Why I can’t do any other job

Why I can’t do any other job

My superpower is execution. I just get stuff done.

A strong second is my ability to break down complex problems into their fundamentals.

It allows me to speak the same language as my engineers. It allows me to run a FinTech company despite not having decades of banking experience. It enables me to build a roadmap for our company that balances on the edge of what is possible. It is a mental model called First Principles thinking.

At the same time, I am able to take these concepts and communicate them effectively.

Interestingly, none of these abilities come from any formal education I have received.

If I had to label this intersection of skills, the closest thing is product management.

While PM does not have a formal definition, I think Shreyas hits the nail on its head:

"The role of product management is to define the product & coordinate actions across the org to enable its success"

Product management is still a new field. It's not something you can go to school for. People have found their ways into the job by taking different paths. Some are recovering engineers or marketers while others are founders. Like myself.

I am humbled that my team also trust me as CEO. This means I enjoy much more authority than other PMs. In PM circles, it is often jokingly said that “with great responsibility comes no power”.

Many of the skills that make me a good PM also qualifies me to be CEO.

The ability to execute and communicate well are clearly overlapping. However, it's those skills combined with my ability to convince others that my vision of the future is real, that makes me uniquely positioned to carry out the responsibilities of CEO. It doesn't matter if it's customers, employees or investors. I am often fortunate that people will follow me.

My non-linear journey

So how did I get here? Honestly, it was sort of a messy process. It's not like I set out to be the very best product manager like no one ever was.

Discovering my unique superpower was not easy.

I was always good at many things in school. This has been true since high school all the way through college. However, I was never the undeniable number one at anything. My curiosity is unmatched, though. I genuinely find a lot things interesting. However, for some reason, technology was always at the center of what I read. TechCrunch became my Netflix when I first discovered it as a teenager.

It was only going to be a matter of time before I picked up coding. I noticed a pattern reading about all these top founders. Most of them were technical. I wanted those skills as well. I remember spending hours on Codecademy which is still a great place to learn.

The ultimate test came when I got an internship at Boatbound (acquired) after finishing high school. I was going to be a data science intern. At 19 years old, travelling across the globe to Seattle was intimidating. But it turned out to be the most fulfilling experience I have ever had.

If you have a similar opportunity, do it.

After three months in the US, when I got home, I decided to pursue an MSc in Economics & Finance at the Copenhagen Business School. Honestly, I did it mainly because most of my friends were also going.

I had somewhat given up on my Silicon Valley dream from my high school days. The Bay Area is a long way from Denmark. None of my friends were interested in tech.

Man, do I wish someone had told me that Twitter was not just for celebrities and politicians.

In hindsight, I should have probably done an engineering program. You can still be friends without attending the same school.

What I have learned so far

However, business school has taught me a lot. I have learned the language of business. There are many founders who don't know the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement. I've seen my fair share. I also had the chance to improve my analytical skills and refine my programming toolbox. Excel doesn't really cut it for advanced statistics and machine learning.

In Denmark, it's pretty common to have a part-time job next to your studies. While in school, I have worked in consulting and asset management.

Consulting taught me effective communication and developed my commercial sense.

Asset management taught me the ins and outs of the finance industry and I got to apply finance theory and write code.

Everything I have learned lines pretty well up with what @Naval claims is necessary for first principles thinking:

Not sure, I agree fully with "business" not being a skill, though. Knowing the principles of accounting and finance has value.

Hindsight is 20/20

Reflecting back, I was optimizing for optionality.

The reason was a combination of being afraid of committing and not knowing exactly what my biggest strength was.

Maximizing optionality can be dangerous because you risk not being able to reap the benefits of compounding. Commitment is a condition of achieving excellence.

Of course, this is more complicated because you don't want to spend a bunch of time doing something that makes you miserable. The trick is to find out what you love, what you are good at, and what people will pay you for. Simple, not easy.

How to find your own superpower

I'll share my favorite method to start this process. Look for things that make you forget about time and space and feel deeply satisfied. For me, it's seeing people around me grow and seeing how people light up when they solve a problem with a product I built. Nothing comes close to how I feel when those two things happen.

You then work backwards to figure out the skills you need to enable those things.

Personally, I got lucky. I never followed the process I just described. That's because I just recently discovered it. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard described it best:

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

Always learning

The fact that my background and experiences enable me to be very good at what I do, was not the result of intentional planning. I have always worked very hard, though. That's a prerequisite for excellence as well.

To this day, I am still learning. Still improving. Because I still have miles to go.

The main difference between now and then, is that I am way more intentional about my learning these days.

Becoming an excellent product-driven CEO requires knowledge of many areas. I need to know the principles of great design, have a fundamental understanding of important technical concepts, know how to run efficient sprints, and be strategic so I can guide my company in the right direction.

That's perfect for me because it's all I have ever done. Taking complex areas and reducing them to their fundamentals. It also allows me to experience the joy of seeing people grow and watch customers successfully solve their problems using my products.

That's why I can't do any other job.