The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self today? is written by Ryan Smith, CEO and founder of Qualtrics.
Every time I visit New York City, I think back to the early days of Qualtrics. I was 25 years old, had no money, and was on my way to my first trade show. I remember packing a borrowed trade show booth through the subway, because I didn’t have enough money for a cab. I had even bartered with the event organizers to give me the booth space for free. I had nothing to give out so I got creative. The tradeshow floor was really hot so I went across the street and bought a few hundred Vitamin Waters at a nearby CVS pharmacy to hand out.
If I could go back and tell my 25-year-old self one thing, it would be to trust your gut, keep being scrappy, and tune out all the noise. It’s all going to pay off someday.
Tune out the noise
Time is the ultimate equalizer, so play the long game and don’t be distracted by what seems like a big deal today. If I were starting a tech company today, it would be hard to tune out all the noise. I imagine it would be easy to feel like you weren’t valuable if you weren’t talked about as a unicorn or if you didn’t have a super high valuation. But if you look at it, most of the unicorns in the enterprise space started over five years ago, many of them closer to 10.
So forget the noise, keep your head down, and work. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you are going to build something great, it’s probably going to take awhile and that’s not a bad thing because it means it will take another company just as long — if not longer — to come after you. We started Qualtrics in the shadow of the dot com-era in 2002 and then lived through the recession from 2007 to 2009. Sometimes it’s a good thing not to peak too early.
Trust your gut
There will always be people who will question your abilities. Negative people aren’t worth your time so don’t let them slow you down. On the other hand, it’s really important to surround yourself with honest people who tell you the truth — reward that. But in either case, at the end of the day the best entrepreneurs I know are the ones who learn to trust their gut. So don’t be afraid to try things that may seem crazy to other people. To be the best, you have to get comfortable taking risks, which means you have to learn to trust your gut. If you’re not comfortable going against the world, it might be time to think about a different career.
Keep being scrappy
We bootstrapped for 10 years so we had to be scrappy. But no matter how successful you get or how big the company grows, always keep that mentality. Restraint fosters creativity and that’s one of the most important things in business. Qualtrics started out in my parents’ basement. Back in the early days it was really tough. I had a t-shirt back then that said “Built to Grind.” It was a reminder to me that if you’re willing to work hard and be creative, there is almost nothing you can’t do. At the beginning, we were forced to be scrappy. Now we’ve made it a huge part of our culture and we are scrappy by choice.
Every time I go to New York City and pass a certain subway stop near Times Square, I can almost see that younger version of myself struggling up the stairs carrying my bag and a large, borrowed trade show booth. I genuinely could not have imagined where Qualtrics would be today, but it’s been an incredible journey. Looking back, I’d also tell myself that it’s not just about grinding and doing hard things — though that’ll always be part of it — but more importantly, keep having fun and enjoy all the ups and downs. And always remember to be grateful. At the end of the day, I do something I love, work with amazing people, and to have the greatest wife and kids by my side, and there’s nothing more important than that.
Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self today?
Best advice for a 22-year–old: quit bragging about your accomplishments by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.
A nobody can still make a memorable first impression by Shahrzad Rafati, founder and CEO of Broadband TV.
Even this CEO knows it’s okay to fail by Kyle Wong, CEO of Pixlee.
How starting at the bottom gets you to the top — quicker by Frederic Kerrest, co-founder and COO of Okta.
What entrepreneurs get wrong about success by Lynn LeBlanc, CEO and founder of HotLink.
Why you should never get promoted too quickly by David Kong, CEO of Best Western.