Ideally, with age comes wisdom. Nobody's perfect, but the highest-achieving individuals are keen on identifying their mistakes, learning from them, and growing into better human beings. Take some tips from these successful executives who reflect on what they wish they would have known earlier in their careers.
1. You don't have to be strong all the time.
"It's OK to be vulnerable. In high school and college, I spent a lot of time learning to be mentally strong, which can be a good thing, since resilience will wear down mountains given time. However, you don't have to be strong all the time. Tell people when you don't know, and when you're worried. You'd be amazing how much help you'll get, and how much of a connection that creates."
--Mike Tuchen, CEO of Talend, a provider of cloud and big data integration solutions which saw its stock rise nearly 60 percent over the past year
2. Choosing co-founders is the single most important decision for your venture.
"I founded my first ever venture while working on my PhD in Boston, far away from home. Given that my network was rather thin in Boston, I recruited two close childhood friends as co-founders. These were two people I could trust with my life. What I failed to do was align with them on expectations, and specifically, ensure we were all equally committed to the venture. After reaching the semi-finals of the MIT $100,000 competition, the venture ended up failing because the path forward was vague, and at the end of the day, our appetite for risk was very different. My learning is that it is not enough to choose your co-founders based on a complementing skill-set, trust, and shared values, but also to ensure you are all equally committed to the venture. Building a startup is probably the hardest thing one can do professionally, and if the founders are not 1,000-percent committed both to each other and to the venture, your venture is D.O.A."
--Dr. Micha Breakstone, co-founder of chorus.ai, a company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze sales conversation and learn how sales organizations can increase win rates and was recently named to the CB Insights AI 100
3. You need people who question your beliefs.
"CEOs need people around them who are going to question their fundamental beliefs. These people should test and push, so CEOs are forced to question the decisions that they're making and plan for the inevitable ups and downs that building a company will bring. If you surround yourself with coaches, prodders, and different thinkers, you will create a feedback loop that will fundamentally change your view of the world and make you a better leader."
--Gordon Ritter, founder and general partner of Emergence Capital, an enterprise cloud venture firm which was recently named Venture Capital Firm of the Year by the National Venture Capital Association
4. Trust your gut and put your employees first.
"I had a less-than-ideal first day on the job early in my career that shaped my thinking about onboarding ever since. I showed up for my first day and the company had done nothing to prepare for my arrival. No computer, no cube, and very little direction. It was clear that this was not a place for me from day one and I left within six months. Fast forward to now, as an employer and CEO of a software company, my onboarding experience taught me the importance of employee engagement and instilling meaning in your employees from the very start. Make each employee feel like you were expecting them and it is the most important job in the company. Have their desk ready with a nameplate and technology ready to go. Give them direction and how they will fit in the company and how that work rolls to the mission and vision. If you do this you will have them not only hooked on your company, but productive much more quickly."
--Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO of Calabrio, a customer engagement software company providing analytic insights to hundreds of companies
5. Choose the right team.
" 'Jills and Joes beat Xs and Os.' [It's] advice I got at the start of my earlier career as a football coach from an old, wise mentor. After sharing with him my fancy, ambitious playbook, he explained to me the importance of having the right players in place to execute those plays. The same is true in business. Fantastic theories and ideas are great, but without the right people to match them, they are worthless. Your team is your greatest asset, so you have to build the right plan for the right people in order to execute that plan successfully."
--Billy Bosworth, CEO of data management company DataStax, which supports more than 400 of the world's leading enterprises, including Comcast, Macy's, and Macquarie
6. Pick your battles.
"It's the advice that took me too long to learn, and I think a lot of smart, energetic people are driven to try and do everything and fight every battle. But progress often comes with a healthy dose of focus. And if you're consumed fighting small battles, you really can lose sight of the end prize you're going after. Finding the balance is often the key to success."
--Frank Bien, CEO of data analytics company Looker, which has received $180 million in funding from Google Capital G, Redpoint, First Round Capital, and Kleiner
7. Make your first love the customer, not the technology.
"Like most technically-trained entrepreneurs, my first love was the technology. But during my entrepreneurial journey, I came to realize that to achieve the true potential of the technology, my first love needed to be the customer. I realized I needed to focus on developing a clear understanding of my customer's pain points and desires, manifest it in the form of a crisp and compelling customer use case, and make sure that the product could demonstrate it simply, quickly, and viscerally. As I continued, I realized that I needed to look even further out than this; I needed to understand how I will reach my customers to scale my business, and to incorporate that understanding in the product definition itself."
--Rajiv Gupta, senior vice president of Cloud Security at McAfee and former CEO of Skyhigh Networks, which was acquired by McAfee in January 2018
8. Don't sweat getting a graduate placement straight away.
"So many college students sweat over finding their first placement immediately after graduation. My advice instead is take risks after you graduate. Take six months off after college to see the world and take on experiences outside of your comfort zone. It's the only opportunity you'll get where it's easy to take the time off, get your fun in, and do whatever you want before you settle into a career. But not only that, the perspective you gain from international experiences will differentiate you from others early on and help you throughout your career and your life. I am constantly amazed by the confidence of the generation in their 20s today--but pair up a strong education and confidence with worldly experiences and you have a big force to be reckoned with in the modern workforce."
--Eric Stang, chairman and CEO of Ooma, cloud based telecommunications and connected services for home and business users serving nearly one million customers
9. Maximize your time.
"The fastest way to maximize your time is to decide issues quickly. If you need to speed up your decision making, figure out what typically slows down your decision making and find ways to work around it. Pass responsibilities down as far as your people are comfortable. This is another way of speeding up your decision making, by giving others power to decide. You'll often find that this motivates your employees, building their confidence and enthusiasm, and over time they will gradually accept more responsibility. Clarify your company's vision, so everyone on the team intuitively understands when projects should be prioritized."
--Jesse Robbins, founder and CEO of Orion Labs, an enterprise voice platform which secured $18.25 million last fall to expand its next-generation of services to the broader speech and voice recognition market, on track to be worth $18.3 billion by 2023
10. Trust your gut.
"My younger self would over-analyze every decision with lists of pros and cons, more data, and more overthinking each decision. Life is made up of experiences. For the most critical decisions--the ones where no amount of data will tell you the right thing to do--I focus on thinking about it and then getting a big, long sleep of eight to nine hours. Then, the following morning, with a clear head, I listen to my gut. The answer always comes to me, and I don't have to agonize about it. I also have a small group of close friends and mentors who have shown time and time again to have great instincts and clear thinking. I often tap them for advice and help, too."
--Jeremy Sicklick, co-founder and CEO of HouseCanary, a data analytics real estate platform that raised $31 million in Series B funding backed by Penny Pritzker, Eric Schmidt, and Kobe Bryant last year
11. Push through your self-doubt.
"When I was younger, I thought I was naturally good at some things and just hopelessly bad at others. I wouldn't try things I thought I would be bad at, which really held me back. What I've learned, though, is that you can learn almost anything. It takes dedication, time, and coaching (which you should seek out). When I started my business, I knew nothing at the beginning, having started the company right out of school. I never had a job before, how could I even hire anyone? Now, with a lot of hard work, coaching, and practice, we have a great team and a great company where everyone loves coming to work every day. You have to push through the doubt to come out on the other side."
--Nick Kohut, co-founder and CEO of Dash Robotics, a connected toy platform which delivers products sold big box retail stores including Target, Best Buy, and Barnes and Noble
12. Challenge yourself.
"[Don't] be afraid to get out of the comfort zone...especially when the right opportunity presents itself. When I was in my late 20s and had been working for Macromedia for three years, I was asked to join a company called Mosaic Systems. I was living in San Francisco and Macromedia was a great company. The new company was in Mountain View, California and would have been very disruptive to my personal life. Mosaic, of course, became Netscape and the real opportunity lost was not wealth, but new personal relationships and a different career trajectory. My gut told me to do it, but I played it safe. My last piece of advice--don't fret over these decisions. Everything works out."
--Rix Kramlich, CEO and director at self-publishing platform Blurb, who has six startup exits to his credit and has held senior management roles in public companies such as Macromedia, i2 Technologies, and ABB
13. Take the time to prepare.
"As far back as I can remember, I always dreamt of becoming an engineer. Growing up in India, engineering is one of the most sought-after professions. The path to becoming a top engineer starts with admission to one of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). With an admittance rate around roughly 2 percent, getting into an IIT is one of toughest academic challenges you could take on in your teens. I decided it was well worth the effort to pursue my dream, but I grossly underestimated the effort required to reach my lofty aspirations. I went into the difficult entry exam without sufficient preparation and set myself up for failure on my first attempt. After much soul searching and exploring different options, I decided to stay true to my path and try again the following year. This time I went all in, shutting out every distraction and putting in every available hour to prepare myself for the entrance exam. Not only did I make it, I got the engineering stream of my choice at the institute of my choice. This experience taught me the value of being prepared and challenged me to rise to the occasion. It also taught me the importance of having a growth mindset versus a fixed one."
--Aseem Chandra, senior vice president for Experience Cloud at Adobe, a SaaS business which achieved $2 billion in revenue last year
14. Don't doubt your instincts.
"You are only as good as the team you build. You will be on a journey--make sure you enjoy who may be in the car with you for a long ride. Reference checks can be incredibly revealing if you listen and observe the body language when you ask tough questions. Listen to what your gut says in that call. Push away the tendency to check the reference box. I have made the mistake of uncovering an issue through reference checking and then overriding my intellect and my gut. Why? Because I'm fully invested in the candidate at that point and the thought of going back to square one is too painful. Inevitably, it leads to even more pain when jerk behavior emerges and you have to deal with it."
--Peter Micciche, CEO of Certain, a provider of enterprise event automation software to the Fortune 1000, including Microsoft, Oracle, CA Technologies, and Disney
15. Balance your hardships with your successes.
"Don't forget to invest your time and energy into what's working, rather than only worrying about fixing what's broken. It's natural, especially for entrepreneurs and startup execs, to hyper-focus on the problems we want to solve. But often it's just as important to remember to wonder (not only wallow): Concentrate on what will make your work even better, what success looks like, and how productive you'll be if you build on what's good while also focusing on the problem-solving."
--Bruce Jaffe, former Microsoft executive and currently president and CEO of Donuts, a domain name registry with a portfolio of hundreds of generic top-level domains
16. Sometimes failure is what reminds you of your inspiration.
"Many entrepreneurs, myself included, get hung up early on about the 'right way' to start a business. They can be quick to consider their venture a failure if the safe, one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work, when in reality this realization is a gift. I wish I knew earlier on that by sticking with an idea after failing, you are forced to find your own way forward and get back to what inspired you in the first place--whether it's addressing a hole in the market or thinking about a different way of doing things. From there, it's important to carve out your vision, build the products or services that fit that vision and the marketplace, and take the leap forward towards something that hasn't been done before."
--Collin Holmes, CEO of Chatmeter, a reputation-management and local SEO analytics company serving enterprise brands, with more than 20 locations
17. Speed is your frenemy.
"Forget about the brakes. As a leader, you will often hear 'go slow to go fast' or 'one step back so we can take two steps forward.' Stomp on the gas and forget about the brakes. If your competitors are moving fast, you have to move faster. Momentum increases with speed."
--Rick Bergman, CEO of Synaptics, a $1.7 billion developer of human interface solutions
18. Speak up.
"The one thing I wish my younger self knew was how to find a balance between acting smart and expressing achievements without hesitation. Stereotypes of women's behavior can dominate perceptions, and as a woman in a male-dominated, STEM-related field, I've learned how to take a seat at the table and deliver my message so that it's heard and respected."
--Susan Lucas-Cowell, EVP of CSIRO, a global research organization comprised of more than 4,500 scientists across disciplines and known for the invention of Wi-Fi
19. Don't just build products but solve problems.
"Focus on solving a problem and iterating a solution around it, rather than thinking about how to build a solution. The solutions will always evolve, especially as you understand the market needs, learn from iterations, and get feedback. Build your business around solving a problem, and approach that with a lean mentality. [Doing so] allows you to be nimble on your feet while always working towards an ultimate goal."
--Eyal Grayevsky, co-founder and CEO of Mya Systems, the creators of artificial intelligence recruiter Mya, which has garnered industry recognition and awards from CB Insight's AI 100, Bersin by Deloitte's 2017 Disruptions Report, and Kairos Society's K50, among others
20. Happiness is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"I wish my younger self knew that finding sustainable happiness comes from delivering happiness to others. That is what I've found in building Zoom and delivering happiness to our customers. I wish I hadn't waited so long to get started."
--Eric S. Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom Video Communications, which has realized 100-percent year-over-year revenue growth and 150-percent year-over-year user growth
Editor's Note: This article originally credited Susan Lucas-Cowell's quote to Chris Mackey, CEO of MackeyRMS