Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
My parents escaped communist Poland in the 80s and ended up in San Francisco. I have dozens of stories, but my childhood probably wasn’t much different from any other child of an immigrant experience. Money was never abundant, but it also wasn’t seen as the most important thing. The overall theme of my childhood was understanding the value of hard work, and observing how hard my parents and family had to work to get by, this shaped my work ethic immensely. My parents started a small flower shop in 1989 in downtown San Francisco and worked hard to make it work. When someone asks me what I had to sacrifice and do to succeed as an entrepreneur, I give a simple answer: “I worked about half as hard as my parents did.”
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
It’s important to be purposeful in who you surround yourself with, and really great people that have your best interests at heart are hard to find. One cheat code I discovered is that you can learn everything you need to know about a person by sharing three things and gauging their reaction: 1. Something positive that happened to you that you are proud of. 2. Something negative that happened to you. 3. Something controversial, but undeniably true.
Another important thing I realized is that you don’t have control over most things that can happen to you in life, just about the only thing you can control is how you react to them.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
The worst advice I have ever heard is to “follow your passion”. Watch “Don’t follow your passion” by Mike Rowe, as he put to words more eloquently than I can something I had to learn painfully, and early in my career.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
One of the darkest, but in some ways most enlightening periods of my life was in my early 20s when I decided I’m going to take the entrepreneurial leap. I realized that the path I was on was not going to get me to where I believed I would be most impactful. The reason it was a difficult period is that I did this while in debt, with no savings, no connections, and little experience. I slept on friend’s couches, worked various part-time jobs, read 10-15 books per month, and worked for free if the experience was valuable. Mentally, the first 2 years of giving up a lucrative job in the financial sector were incredibly difficult, but what kept me going is that each day was just slightly better than the last, and I felt like I was truly moving forward.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing that contributes to success, but when it comes to professional success, one realization stands out: generosity is not counted in dollars and cents, it can be spending time, providing support, sharing knowledge, and giving trust. I have been immensely generous with my time helping people, mostly professionally, and asking nothing in return. This has returned 1000 times for me in my career. I especially enjoy helping early-stage founders get their footing through lecturing roles at the Founder Institute and the Alchemist Accelerator.
What is your morning routine?
The time I wake up varies depending on what I have to do the next day, but normally I wake up anywhere between 5:30 am and 8 am. I make some traditional ceremonial matcha green tea as my morning moment to think, look through my to-do list and prioritize. The most important part of my morning is figuring out the 3 complex or difficult things that would have the most positive impact, and getting them done before 1 pm.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I make it a point to exercise my creative brain and make a habit of learning something new every day. Whether that’s through telling bad jokes to my friends, composing music, or more recently, writing children’s books. Creativity has gotten me much farther than my technical skills.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Firstly, get enough sleep. Secondly, start your day by asking yourself if you could accomplish 3 things today that would have the most impact on your life/business/relationship, what would they be? Do them before noon.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
On a personal level, three books were standouts.
This helped me understand how inventions often have unexpected and serendipitous consequences or impacts. It is the first book about entrepreneurship that just “made sense”, most other books I’ve read seemed to speak to a specific type of inventor or entrepreneur that isn’t the opportunist I consider myself.
On a professional level, Zero to One by Peter Thiel is the book I wish I had when I first took the entrepreneurial leap over a decade ago. And, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
The quote that hangs on the wall in my office is by Leo Buscaglia.
“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”
But one quote that I think about a lot is attributed to Einstein.
“A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity.”