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’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?” is by Sandhya Venkatachalam, co-founder and partner of Centerview Capital.
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do… Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain. In this simple statement, Twain encapsulates the four leadership principles that I live by and have had the most impact on my career and life: dream big, take risks, do things with good people, and always be yourself.
I am amazed everyday by the innovative technology I see, and even more so by the people who create it. This motivates me to constantly reinvent myself because it’s never too late. I started my first company, Centerview Capital, in my late 30s despite many people encouraging me to stay at Microsoft where I was a vice president of a thriving team. But I had a vision about a new way of investing and saw a real need in the market. Little did I know, dreaming was just the first step. I had to be ready to completely change my life, including taking a major pay cut and risking failure that could potentially set me back a number of years in terms of my career. Frankly, it has been difficult to create a VC firm, but infinitely more fulfilling to me personally as I hope to change the gender imbalance in venture capital and promote much needed diversity.
When I ran advertising and monetization for Skype, we needed to find new ways to monetize our 200 million strong user base, but we did not want to diminish the user experience with traditional, annoying display ads. So we created a new way to incorporate our corporate partners’ messages into the flow of our product, but many people could only see the flaws. We could have ruminated forever, but at some point myself and my CEO had to make a decision to launch something to make more money — a huge departure from years of “free” product. So we launched, received good feedback, worked through challenges, and kept going. This risk helped Skype create an advertising business that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars, while user growth continued to increase. The results not only helped us in terms of advertising, but this information helped us improve and innovate in other areas of the business as well.
Surround yourself with good people
Sometimes, it makes sense to divert from your original idea and join forces with others, especially if they are exceptional leaders or thinkers. In Silicon Valley, everyone wants to be the entrepreneur, the person who came up with the idea and started it all. But the stimulation and camaraderie that come from working with people that are better than you can often be its own reward.
I did not seem to fit well in “mainstream” environments early in my career, and, for awhile, I tried to change myself. I had bosses tell me that despite delivering exceptional results, I needed to be more “generally liked.” And while some feedback was constructive, I realized over time that I was simply in the wrong place. So I traded this type of politics for working with people who “got me,” even if it meant a slower career trajectory. The unexpected lesson for me was that these people, albeit fewer in number, were more willing to stick their neck out for me.
Read all responses to the Leadership Insider question: “What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?”
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