Video: Graham Weaver's Keynote Address at the Booth/Kellogg ETA Conference

Graham Weaver, founder of Alpine Investors, is an exception speaker, storyteller, and entrepreneur. In this keynote at the 2023 Booth/Kellogg Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition Conference, Graham shares the story of laying off his company's workforce at just 29 years old and promptly being met at gunpoint by one of his (now former) employees. It's this real and authentic story that tees up three min pieces of advice:

  1. Do the thing that turns you on.
  2. Expand your timeframe.
  3. Beware the two most dangerous words, "Not Now."

Transcript:

I've been an entrepreneur and going through all that journey, and all that learning, I wanted to share with you the three most important things that I learned that I think would be relevant for most people in this room. And then, Brian, we talk about other others as well, but these are the three kind of three takeaways.

The first one I have is that, you know, you've got to do the thing that turns you on, and that sounds really obvious, but I, I see so many people who don't do this. I graduated, and I had already started buying companies in my dorm room in Stanford Business School, and so I had this energy and this passion for what I wanted to do. But what I did instead, well, maybe some of you do, is I made this like expected value matrix, you know, this is the risk-adjusted probability of all these different things, and I went to what was the quote safe job. Um, and let me tell you quickly about the safe job. The safe job turns out isn't what you think, you know, the safe job. I reported to someone who kind of didn't really want me to succeed. I reported to someone who told me where to be, what kind of deals to bid on, what hours I could work, what I should wear, what planes I had to get on, and if I had kids at that time, I would have still, even though I was doing the safe job, and the thing I wasn't that excited about, I still would have missed Little League practices and been home late for dinner.

So probably the truest thing I'm going to tell you today is something Buddha figured out 2800 years ago, which is there's going to be suffering no matter what you choose to do in this life. It's you're G to have suffering; it's why it stood the test of 2800 years because it's just true. So life is suffering, so choose something worth suffering for. Leadership is worth suffering for, and I'll tell you why in a little bit.

The other thing about this expected value matrix that I was describing is it's just totally wrong. Your math is way off, and the reason is you're not factoring in what you're going to be like when you're at full power. When I worked in that safe job, you know, part of me died, and, and the way that I showed up in that role versus how I showed up for the last 24 years, there's just no comparison. You will show up with superpowers when you're doing something you're excited about, and the reason for that is stress doesn't come from hard work. Stress comes from friction and tension, and when you're spending eight hours a week doing something that you really aren't excited about, or maybe isn't even part of your value system, like that is stressful. So you will show up very differently.

One question, of course, is what am I excited about, you know, how do I figure that out? And so the best exercise that I've done with my students, and we'll do it really quickly, it'll take one minute, is imagine that a magical genie out of a lamp, and the genie said, "I'm not an all-powerful genie, so I can't give you any wish, but what I can give you is that whatever you throw yourself into with your life and your career, it's going to work out great." It's G to work out great. I'm going to grant you that wish; it's going to take longer than you think, it's going to be harder than you think, you're going to have ups and downs, but what would you wish for if you truly had that? And I would argue that's what you should be doing with your life. Principal one is, do the thing that you're excited about.

The second principle I have of my three is, lengthen your time frame. This is something I see so many people make the mistake on. I don't know why, but we just sold this thing that everything's supposed to come quickly, and if it's not coming quickly, somehow we're failing, or we're behind, or look at what this other person's doing, and they're ahead of me, and I must, I must be the wrong person, or gosh, if I only were to started earlier, or I can't start now because I don't, you know, because I wasted this time, or whatever, but like, just chill out. You know, I've, I've cashed out, I calculated this the other day, I've cashed out over 500 entrepreneurs over the course of my career, so I've written a check and watched, and in that, in those 500 data points, I've seen people start businesses, grow businesses, and ultimately get them to a point where they're ready to sell, 500 times. Zero

of those people did it quickly. Zero, and even like when it looked quick, like it took only seven years from the day they started the company, behind that was the 20 years of them building themselves and becoming the person that could do that in seven years. So, so this does not happen quickly. The thing that also happens, this is for some of you who maybe are students right now, is the people who will come to recruit on campus largely are going to be rewarding your individual contributor skills. You're going to get like, so if you optimize for the first two years out of school, you're going to be optimizing for stuff you're kind of already good at, investment banking, consulting, that sort of thing, because that's what they can pay you the most to do. Entrepreneurship, you're going to, sorry to tell you this, you're going to not be good at it. You might suck at it, but you have a long time to get good at it, which is why you're not going to get paid that much in the early days.

I had a friend when I graduated, one of my really good friends, um, he, he went to a rival school, and he became a convertible bond salesperson, great, and he optimized for that one year. Well, you know, 24 years later, like he knows how to short stocks, buy bonds, buy stocks, short bonds, and he can run a mean black schs, but let me tell you about 25 years in entrepreneurship, what you can learn. You can, you can learn how to rally the troops when your business has had the worst quarter it's ever seen. You're going to learn how to hold people accountable, create plans, have difficult conversations. You're going to learn to create new product lines, create new services. You're going to, you're going to learn how to hire and get people to join your cause and follow you, and you're going to, unfortunately, have to learn how to fire. You're going to raise capital; you're going to raise your employees' self-esteem. You're going to learn how to sell as though your life depends on it because it does. You're going to sell employees when you really don't have money to pay them, and they're going to have to get excited about your vision. You're going to have to sell investors when you have no track record; they're going to have to sell customers when your new product that you really want to introduce isn't even ready, and they have to buy this one now so you have enough cash to keep going, but mostly you're going to have to sell yourself every morning because you can't really see always the exact path, and you're going to have to sell yourself at just taking a step forward is going to get you there. But one of the biggest things I've learned in 25 years, if I had to summarize, is you're going to learn how to be able to use your imagination to envision a world that doesn't exist yet. I spend a tremendous amount of my time doing this, using your imagination to see the world as you want it to be first in your mind and then bring that into reality through a group of people and through a group of employees. So that's what you can get in 25 years as a leader or an entrepreneur. Your goal is not to maximize your first year earnings out of school. Your goal is to maximize who you get to become, who you get to become as a result of the journey of your career. So extend your time frame and give yourself the benefit of having a lifelong love affair with your life and your career. Principle two.

My third and last principle is, beware of the two most dangerous words in entrepreneurship. So I have been a lecturer or a case guest at Stanford for over 20 years now, and my favorite exercise to do with students is the one I just did with you, some version of what would you do if you knew you were not going to fail. We, in, in my classes, we actually spent an entire quarter really helping students get really clear on that, which, what is that thing you would do if you knew you wouldn't fail because that's again, what I think you should do. So they get clear on it a lot of times, and in 20 years, 20 years, no student has ever come up to me once and said, "Hey, Graham, you know what? I just give up. I'm not going to do this. I know exactly what I would do that I'm excited about, but, nah, not going to do it." No student's ever said that to me. Instead, they say the two most dangerous words, which are "not now." Not now, I'm going to do it, not now, first I, first I got, first I got, and so, give you another example of another classmate of mine. I'll change his name

; call him Tim. So, Tim and I graduated around the same time, at the same time. I took my journey to entrepreneurship; Tim took the safe job. We have coffee one day, "Graham, I hate this job. I'm out of here. My bonus comes in January. I'm out." A year later, "Got this, another equity that's going to vest in December. Graham, freaking hate this job. I'm out of here." A year later, "Oh, you know what? I'm getting married this year, and, uh, just gonna keep it chill, you know." Two years later, "Our first kid." Three years, you know, three years later, "Private school." Number years later, "A mortgage." Number years later, "A new vest of equity." 24 years later, still there. And it's sad; it's really sad because I know right now that if he can go back in time, he would have just taken the leap.

The thing about entrepreneurship is that the path is less clear. I want to be, you know, having a salary and a free lunch and a bonus, you know, and a training program, you know, it's clear, and it's a well-worn path, and entrepreneurship is not, you know. It's uncertain, and it, and it's going to feel that way, like that's normal, and get out of your mind that there's not, there's not going to be this day where the clouds part, and this ray of sun comes down to you and says, "Graham, no, you know," like that's just not how it feels. It's going to feel scary, and it's going to feel early, and it's going to feel unclear and uncertain. You're going to just have to have some faith. So, beware of the two most dangerous words, "not now."

If you want to be a world-class entrepreneur, do the thing that turns you on, lengthen your time frame, and beware of the two most dangerous words. I used to think that I would have two careers, that I would start off, and I'd be in the for-profit sector, and I would go do all this great stuff, and then I would go actually contribute to the world, and I'd start a nonprofit, or do some social work or something like that. But I've come to change my mind, and my thought on this.

So, Gallup recently did a poll where 70% of people in the United States dislike or actively dislike their jobs. And I have a close friend of mine, Kristen, who falls in that category. So, imagine, you know, Kristen goes to work, and she hates her job, and she's spending half her waking hours there. She doesn't feel valued; she doesn't work with people necessarily she likes and admired, she doesn't respect her boss, she's doing something she's not proud of or excited about, and she just, she's working because she has to work, you know. 70% of the people are like that. Well, think about what it's like to be Kristen's daughter, or Kristen's son, or Kristen's partner, or, or sister, or mother, you know. So it's not just affecting her; it's affecting her whole community.

And conversely, imagine you can change that as a leader, and you can. And now imagine Kristen comes home, and, and she feels empowered at work, and she is like, she realizes what she does matters, and her work has meaning, and she's connecting it to the vision of the company or something, a larger purpose that she can relate to, and she works with people she likes and trusts and admire, and she feels like she matters. And now, what's it like to be in her community? What's it like to be her son, or her daughter, or her friend, or her sister?

So, great leadership changes lives; it changes lives, and all of you have the opportunity to do that, and to be part of that force now, in this, in the for-profit world, if you think of yourself that way. And if you think of yourself as leaders, and I made, as I made that change, you know, 24 years ago, from being this kind of mathematical investor to actually being a leader, you will get kicked in the teeth on the journey, but you will be able to change lives.

So in summary, the three points again: do something that turns you on. Life has suffering, so figure out something that's worth suffering for, and when you're turned on, you will tap into superpowers that you didn't even know that you had. Number two is expand your time frame. You will spend very, very little of your life in the outcome of anything. You'll spend a fraction of a second in the outcome; you're going to spend your whole life

in this pursuit, in the journey. So give yourself something that you have a lifelong love affair with, in this one precious life of yours. And finally, beware of the two most dangerous words: "not now." It will always, always feel too early, it will always feel risky, it'll always feel like the right time. You'll feel like an impostor; you'll feel like you need more experience or whatever, and you don't. You just need to realize "not now" is fear in another form.

I have good news and bad news about starting. The bad news is, is that no one else can give you permission to do this. There's no consultant; there's no, there's no parent or coach who can give you, ultimately, you're the only one who can give you that permission. But the good news is, that's the only permission that you really need. So, give yourself permission to do the thing you want to do with this one life of yours. Extend your time frame and do it now.

You did not come this far to play small. You came this far to have a dent in the universe. So, begin it now, and good luck. Thanks, thank you.

The allure of off-the-beaten-path travel

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Landscape Travel Image - Journal X Webflow Template
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Unveiling the charm of lesser-known Destinations

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