10 Surprises of a First-Time Entrepreneur

Opinion

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6. Chit-chat is necessary. I am blunt. I am focused. I am efficient. I measure opportunity cost every minute. To this day, “the schmooze” is one of my weakest skills. But I work on it, and it has mattered a lot. My closest advisor wanted me to meet someone who had no connection to anything Piazza does. I put off the meeting because at a busy moment it seemed like random chit-chatting. But the guy turned out to have insights that have been invaluable to us. And also, we’re now married!

7. People want to help. The number of truly helpful people in the world is small, but it’s way bigger than I thought, and it doesn’t take that many. One of our biggest breaks came when a celebrated instructor from Berkeley sent an e-mail to hundreds of people telling them how awesome our product is. He didn’t have to do that, but as Guy Kawasaki would put it, hes a mensch. I always want to find mensches (menschen? Work with me here; I’m Indian)—but I’ve found that the best way is to try to be as helpful as I can to others.

8. Silicon Valley is a state of mind. The nature of our business is such that I’ve traveled to a lot of places in North America that are geographically and culturally distant from here. But everywhere I go, there’s a little bit of Silicon Valley, and people who want to be a part of it. One of our early engineers is actually still a college student, and he hails from a one-stop-light town in the Midwest. But he’s a Valley guy to the core. So I actually flew to Illinois one day to convince his parents that it would be okay for him to take a term off from school and work here. And they were great, too!

9. Myopia > Vertigo. If I had contemplated two years ago all of the things I’d have to do to get Piazza as far as it has come, I would have collapsed into madness like Jimmy Stewart in that Alfred Hitchcock movie. So instead I’ve cultivated and embraced myopia. Every day I try to clear my head of the “big picture” issues and focus on what I can get done today. Now I’m getting to the point where I can think about the very big picture and what I have to do today, while delegating that vertigo-inducing middle area to talented people.

10. Being an introvert can help. I’ve already mentioned that chit-chat doesn’t come naturally to me. Nothing exhausts me like a day spent talking to strangers. But introversion has been an advantage in two ways. First, I was the only person in the world who cared about Piazza for months, and I survived that.  Secondly, when I go out and talk about Piazza, people can tell that I’m not a natural saleswoman, and I’ve heard that my earnestness makes the pitch more effective.

I think Piazza is the only thing in the world I could actually go out and sell. I don’t have kids yet, but I know you’re not supposed to brag about your children no matter how cute and brilliant they are. Starting a company, I’ve had a unique opportunity to be out there talking about something I created that I truly love.

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Pooja (Nath) Sankar is the founder and CEO of Piazza, a social platform for students and teachers. Follow @

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