It was never my dream to become an entrepreneur. And yet at age 22, while working full-time at Sun Microsystems, I accidentally became one.
By age 24, BusinessWeek recognized me as one of America’s Top Young Entrepreneurs as the only solo woman featured, and by CNN as a Young Person Who Rocks, for starting my first company: The CulturalConnect is a community of five online publications dedicated to spotlighting young professionals around the world who were doing amazing things in different ethnic diasporas.
That year, I feared I would get fired for moonlighting as an entrepreneur.
Instead, I was promoted to become one of the world’s first Senior Social Media Managers at a Fortune 500 company (thanks to the experience and knowledge I had gained from my first startup).
By age 26, I was touring all over the world keynoting at universities and conferences alongside celebrities and Prime Ministers. Silicon Valley Business Journal called me a “Super Connector” and a “Woman of Influence.” By age 28, I finally accepted my fate as an entrepreneur and left the corporate world. I started my second company, Sumazi, a platform that discovers, recommends and introduces you to the people you don’t know, but should -- people who can potentially change your world.
We were selected from more than 1,000 applicants and were chosen as one of 25 top finalists to compete at the prestigious TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield, where we won the Omidyar Network award for the startup “Most Likely to Change the World.”
Today, at age 29, it all still feels very new, scary and just as exhilarating it was for me when I started at age 22.
The learning never stops, how to raise money from investors, when to say no, recruiting top talent, motivating employees, planning for the future, expecting the plan not to work, and juggling everything with very little sleep.
I often get asked for advice by entrepreneurs or soon-to-be-entrepreneurs on how I made it this far.
This is what I tell them:
- More often than not, people sit on great ideas. Don't be one of them. The hardest part is getting started.
- Focus on what you have and not what you don’t have. Reach out to your network and leverage the resources of your extended communities.
- Try to maintain enough ambition and energy to achieve your goals, but also enough humility to accept the challenges and rejection that comes with being an entrepreneur.
- Be passionate about what you do and work with others who can share the same passion. Being an entrepreneur can be exhausting, so it’s incredibly important to surround yourself with people who can keep you motivated and who you can motivate as well.
- Don’t be afraid to do something wrong, to ask for help, to be rejected or to fail. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but one of the most important.
- Build a support network. Whether it’s family, friends, other entrepreneurs or mentors, it’s important to have people you can turn to give you that extra vote of confidence or a shoulder to lean on when you need it most.
- Persistence is key. A great idea doesn’t get executed (usually) overnight. It takes a lot of iterations, feedback, and rebuilding to get close to something that may sorta maybe work, not really. The point is to keep at it until it does.
- Have a PhD mentality. That is, of course, to think as if you’re poor, hungry and driven.
There is a quote from Seneca that I love and is fitting for entrepreneurs: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Best of luck.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Sumaya Kazi is the Founder and CEO of Sumazi, an intelligent recommendation engine and network that connects you to a powerful global network of people you don't know but should. Previously, Sumaya served as a Senior Social Media Manager at Sun Microsystems. While at Sun, Sumaya founded The CulturalConnect. Follow her on Twitter at @sumaya.