2016 – The Year In Review

Five years later, I can still hear his roaring scream in my right ear whenever I sit down to drive a car.

JAAACOOB!!! If you’re not gonna use the rear view mirror, YA MAY AS WELL NOT ‘AVE IT!!!

Damn, I’d forgotten to peek in the mirror – AGAIN. My wonderfully politically incorrect driving instructor Alun then promptly proceeded to block off ALL the mirrors in the car, so I couldn’t see anything behind me at all. Hence the shouting in his rusty voice with the strongest Welsh accent you can imagine. Typically also accompanied by a well placed punch to my arm.

Point taken. While it’s certainly most important to have a clear sense of where I am right now, and what’s coming up in front of me, keeping an eye on what’s behind me is also very valuable.

I was taught this lesson while learning to drive a car. Since then, I’ve realised that it’s also apt analogy for life itself.

I’m often extremely forward-focused, to the point where I could need some punching and shouting to remind me to check my rear view mirrors occasionally. Being aware of this tendency, I know that I need to actively take time out to reflect on recent experiences before rushing towards new ones.

I’ve spent the last month or so reviewing and contemplating the last year, as we were leaving 2016 behind us. These are the lessons I’ve learned in the past year.

Pause & Reflect (Carmel-by-Sea, CA, November 2016)

Entrepreneurship is fun and painful

Building something from nothing is AWESOME!
This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to put two ideas into the world. While the market testing phase of Easybnb arguably started in 2015, the company didn’t get properly into fruition until 2016. From May and onwards, we went all in to grow the company as fast as we saw possible without sacrificing the quality of our services. The summer was incredibly hectic, featuring..

  • acquiring and onboarding ~150+ new customers,
  • getting through the finals of an investment competition,
  • figuring out how to scale our operations in a suitable manner,
  • raising a round of seed funding,
  • setting up shop in four cities at once (Bergen, Oslo, Trondheim, Stavanger),
  • recruiting AMAZING people and building several remote teams from scratch,

..all while running around 18 hours a day setting out fires (mostly figuratively speaking, thank God).

Becoming An Accidental Educator

I also created an educational programme this year, and thus became an accidental educator. Together with Christer Dalsbøe, I set up Early Stage during 2016, an 8-week startup simulator for students curious about entrepreneurship.

None of us had ever set up an educational programme. We didn’t have a big budget, nor a thick Rolodex of contacts, nor just about anything that seemed necessary to make the programme successful.
Most folks were skeptical of the whole thing, even our closest friends had little (if any) faith. What we did have however, was a drive to make an impact, and a desire to create a programme that we would have wanted for ourselves a few years ago.

Joyousness.

I am incredibly proud of what we created and the results that followed. We admitted amazingly talented participants to the programme, secured brilliant mentors to follow the participants’ teams closely for 8 weeks, and convinced some of Norway’s best entrepreneurs to join us as speakers and workshop holders. Most importantly, we got incredible feedback from the participants during and after the programme. The programme delivered loads of learning to everyone involved (ourselves included). We couldn’t have asked for more.

All of this was great fun. And often, rather painful. I’ve basically never worked harder. I’ve never had as many setbacks and proverbial punches in the face. It never seemed to stop. The problems kept coming at us like products on an assembly line. Luckily, the further down our assembly line path towards success we came, the problems became better quality problems. Which is a really dandy way of saying bigger problems.

Pain, gain and all that. It was – and continues to be – totally worth it. Creating stuff is awesome. 

 

I’m awfully bad at most things (and that is great news)

I am not an operations person.
I am not a maintenance of status quo person.
I am definitely not an accountant-ish person.
I am not even an HR person by any stretch of the imagination.

Because I really suck at all of those things.

This is great news. Because other fine folks are excellent performers in such roles. I just need to track them down, work with them and create awesome things together with them.

Building stuff from scratch is a great way to learn about one’s own strengths. And an even better way to discover one’s own blatant shortcomings.

Learning and acknowledging what I’m terrible at has been enlightening on many levels. I’d argue it is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in 2016.
It means I can move forward in my life and career more deliberately. Knowing myself well enables me to choose roles, positions and responsibilities intentionally, with my strengths and weaknesses in mind. It also means I can make a deliberate choice of whether to maximise strengths or to work on fixing my flaws. It means having an awareness of who I need to attract to develop high performing teams for future projects.

I’ve also come to know that I’m pretty darn good at a few things, if I may say so myself. Thinking unconventionally and innovatively, questioning firmly held assumptions and finding and implementing the best technology to solve a given problem come to mind. I might add curating excellent ideas and information, holding funny speeches, and a few more things to the list. However, I’ll spare you and my future self for the self promotion this time around.

Plato told folks to “Know Thyself” a few thousand years ago. I guess he was onto something.

I’m a “project person”

I LOVE embarking on interesting projects with a specified time frame to completion.
Give me an undeveloped idea, a predefined deadline within 6 months and let me run with it.
Bye, see you when I get back with the results.

 

Safe is the new risky. Risky is the new safe

Many people tell me I’m risk seeking because I “dare to try my luck at entrepreneurship”, often followed by some variation “I don’t dare to do that”.

This logic builds on a belief that entrepreneurship is inherently risky.
Which is absolutely right. Statistically speaking, most entrepreneurs spend loads of time, energy, and worse, loads of money, on ventures that fails miserably. Despite all that, is entrepreneurship the riskiest path to take nowadays? I doubt it very seriously. Especially if you’re young and clueless like me.

I’ll argue that a “safe job” is RISKY AS HELL in this day and age.
Open your eyes! Robots come to take your safe job, goddammit! Freelancing is up, full time employment is down just about everywhere (especially in the US)1)For more on this, read James Altucher’s amazing book Choose Yourself.. Pension funds are estimated to be empty by the time our generation stands knocking on their door with empty wallets and stomachs and self esteem buckets. Artificial intelligence will do everything from driving your car to taking your restaurant orders to doing your company’s bookkeeping. That’s right accountants – I’m sorry to bring it to you. Everyone told you it was the safest career choice you could possibly make, but believe me, AI is coming for you too2)See TechCrunch: Goodbye accountants! Startup builds AI to automate all your accounting and Forbes: Big Data, AI And The Uncertain Future For Accountants.

Point being, everything is changing. “Safe choices” aren’t safe anymore. Risky is the new safe.

Watches or Variety?

10 years ago, my father got a fine Omega watch from his employer for 20 years of diligent duty.
He recently got a medal from the King for 30 years of steadfast service. This is mind-boggling to me. I cannot possibly imagine doing the same thing for 30 years, no matter how cool it is3)My father did have a cool job indeed, flying ambulance helicopters to save people in the storms in the North Sea..

Suffice to say, I’m fairly sure I’ll never get a watch from my boss. No royalty-embossed medal for me, either. And to me, that’s a good thing. That means variety, and it means a career with unexpected twists and turns. It means working on vastly different projects, with uniquely diverse teams, solving fundamentally new, challenging problems on an ongoing basis. I’m not saying one cannot get that in a “safe job”. But I am suggesting it’s less likely than venturing out on your own path, the one less travelled.

Entrepreneurship is the safest path when you’re starting out.

Let’s be radically honest with ourselves for a moment. As 20-somethings starting out on our career paths, we’re all pretty clueless about the world. OK, at least I am.

Now, as a clueless person, my most valuable assets are knowledge, skills and wisdom. Not money, fancy cars, nor the newest iPhone. The ideal path to take then, is that path leading to the most knowledge, skills and wisdom in the least amount of time. That path probably doesn’t lead you to that shiny accounting job you got offered in that ginourmously big corporation. Despite what they say about no two days being the same. Despite the flashy dinners with free bar they courted you with during your business school years. Despite all that. The safe choice won’t max out your knowledge, skills and wisdom. It won’t make you the well-rounded individual our modern society so desperately craves. And before you know it, AI kicks the proverbial bucket underneath you.

The path to rapid learning, knowledge, skills and wisdom is a path of more resistance than that. It’s a path less travelled. It’s a path that’s uniquely suited to you and your interests and desires. Sure, some folks are incredibly passionate about accounting. But statistically speaking, you’re probably not one of them.

Entrepreneurship is one example of such a path. It’s the path that’s given me the most knowledge, skills and wisdom to date (to the degree I have any wisdom yet at all, that is). That’s the reason I can suggest trying it out. That’s also the reason I can say that entrepreneurship is a modern-day variation take on a “safe path”. Because it’s no longer about credentials, diplomas and CVs, it’s about what value you create in the world. And at the very core, it’s all about knowledge, skills and wisdom.

Disclaimer: Entrepreneurship is by no means the only path to knowledge and skills, obviously. Backpacking through cities whose names you cannot pronounce, might be another such path. Volunteering at a local orphanage might be one. Being an apprentice under a mentor you truly look up to is even another path. It’s up to you, really. Just remember to go for the learning maximising outcome, not the immediate (financial or otherwise) reward.

Less is better

I’ve gone even further into minimalism this year, and it is still incredibly freeing to let go of the excess around me. The great thing about getting rid of stuff, is that it gets progressively harder as I have less and less stuff left to give away. That way, it never gets boring, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be “done” with it. Perhaps technically speaking, when everything I own adds immense value to my life, but I’ll never be “done” with the philosophical aspects of minimalism. And those are what ultimately count.

For something to explore if you’re curious about minimalism, check out The Minimalists’ TED Talk and their blog (the whole site is a gold mine of wisdom). 

I love to learn experientially

I learned more about business (and life) from 3 months of testing the waters as an entrepreneur than I did in 3 YEARS in business school. Don’t just sit still quoting Nike, Just (get out and) Do It. Seriously, just go. Thank me later.

To a blessed 2017 for y’all,

– Jacob Mørch


Also published on Medium.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. For more on this, read James Altucher’s amazing book Choose Yourself.
2. See TechCrunch: Goodbye accountants! Startup builds AI to automate all your accounting and Forbes: Big Data, AI And The Uncertain Future For Accountants
3. My father did have a cool job indeed, flying ambulance helicopters to save people in the storms in the North Sea.

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