Conversations - On Self-Starting, with Trevor Sookraj

September 12, 2017

The hardest thing was telling his friends that he wasn’t coming back. For the next year, he’s 2600 miles away in Silicon Valley.

apologies for the audio quality – this is when we were starting out. But hey – we shipped.

For our first-ever episode of Talk Nspire, we spoke with our friend Trevor Sookraj, a student at Western University, about how he’s helped grow several startups and what he did to launch his career. Trevor’s written a post as an introduction to digital marketing, which we recommend, and you can find here.

These were the five big things I learned:

The biggest mistake you can make

“University isn’t about getting you a job.” Most people wait until they’re comfortable. As a first year, I waited to look at opportunities until I had settled into my classes and schedule and made friends. And I missed a ton of opportunities around me for it. Trevor’s path to interning at Shopify came from meeting someone at a university career fair in first year. The organizers told him he was the only first year they’d spoken to that day. You don’t know what you can do until you try. Don’t wait.

Go deep on your interests

Whatever it is you want to get good at, there’s a large skill set to master. But that doesn’t mean you have to be overwhelmed. Pick one or two micro-skills (ex. content marketing, or e-mail marketing, for example, if you’re looking at marketing) and go deep on them. Learn what you can. Now you can reach out to businesses and help them with real problems they have.

Boom. You just started.

Talk to people

Before his first trip to Silicon Valley, Trevor cold e-mailed people he wanted to learn from and set up meetings with them. He found that people wanted to help him. People at companies like Google — people we might imagine as being too busy for a chat, or to help out. But the opposite couldn’t be more true.

Andrew Chen is the head of Uber’s Rider Growth team, and investor/advisor at Dropbox, Tinder, and AngelList, among others. He was none of those things ten years ago when he moved to Silicon Valley. As he tells Noah Kagan on Noah’s podcast, he started by reaching out to five people a day.

Start with one. See what happens.

People want to help you. They will — if you let them. Reach out, and start learning.

If you’re comfortable, you’re not learning (Stretch!)

Trevor thought he could get a job based on his internship experiences. But he didn’t stop to rest on his laurels. He’s spending a year in another country, all to learn and get better.

Every step of the way, from the first cold e-mail you send, to the first internship, to your first full-time position, getting better means doing the thing you haven’t done before. All he knew about SQL and programming in marketing was that he had to learn it. So he threw himself into an internship where he’d have to learn it.

“I hit a lot of roadblocks.”

Everyone’s heard of 10,000 hour rule, but Anders Ericsson, the scientist behind it, also describes a less discussed principle: staying on the edge. The edge between what you know how to do, and the skill or ability that’s just out of reach, the thing you haven’t done before. If you’re going to get better, that’s where you have to be.

No growth without stretching.

No gatekeepers — it’s on you

“What’s surprised you the most?”

“How self driven it is.”

There’s no 10-years in industry long hierarchy you have to follow. There aren’t gatekeepers to tell you what you have to learn, or what path to follow for “success.”

Trevor started out with marketing a year and a half ago. He was interested, and he pushed himself to learn on his own time. He reached out to businesses, helped them, had internships, and now he’s working in SF. Push yourself to learn, connect with people, and help them. Put your work on Github, go to hackathons, reach out to businesses — whatever it is, you can do it, and you can start right now.

Resources for getting started

Recommended reads

We asked Trevor about three books or blogs that have influenced him: