If you’re a new grad having trouble explaining your less-than-conventional career path at family dinners, take heart: Jason Kilar, founding CEO of Hulu, has got your back.
At University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s commencement address on Sunday, Kilar (class of ’93), whose latest venture, Vessel, launched earlier this year, advised new graduates to pave their own roads to success — even if those roads are bumpy.
“Doing what you love, pursuing your own path, is often the most unsettling option at the outset,” he told the crowd. “The paths that others have travelled before you, paths that have greater visibility — they appear lower risk. They play better in conversations with the aunts, the uncles, and the neighbours. But don’t fall for it. You’re better than that, and you have the strength to go your own way.”
And he would know. After graduating from Harvard Business School (“with a debt level that approximated Slovenia’s gross domestic product”), he jumped into what he described as “a modestly-salaried role at a relatively small private company in the Pacific Northwest that was trying to sell stuff over the internet.” It was not a universally popular move. “My friends and family thought I was insane to go there, given the traditional opportunities that I would be forgoing.”
That company was Amazon. The risk to follow his passion paid off.
And it paid off again when he left Amazon in 2007 to found what would become Hulu, despite the general discouragement of industry experts.
“A digital counter even ran on one of the tech industry’s most respected websites to track just how many days it was going to take for the company to implode,” he recalls. “The early days of Hulu were among the toughest of my career. I kept reminding myself of that phrase that is attributed to Winston Churchill: ‘When you are going through hell, keep going.'”
That’s another lesson for new grads: don’t let our collective fear of the new stop you from pushing toward progress. “Most everyone does not believe that the new will work until it does,” he explained. “If you think that the world is broken in a certain way, and you have an idea to fix it, do yourself a favour and follow your convictions — relentlessly.” It’s an uncertain path, but “don’t let the fear of uncertainty, of not having all the answers, be the thing that holds you back from pursuing your dreams.”
Not that it’s going to be easy. “Everyone in this world has struggled and will struggle with personal loss and professional failure,” he said. Three days after Kilar’s own college graduation, his father committed suicide. His first job quickly fell apart. “This was also the time that I learned, with the help of the Northridge California Police Department, that the Cal State Northridge parking deck was not looking to welcome recent college graduates living out of their Subaru hatchbacks each night.”
But he suggested new grads think of adversity as not only necessary, but pivotal. “Adversity strengthens us in a way that success cannot,” he said. “The mountain peaks of one’s life may get the headlines and the Facebook posts, but the valleys — believe me, it is your journey through the valleys that will define you.”
So “dream big,” he told the class of 2015. “Take risks. Fail. Pick yourself back up again. And always, always remember this: there is no adversity capable of stopping you once the choice to persevere is made.”
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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