinkering and adjusting your Plan A, should you decide you need to make a bigger change, that’s when you pivot to Plan B. Pivoting isn’t throwing a dart on the map and then going there. It’s changing direction or changing your path to get somewhere based on what you’ve learned along the way. Once you’ve pivoted and are on a new track, that becomes your new Plan A.
— page 68

Build and maintain a professional network

We all know the importance of networking, and the book will drill this into your head of why we should (or need to) network.  This goes beyond just expanding your first-degree networks; Reid highlights that we should be leveraging our network's network (2nd and 3rd degree contacts), because that opens our exposure to exponentially more people, opportunities and varying perspectives (or what he calls network intelligence and network literacy). Basically, you can't always do it on your own - you need the help, guidance, and knowledge of others. We should continue to invest and maintain these relationships over time (he gave suggestions on how to keep in touch and gave the reader networking homework). 


I could probably keep writing (and make this an actual book report), but I'll leave it at that. My suggestion is to read the book - it's a super easy read and will really light that fire. Enjoy!

What I'm reading: The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman

Every once in a while, I come across a REALLY good book that changes my perspective on life, and for a lack of better words, kicks me in the butt and whips me into shape. "The Start-up of You" by Reid Hoffman is one of those books. To be honest, I'm not even finished with the book yet because Reid Hoffman was so compelling that I stopped mid-way to create this website (it was one of the things he talked about). No kidding.

For those who don't know, Reid Hoffman is most famously known as the co-founder of LinkedIn. He's a entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and overall badass in the tech industry. Naturally, his book is about career advice, branding, and social networking in the modern day era.  Though I hadn't heard about it before, I thought it sounded interesting and picked it up because I was curious about what he had to say. I was blown away at how thorough and in depth his career recommendations are. At the end of every chapter, he gives you homework to complete (so I guess you can say that creating this website is an assignment of his). 

I'll need to write more about lessons learned, but I'll save that for another post after I'm done reading. For now, I think everyone should try to grab a copy of the book, or at least visit The Start-up of You website to learn more about this movement. Trust, I've been thinking about launching this site for a while (but been lazy/procrastinated), so if this book can be that catalyst for me to take the next step, it won't disappoint. 

Incase you are curious, the other books that have also kicked me in the butt (and might also give you that push) are: I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, and The Defining Decade  by Meg Jay

My Journey About Getting into Business School

After a year of working towards my business school applications, I got the good news this week: I got into business school!  Though I have not formally accepted (yet), I will most likely be attending Duke University's Fuqua School of Business next year.  This was my top choice, so I'm very excited. For those who don't know my backstory, I'll tell you why getting into business school in itself is a huge accomplishment for me.  If you haven't read my first post, you'll understand why, but here's the full scoop (it's a pretty long read).

Getting Rejected.. Multiple Times Back in 2010, I felt like I hit rock bottom. I had tried applying to grad schools (for Sociology) twice; once in my 4th year, and once after graduating.  I was rejected both times from all schools, applying to about 16 different schools in total. When the rejections came, it was devastating. I felt like all my efforts in trying to be a good student was wasted.  I felt like a complete failure: who gets rejected from all graduate schools? TWICE?! Me.

Plus, it didn't help that both my brother and cousin applied to grad programs at the same time as me. They got good news: my brother was accepted into a PhD program at USC, and my cousin was accepted into a Masters program at Columbia. This made me feel like even more of a failure (yes, we have a pretty competitive and academically focused family).

My mom would try to appease me by telling me that "I'm not cut out for academia" and that I "just wasn't the studious type." In a way, she was completely right, but more importantly, the timing just wasn't right for me.  It wasn't my time to go back to school because I lacked the work experience and maturity to even understand what kind of career path a graduate degree in Sociology would entail.

I learned that I needed to stop comparing myself to my friends and family who were already in grad school and work at my own pace. I'll get there.. someday.

Re-focusing I don't remember exactly when I had the urge to go to business school, but it was probably in 2010 or 2011, right after receiving all my rejections. I needed another plan, and my sad 30K sales job at the Chinese company was not something I wanted to do forever, nor was it a path I wanted to continue with.

It's funny: I remember when I interviewed at my first job (at the Chinese company), my interviewer asked me what my 5 year plans were. I remember blurting out "business school" on a whim. I probably also threw that answer around to appease my parents when they would ask what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that as long as I continued along this path in business, it was something I would consider.

It wasn't until after working at Google and working at my current start-up that I started to get serious about business. I would get these A-HA moments at my start-up that made me really excited: how are we going to monetize? acquire users? stand apart from the competition? stay afloat with funding? I would speak to some really experienced business development executives who were so knowledgable and savvy; I would try to mirror their charisma, learn their negotiation tactics, and see things from their business perspective. That in itself was a huge resource for me, and it made me excited to learn about other options outside of HR / Recruiting. It's not that I was unhappy with what I was doing, but that I wanted to diversify my skills and make myself more marketable to future employers.

Taking the first step: the Dreaded GMAT This year, I committed myself to studying for the GMAT and working on business school applications. Just to let you know, standardized testing is NOT my forte.  I wish I was able to do well on those types of tests, but it never works out in my favor. I hover around a 50% curve (or less in come cases), so I am in by no means bragging or even proud of my scores. The first time I took my GMAT in May, I completely bombed (I even took a GMAT prep course, but I guess that didn't help). I'm not even kidding you - it was embarrassing.  After coming back from the test center, I came home, cried and set a date for my second test immediately.

I gave myself a month break after taking the test the first time. Sometime before my second test, I had a panic attack. I remember suddenly crying, hyperventilating and panicking in my room about this dreaded test.  Thoughts were running through my head: what if I do even worse than the first time? Is that even possible?! What if I apply to grad school again and don't get in - that would be my third time trying! I eventually got over my self pity and kicked my self denigrating thoughts to the side. I needed to actually do something about it instead of cry, complain and whine about how hard the test was. I decided to get a private tutor to help me better prepare for my second test. We met 2-3 times a week. It definitely helped, but it was a brutal and time consuming process.

The Application Process I had been pretty studious about doing my research on schools pretty early on in the game. Maybe I'm obsessive. I created an excel spreadsheet of which schools I wanted to apply to and stayed on top of recruiting events and open houses. I ended up going to about 4 different informational sessions and tried to connect with admissions officers so that they knew who I was. I also reached out to friends/alumni/current students of schools I was interested in; whoever had an MBA or was pursuing one, I wanted to talk to to get more perspective. I also sought MBA application consulting services (just for the first initial free assessment - I ain't payin'). I probably also talked to about 4-5 different consulting services to see what I could do to make my application stronger, and they all gave me similar and generic advice. In the end, I didn't use any of them but just focused on writing my own application in my own voice.  Even though those services claim to help candidates stand apart from the traditional "cookie cutter background," to me, their service seemed really cookie cutter in itself and it really stressed me out. Last but not least, my recommenders knew of my bschool goals at least 3-4 months in advance and had plenty of time to write to a letter of recommendation.

Because I wasn't going to use an MBA admissions consultancy service, my strategy was to do some deep thinking and soul searching to really understand why I wanted to go to business school. Before I can even convince anyone else, I need to be able to truly understand my own motives. Once that's in place and my dots are connected, I sell others on my vision.

My Support NetworkNaturally, I was really scared to even consider applying for schools again. If it weren't for my supportive friends and significant other, I probably would have quit after taking the GMAT. But, I'm thankful and really happy to have supportive people in my life who pick me up when I'm down, believe in my potential and give me the confidence to try. Not only do they provide emotional support, but they also understand and give me the time and space to focus on my achieving my goals.  They understood why I was so mia this year and were okay with it.

I'll be honest, I tried to keep my family out of the loop about my goals in applying for business school because sometimes I get negative energy and general doubts from them (and because this was something I needed to do for myself, not to appease my parents). So, they would get updates here and there, but in general, I knew that distance from any sort of doubt and negativity was exactly what I needed. I needed to stay focused, and couldn't risk allowing negative thoughts get to my head. Of course now that I've been accepted, they are very supportive, but during the process, they never believed. It was a difficult struggle.

ConclusionLooking back, I'm actually VERY thankful that I never got into a Sociology grad school program because I would be in a completely different place from where I am now. I'm glad that I took the extra 4 years to mature, develop, grow, and soul search. Without all the anguish, failure and rejection, I wouldn't be who I am. I'm excited for new adventures and the next chapter of my life!

In my next post, I'll share with you all the lessons that I learned from this process.

Networking Tips for Introverts

Ever since I can remember, my mom always told me that "it's about who you know rather than what you know."  At school and professionally, I was constantly reminded of the need to network. As an introvert, networking always made me feel a little uncomfortable; plus, I consider myself a more reserved person.  I would attend events and feel awkward about introducing myself. I disliked small talk. It felt unnatural to force a connection with someone I barely knew. I question how adding another acquaintance to my social network would benefit me. And most importantly, I felt young and inexperienced in the field, rambling or nodding my head to conversations I can barely follow. Leave me alone; I just want to be a wallflower.

But why is it important?  Because 70-80% of jobs are found through networking.

Until recently, I realized the power (and magic) of networking, and why we should all do it. I had to force myself to get over my introversion fears; nowadays, people (like my mom) don't believe me when I say I'm an introvert.

If you sound anything like me, here are a few tips on how to make networking less scary and how to be more successful at it.

Quality over quantity If you are at a networking event and you see your colleague picking up 5x more business cards than you, don't get discouraged. As an introvert, we tend to value small intimate group settings, rather than large parties -- and that's perfectly okay. In fact, interacting closely and having just 5 quality conversations during an event will give you not only more alone time with the person, but also give you the opportunity to know them better. If you met 50 people at an event, that's great, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the depth of your conversation will get you somewhere. Plus, it's more difficult to keep in touch with all 50 contacts, or to have them all remember who you are. Find your 5 quality people, nourish that relationship, keep in touch with them, and expand your network on-going.

It's a two way street When I was younger, I thought networking was so superficial. I felt like a phony because as a sales representative, my train of thought was that everyone was a lead; my ulterior motive was to sell and weasel my way into getting that sale.  Since a lot of the people I met were senior and older executives, I didn't feel like I could do anything in return for them. What do I have to offer them anyway? Now that I look back, I was approaching this all wrong. I can add value.  If not now, then maybe in the future when I am more established. Plus, senior executives could use a young, fresh, millennial perspective on things.

Here's an example: in 2010, I was an intern in the Department of Commerce in Washington D.C., and briefly met the head of department I was interning at. I just graduated undergrad, and it was intimidating to meet such a "bigwig." After all, he was appointed by Obama and everyone in this org essentially reported to him. I shyly added him as a contact on LinkedIn (because one of the other fearless interns encouraged me to), and he accepted my request. We never talked until earlier this year (aka 4 years later) when he messaged me, asking for advice on how to build a team. Since then, we have a cordial relationship, and I consult for his start-up every once in a while.

Moral of the story:  It's a two way street. Even if you aren't as established in your career (now), don't be intimidated because there's always a possibility to work together down the line. Stop approaching networking as a bunch of leads; humanize people, connect with them on a personal level, and find ways you could both help one another out. 

The more you give, the more you get To reiterate my point above, networking is all about helping one another out. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. You should always be willing to offer your help first. I find that those who are defensive or unwilling to help out their contacts will get less in return; people seem to remember that down the line. For example, if you ask a business acquaintance for an introduction to one of their contacts, and they help you out, you should be prepared to do the same if the tables turn. If someone has done favors for you in the past, it's bad etiquette to refuse if they ask you for a favor back. These are some tips that I've learned from Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Make new friends, but keep the old.. Remember that nursery rhyme we used to sing when we were kids? Yeah, it still applies in business. Stay in touch with your business acquaintances, new and old! Maybe you haven't seen them in a while, and you're not bold enough to invite them for lunch. Technology is great because it makes for keeping in touch really easy. Try commenting on LinkedIn/Facebook updates, forwarding an email that reminds you of them/their job, or sending a text message to keep in touch.  Being truly genuine allows relationships to grow naturally and organically.

See? Networking as an introvert isn't so bad! It just takes practice and viewing it from a different perspective.  Also, for those who haven't already seen Susan Cain's TED Talk about The Power of Introverts, I highly recommend watching it! Her book, "Quiet" is phenomenal and sheds a completely different light on how to perceive introversion.