Working for a Start-up: Ambition

Published  March 10th, 2011

I'll start this post off with some irony. I felt inspired to write this post...about 3 months ago. I was at the airport waiting for a delayed flight and wanted to make good use of my unanticipated downtime. It's only fitting that I'll be finishing this post 3 months later at the same airport making the same trip from SFO to LAX.

Ambition and inspiration are closely tied. One inspiring idea can create a wave of ambition - the stronger the inspiration, the bigger the wave. The inverse also applies - a lack of inspiration can create a stagnant pool of untapped ambition. The dynamic of how individuals create and process their own ambition ranges greatly from what I've seen. Some people are fortunate enough to be born with a self-sustaining drive that seems to never end. They wake up in the morning, run 5 miles, answer 50 emails and then continue to kick the day's ass with little effort. Others want nothing more then to work 9-5 and go home and enjoy the smaller things in life. Some, like myself, have outside forces that can push and pull on one's ambition. In my opinion, people you're surrounded with, self-discipline and inspiration are the most substantial forces in ambition. If you find yourself in the perfect storm of all three, the desire to attempt something great is born.

Inspiration can take many forms. For some people inspiration can be the result of utter fascination of a topic. A great example of this is Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square. The initial conception that morphed into Twitter was based on Jack's fascination of big cities and the networked data surrounding emergency and other dispatch services within the cities. The key is to start small. Try to wrap your head around something you can fathom. If you have something very interesting in your hands, see what you can make of it. Jack started by manually entering data (i.e. a vehicle is doing X from point Y to point Z) onto a map. I'm sure when that data was laid out in an intuitive fashion he was able to start iterating on ideas about what to do with the data. He ran with what inspired him and look where it led him. Sure, it couldn't hurt working with a great product guy like Ev Williams or a front-end guru like Biz Stone, but aligning yourself with other like-minded, intelligent individuals is part of the recipe to genuine inspiration.

Recently, in an interview with Kevin Rose, Jack talked about having the sheer audacity to start something big and not only having the desire to do it, but to make it beautiful as well. He went on to say that the pairing of vision, architecture and engineering is the culmination of this desire. You can't do it all by yourself. One person didn't build the Golden Gate bridge. At thredUP, our CEO is in firm command of the product while our CTO is making the magic happen behind the scenes. There's still a gap between these two pillars of the company and that's where our CCO (Chief Creative Office) architects how our customers will interact with thredUP as a product. The three founders complement one another well and bridge the gaps between great ideas and turning those ideas into a great product. Pair your strengths with others who are strong in your week suits and only good will come of it. If you rely solely on yourself, you will burn up your ambition on things others are far more capable and suited for. Ambition is a self-replenishing resource, but only when managed in a sustainable fashion.

Lastly, finding the source for your ambition is important, but what you make of it is equally important. Harnessing the energy and inspiration that surrounds your ambition is the fuel to creating something special. Unlike fuel, inspiration cannot be stored and you have to act on it. You might get that urge to write a blog post, start the new app you've been thinking about or re-design something that has been irking you, but if you let it pass or if you let laziness rear its ugly face, that urge may never come back. As I am still in the learning phase of my career, this post is as much of a call-out to myself more than anything else. I want to be accountable for inspiration when it appears and channel it into something substantial. We live in a world where every person with a computer is capable of starting their own company or working for one where they can make a difference. Disciplining yourself to make something happen when the inspiration hits while leveraging others who can help you in its conception is all that it takes.