How The Wrong Job Can Help You Build Your Career

I’ve written before about my ambition to build a meaningful company and my journey of being hired away from my first attempt, taking what seemed like a step backwards. I wanted to put myself in a system that was succeeding to understand how it worked. And although I knew early on that I wanted to build things, that obviously wasn’t much of a plan.

I was easily in the “I’m not sure what I’m doing with my life” bucket.

Leverage what you know

At the time, I knew I liked working with people. I was fascinated by the impact the right person made on a project vs. the wrong one and I thought there was no better way to make an impact on a company than putting the right pieces in the right places. Heading toward a career in hiring and recruiting wasn’t where I *wanted* to go, but I realized how it could help me get to where I did. I realized it could be leveraged.

In my case the point of leverage was clear: as a non-technical founder, I wanted to be the best team builder on earth. I learned through failure that building the best possible team is the ultimate competitive advantage. It’s much more important than your plan, strategy or ideas.

Take any NFL football team for example: if they had the world’s best playbook (plan) but their roster was filled with average players (people), how good would they be?

It all comes down to the people and I wanted this to be my specialty; the irreplaceable value that I’d bring to the table as a founder. Getting good at identifying, recruiting and hiring the right people suddenly has tremendous value to my career.

How does this relate to you?

If you’re currently in a job or on a path that doesn’t seem to be getting you closer to the career you imagined, you have to figure out a way to leverage the experience and skills you’re getting and then use that as your competitive advantage.

As I recently told a friend (a great QA engineer who’s contemplating a new direction):

Building a foundation in QA can set you up to provide a very unique kind of value, regardless of what type of role you move into. You have a QA perspective you can apply to certain problems that others can’t, and this is what makes you unique and valuable. This may be the exact unicorn skill-set some companies are looking for.

We have to recognize that an engineer isn’t an engineer, a sales rep isn’t a sales rep, a founder isn’t a founder. Every single person is unique and so is the value and perspective they bring to the table. Just as I’m working to position myself as a founder with hiring and recruiting deep in my blood, you can (and should!) position yourself as an engineer (or sales rep, or founder, etc) with a unique background and set of experiences in your blood.

This is something you can and should leverage throughout your career.

I hope this helps you (even if just a little) gain more clarity into your career path. I’m incredibly passionate about this stuff and I’m more than happy to continue the conversation if anyone needs a sounding board. Feel free to email me directly at troysultan [at] gmail.com if you’re interested in bouncing ideas around.

To Become An Expert, You Have To First Be An Idiot

You know what’s hard for me to admit? That I usually have no idea what I’m doing. I like to act like I do, but I don’t. Sometimes I figure things out and they work really well, and the other times I just tell myself it was a learning opportunity and I move on. I just try not to make the same mistake twice. 

The hardest part about becoming an expert at something is knowing that you have to first start as an idiot. You have to embrace that. 

But what about what everyone else will think? There will always be people who want you to succeed and people who want you to fail. Some people are jealous, selfish, whatever. Don’t hate them - accept them. And then avoid them. Just don’t let them be the reason you don’t get started.

Taking some action - even if it’s the wrong thing - will help you learn what the right thing is. Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I love that. It’s really hard to take the first couple steps. But once you do, you’ll notice yourself getting “lucky” much more often.

Making Sure Your Progress Is Real

I do a lot of stuff. I’m always pushing myself to be productive (and do more stuff) but sometimes after a bunch of movement I stop and think, ‘what did I actually get done?’ I think there’s much to be said about being in motion vs. taking action. 

I dedicated yesterday to reorganizing my entire digital life (exciting, I know!) and adopted a new workflow to process all of my open loops and incoming tasks. My goal is to be a bit more systematic about my process so I feel (and am) more productive on a daily basis. I’m following the widely used GTD workflow with a few small tweaks. I’m already feeling good about it - writing this post was one of my to-do’s  Here’s just a couple easy things I started doing long ago which have payed dividends:

1) Lists - write EVERYTHING down

The most successful people on Earth write things down - not because they have a bad memory, but because offloading the endless tasks and responsibilities kept in your head allows your brain to be creative. Try it - it’s liberating. 

2) Make things actionable 

This is tough at first - it’s hard to break down each task into smaller, actionable steps. The easiest way is to ask yourself, “what is the next physical action that needs to be taken?” So rather than writing down ’Figure out LA trip’ (which is vague and not actionable), write down the very next action that you need to take: ‘Email Jason to find out his availability for LA trip.’ 

3) Fully buy in

You have to fully commit or you won’t trust that your system has your back. If you’re not habitually writing down all open loops as they pop into your brain, then you can’t fully trust the system to remind you of all the things you need to do. Fully buy in (which takes some upfront energy) and then perpetually relax because everything you need to address is recorded and can be referenced at any time. 

Once I started writing things down, making each task actionable and trusting the system to let me know what I have to get done, I started feeling like I was making real progress toward my goals as opposed to just doing meaningless work. Funny thing is, it feels unproductive to spend a few hours setting up a new workflow - after all, you won’t get any closer to finishing outstanding projects during that time. But if a few hours today makes you just 1% more productive every day into the future, it’s the best investment you’ll have ever made.

Why I’m Leaving Google After Only 9 Months


Last week was my last at Google. I spent the past weekend reflecting on my time there with good friends at a small music festival in Mendocino, a gorgeous town in Northern California. The truth is, when I joined Google in october of 2013, I didn’t plan to stay more than 6 months. Google was a stepping stone for me — something I needed to see in my life in order to get where I wanted to go.

When I was in middle school, my mom would take me to Walmart each week to buy candy. I’d put 50 airheads and a slip of paper in a gallon ziplock bag and I’d walk to the bus stop to catch the school bus like all the other kids. But once I got on the bus I’d have a line of kids waiting for me, and I’d take out the bag of airheads and sell them for $.25c each. I’d do the same on the ride home. When I got home, I’d sit on the floor in my room and count my quarters — usually 4 or 5 times. This was my favorite part. Oh, the slip of paper was for IOU’s. I’d then go buy more candy with the money I had and put the rest away to save. I’d continue to find ways to provide people with value in exchange for money throughout the rest of my years in school and well beyond. Remember when selling burned CD’s was a thing? Yeah.

I’d enter college as a biology major with the ambition of becoming a doctor. But ‘being a doctor’ in my head went something like this: I‘d graduate med school, hire a bunch of other doctors and build what I envisioned to be a large, elaborate hospitable system. We’d create a ton of jobs, help a lot of people and make a lot of money doing it. That’s the short of it. About 6 months into my freshman year I learned of the word ‘entrepreneurship’ and everything changed.

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Here I’d have one of the biggest revelations of my life to date: I had no interest in being a doctor. I wanted to build businesses. I was born to build businesses. Of course, building a successful, meaningful business is another story entirely. I’m working on that. 

I’d complete college with a Degree in Marketing, a minor in Computer Science and a certificate in Entrepreneurship. I’d start 3 different companies while in college, all utter financial failures but epic successes on every other level. The latest company of the three, Wordio, would take a toll on me. I’d experience the challenges of building a team, relying on investors’ money to survive, firing friends and divorcing a cofounder. I’d wholeheartedly question whether I was born to build businesses or if I was mistaken. But I knew I’d fail again in the future when even more was at stake. I knew I could make the world a better place. I wanted to create. I wanted to build the future. Once you find your purpose, failing 10 more times doesn’t seem to bother you. If that’s what it takes to succeed, then on with the show.

At this point I was knee-deep in the software/technology space and I wasn’t going anywhere. I was obsessed. But I began to question whether there was a smarter, more efficient way to learn than building and failing, building and failing. And although it was hard to swallow, I decided I needed to insert myself into someone else’s system, someone else’s business — one which was succeeding — to intimately understand how it worked.

I’d eventually join Josh Greenberg, Co-founder and CTO of Grooveshark and one of our advisors to Wordio, to lead talent acquisition and growth for Grooveshark.com. I’ll forever be indebted to Josh for giving me the opportunity. I’d end up seeing Grooveshark grow beyond 120 employees, become profitable, hire, fire, manage, lead and get sued for $17,000,000,000. Seventeen. Billion. Dollars. It was exhilarating and so fast paced that I was able to stomach 2 years of building someone else’s vision instead of mine. I knew this would make me a better entrepreneur in the long run.

I joined Google for this exact reason. I wanted to become a better entrepreneur. How can you build a world-changing company if you’ve never seen what one looks like from the inside? How it behaves… how it operates… how it thinks?

I joined Google to understand these things — to develop a perspective that ranged from a 0-10 person team at Wordio to over 100 at Grooveshark to 40,000 at Google. I wanted the full cross-section. I knew fitting in at Google would be a challenge but I needed to see it. I needed to understand it. And it was an enlightening experience. After just 9 months, I now think a little differently. And that will last me a lifetime.

Here are some things I came to Google to see — my ‘checklist’ of sorts. Once I felt I had these down, any more time spent would have diminishing returns. Besides, serendipity struck right about the time I crossed the very last item off the list:

1) Data

No decision is made at Google based on opinion or gut feeling. This holds true all the way up the food chain. Anyone, regardless of seniority, can get sign-off on a project if there’s data to support it. This eliminates a lot of bureaucracy found in comparatively large companies. I now have some of Google’s data-driven DNA and I’m thankful for that. However, when building a company from ground zero there are countless instances where you have to rely on your instinct. Finding the balance is key.

2) Leadership and management

Once a company gets to a certain size (measured by employee count), the leadership influence you get exposed to is directly correlated with the leadership abilities of those you report to. Being closer to the bottom of the org chart than the top, I didn’t see great leadership up close but I did see it from afar. The line between leadership and management becomes blurred in large companies. Also, I now understand why middle-level management gets such a bad rap. Seeing it from the trenches will help me avoid it in the future.

3) The science of hiring

With a background in technical recruiting and hiring, I was very anxious to learn the science behind Google’s hiring process. Once the curtain was lifted though, I was surprised to learn there simply wasn’t much of it. Google has many of the same problems hiring as many other companies, the problems just happen to be larger since Google hires at enormous scale. This was enlightening to me as I’m very interested in attacking some of the problems in the hiring/recruiting space in the future.

4) Process and structure

When building a startup from ground up, process and structure can be toxic — even deadly. But once there’s a certain number of moving parts, a bit of process and structure becomes integral. I hadn’t seen or understood what this looks like. Grooveshark was the biggest company I had ever worked for and at best we were an organized mess. All startups are. Seeing how a company like Google keeps things in order was fascinating. I now know what process and structure looks like and how to determine when it’s needed.

5) Communication and negotiation

The only time problems ever arise is when there is a lack of communication. There’s truly no such thing as over communicating. Communicating within a large organization is especially tough because (usually) the more people you know and work with, the less you know each one. This means making the extra effort to make sure you’re on the same page with the people you’re communicating with. As part of Google’s negotiation training, I was introduced to one of my late favorite books, Getting More. It may seem obvious, but life is one continuous negotiation. Whether you’re trying to get a lunch meeting with someone you can learn from or trying to get your kids to clean their room, you’re always negotiating. It’s the way you communicate that determines the outcomes of these negotiations.

6) Network

I jokingly told many of my friends the reason I was joining Google was to become an ex-Googler. That was partly true. One of the reasons for this is pedigree. And along with the pedigree you gain access to ~40,000 incredibly smart people. People with whom you build relationships that will last much longer than your tenure at the company. This was my main goal when I joined the company - I went banging down plenty of doors. I made sure to build relationships that will carry with me into the future as I begin my next entrepreneurial journey. 

I gained a lot in my time at Google and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to spend time with each and every person I met along the way. A couple months ago the stars began to align for me and I knew it was time for my next journey. The truth is though, that it’s scary for me. It’s been 3 years since I’ve worked full time on my own company and the unknown brings fear. Google was a place my friends and family were proud I was at, where there was no risk and plenty of financial security. There were many types of pressure, social definitely being one of them. But the only thing that will guarantee myself failure is to not try.

Because of this, I believe that it was more risky not to leave and try to build my dreams. So that’s where I’m heading — to build my dreams.

5 Lessons Learned at 25

1. Life is a marathon, not a sprint

Growing up, it was so easy to get lost doing the things I knew other people would approve of. This is human nature. I’ve realized that the hardest things to do in life are the ones that are best for you in the long run rather than the ones that are easily accepted in the short run. It’s too easy to get caught up in doing what society wants from you — it’s a lot harder to overcome this and accomplish what you want for you. If you can truly accept this and put it fully into practice, you can accomplish anything.

2. Success = sacrifice

There are so many things I want to do in life — but there’s such a short amount of time to do them. This is sad and beautiful at the same time because it makes me prioritize the things in life that really matter to me. If you really want to accomplish something big, you have to sacrifice a lot of the things you want just a little. This is a reality of life. The quicker we’re able to accept the realities of life, the quicker we’re able to navigate them and begin to use them to our advantage. It’s not easy to put aside things like entertainment, sports, leisure. I work hard to sacrifice these things because I know they won’t help me achieve my goals. Sometimes the smallest sacrifices have the biggest impact.

3. Never chase the money

I’ve learned over the last few years that chasing the money always leads me away from happiness. I always thought that money would make me happy because that’s what society led me to believe. As you get closer to having the money you want, you realize that you’re often farther away from accomplishing your real goals (which for me is impacting a lot of people). Accomplishing our real goals is what leads us to true happiness. The most financially successful people I know have one consistent thing in common — none of them ever chased the money. They chased what they loved and the money they earned was the side effect of being really great at that one thing. I think everyone begins to understand this more as they age. I’m working to understand this the best I can now so I have more time to be happy and enjoy my life.

4. You are who you hang out with

I heard this quote years ago and it stuck:

“If you’re the smartest one in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

I never thought I was the smartest one in the room but this made me realize I need to make an effort to surround myself with people who are much smarter than me. I slowly started gravitating towards the people and situations I knew I can learn from. It was really hard to accept that I was mostly powerless in these situations, acting as a sponge rather than a firehose. But slowly I realized how much this helped me grow. To this day I strive to surround myself with only the people I can learn from — even if it’s one little thing. This is the only way I know how to grow.

5. Focus less on accomplishments, focus more on you

After lots of resistance and hesitation I had a revelation. The only common denominator across all of life’s situations is me — myself. I am the one thing that every event in my life will have in common. Therefore, I need to work on bettering myself in order to better the outcome of future events. I’ve always been goal oriented and accomplishments focused, but the realization here is that by working on myself and making myself a better person each day, I will accomplish much more in the end.

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