🤓 Stupid Simple: The Industry, Not the Role

Constant Uprooting Will Make for a Weaker Tree 🌳

I found myself at a college party this weekend with students from Yale and Boston University. For someone who skipped out on the partying during college and dropped out two years in, I finally got my college party experience.

I didn’t set out to party with a bunch of people, 5-10 years younger than me. I was in Austin for the weekend to attend a friend’s event.

At the event, another friend asked if I could come speak to a group of students with him.

As a two-time founder, I often think about what I would have told myself if I could go back 10 years. And it hit me…

“Marry an industry, not a role.”

That's it. Most of my successful friends didn't make it because they were the best CTOs, developers, or finance guys. They made it because they were some of the most well-known people in a particular industry.

Just Before the House Party…

Just before showing up to this college house party, I was at a different event thrown by a friend of mine. He’s the CEO of a startup approaching unicorn status ($700M valuation). The crazy thing is, he became the CEO not because he had a specific skill set or experience in the role. In fact, he never developed, never been a CEO, and never held any exec role in the past. But he built more relationships in his industry over the last 10 years, mostly as a high-level BD, investor, and consultant, wearing multiple hats but always in the same industry.

Everyone knows him.

Whether they met him at an event (he attends almost all industry events) or worked with him, the truth is, no one knows the issues, secrets, and where to find talent in this industry like he does. Despite always switching roles, he never left the same community/industry and therefore, became an expert in the industry.

The Power of Industry Commitment

When I asked the students what they were passionate about or what they would focus their time on, most framed it through a particular role: some said Computer Science, management, others legal roles. But at the end of the day, they were pursuing skill sets to go where the opportunity is, versus deciding on the industry they feel passionate about pushing forward and solving problems for.

T-Shaped Skills

While deep industry knowledge forms the vertical bar of the T, the horizontal bar represents a broad set of transferable skills. This combination allows you to excel in your chosen field while retaining the flexibility to adapt to various roles within that industry. It’s about being deeply knowledgeable in one area while maintaining the versatility to connect across different functions.

In other words, what you do is not as important as the depth of your knowledge within that industry.

The Power of Networking

One of the greatest advantages of industry commitment is the power of relationships. Relationships, more than skills, often propel careers forward. My CEO friend’s rise to the top was largely due to the connections he had forged over a decade. These relationships, built through consistent engagement within the industry, compounded over time, creating opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible had he hopped from industry to industry.

Long-Term Career Planning

When speaking with the students, I noticed they often framed their aspirations in terms of roles. However, focusing on the industry rather than the role provides a clearer long-term career path. By immersing yourself in a specific industry, you can uncover and address significant problems that others might overlook. This specialized problem-solving ability is what differentiates industry experts from generalists. Some problems take years to solve and it begins with understanding it deeply, then collecting, bringing the right relationships, technology, insight, and strategy together to even begin formulating a solution. Going deep is necessary before going wide.

Commitment to an Industry

Here are the benefits:

  1. Relationship-building: Long-term industry commitment allows for the development of influential relationships and networks that are critical for career advancement.

  2. Problem Identification: Deep immersion in an industry enables you to identify and solve significant problems that are often invisible to outsiders.

  3. Specialized Experience: Over time, industry-specific experiences become more valuable than general qualifications, positioning you as an indispensable expert.

  4. Leverage: Most people can get skills, but having the skills plus experience plus relationships within an industry to hire, make deals, and provide strategic solutions requires a deep holistic understanding.

Stay Planted, Friends

As I shared my insights with the Ivy League students, I hoped to inspire them to think beyond roles and consider the broader, more impactful path of industry commitment.

I hope this is a reminder for all of us to do the same. Sometimes, the compounding benefits of staying planted somewhere are exactly what we need to grow strong roots, and ultimately strong branches. Constant uprooting is exciting but can definitely make for a weaker tree long-term 🌳

Cheers to building something extraordinary, together.

Founder | The Daily Bite & Snack Prompt

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