DropBox CEO Drew Houston had to learn how to lead a company incredibly quickly. He started the business in his early 20s. He’s now 30, and the company has more than 200 million users.
In an interview with his alma mater MIT, which First Round Review recently ran, Houston shared a few of his strategies and tips for new small business owners and founders who want to quickly get up to speed. We’ve pulled out a few of his key lessons from First Round.
Read — a lot.
For someone who runs a cloud-based startup, Houston chose a low-tech way to pick up business knowledge when he was first starting out.
“I was living in Boston, working for a startup during the summer, living in my fraternity house,” Houston said. “But every weekend, I would take this folding chair up to the roof with all these books I got on Amazon. I would just sit there and read all of them. I would spend the whole weekend just reading, reading, reading.”
“I’d be like, alright, I don’t know anything about sales,” Houston says. “So I would search for sales on Amazon, get the three top-rated books and just go at it. I did that for marketing, finance, product, engineering. If there was one thing that was really important for me, that was it.”
Start learning what you’ll need later right away.
The learning curve is so steep with a new business, especially if it’s your first time launching one, that you can’t wait to start learning something until it becomes a problem.
“You have to adopt a mindset that says, ‘OK, in three months, I’ll need to know all this stuff, and then in six months there’s going to be a whole other set of things to know — again in a year, in five years,'” Houston says. “The tools will change, the knowledge will change, the worries will change.”
“You’re not going to become a great manager overnight. You’re not going to become a great public speaker or figure out how to raise money,” he says. “These are the things you want to start the clock on as early as possible.”
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
The experience of failure can be a fantastic learning tool, Houston says.
“If you start your own thing, you can learn a lot really fast from doing things wrong,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘Where can I find an environment where I can work really hard and learn the most?'”
Find the full interview here.
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