Dear Entrepreneurs: Have a Dream & Make It a Big One
Howard Tullman is president and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, a private college for digital arts and entertainment technology. He is also the general managing partner for Chicago High Tech Investors and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Over the last 40 years, he has founded more than a dozen high-tech companies. Here, he gives his advice to TFA's class of 2012.
Welcome to Graduation 2012. If there’s a better, more exciting and more vibrant city in the country than Chicago, I don’t know what it would be and that’s the environment--of massive change, unlimited possibilities and big dreams--that we’re launching you, our most recent graduates, into today with the best tools, the most extensive training, and a work ethic that’s second to none. And, even more importantly, with an attitude of teamwork, consistent support, cooperation, and collaboration that is the heart of our college.
So, as you head out into the real world, I want to give you a few important pieces of advice.
1. Don’t mistake a clear view for short distance. It’s great to know exactly what you want (of course that will change a million times in your career) and it’s great to strive aggressively every day toward that goal, but it’s equally important to understand that good things don’t happen overnight.
They are the product of an iterative process. You try, you fail, you pick yourself up, and you try again. Persistence is unbelievably powerful. Patience is even more valuable and I can’t even believe that I, one of the least patient people in the world, am saying that, but it is true. Even in times of rapid and constant change, catching your breath, scoping out the situation, and then taking your best shot is the way to go.
2. Have a dream and make it a big one. Small dreams suck. So don’t think small--shoot for the stars. There will always be more than enough people happy to tell you why you can’t do something. By and large, those folks are sitting on the sidelines and being blown away by the people who are doing the things that need to get done.
Now here’s the most important thing I’ll say today: discipline is just the job of choosing between what you want now and what you want most. The instant gratification world that we live in today conspires to waste your time and knock you off course. You’ve got to always keep your real goals in mind. Navigating and course correcting thru a continual stream of changing circumstances is one of the life skills that is most important and one that I hope we’ve given you a leg up on learning.
3. Focus is everything. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything. And here’s what I have learned after half a century of doing this: “Saying 'no' is much harder than saying 'yes,' and it’s the things that you chose not to do that will make you a success.” Saying “yes” is a very popular thing to do, but strong leadership isn’t a popularity contest. The hardest choices always end up on your desk or in your lap.
4. And as you have all heard me say many times: “You get what you work for, not what you wish for.” Hope is not a strategy for success. The really good news is that you’re better prepared to outsmart AND outwork 99% of all the people out there who are just sitting around waiting for the world to make a place for them. We’re not good waiters here at Flashpoint--we’re great workers and, in the end, what always matters is the work.
5. Learn your craft...and be a great professional. But then learn to set the technology and the processes aside--and go wide. Logic can get you from A to B, but imagination and creativity can take you anywhere. Be open to everything. Real insight comes from outside.
6. Be responsible. Our country today is more torn and divided than it has been at any time since the Vietnam war. The most powerful tool in bridging these gaps and bringing people together is storytelling and you’ve all learned to be great storytellers--put those talents to good use and you can make a real difference from the get-go.
7. Finally, our fondest hope for all of you is that you find something that you love to do and that you get to do it every day (just as we do) with a vengeance.
So that’s it. We have great confidence in you; we believe you’ll each make your mark; you’ll make some history; and you’ll make us all proud.
God bless you all.
HOWARD TULLMAN | Columnist
Howard Tullman is the CEO of 1871 in Chicago where, at the moment, 260 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V, LLC and Chicago High Tech Investors – both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council; and Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. @tullman