What are you going to do with yourself, now that the economy has collapsed? Lane Becker, co-founder of creative commercial endeavors like Get Satisfaction and Adaptive Path, brought together a team of survivors to discuss the issue at SXSW today. (Disclosure note: First Round Capital is an investor in Get Satisfaction.)
Most of the panelists had great tactical sound bites - here are the top five:
1. Learn Excel. Michael Sippey, Six Apart thinks that everyone should learn Excel. 'It's an excellent data-munging tool, and it's a practical tool that can be applied to almost anything that you find interesting.' More importantly, applying Excel intelligently lets you prove to both yourself and to others that you know what you're talkng about.
2. Identify your passions. This applies to both finding a new job, and to carving your own path. Sippey has three key questions when interviewing job candidates: Tell me about the people you work with - why do you like working with them? What's your passion? How is your performance around your passion? On the other side, Ben Brown of XOXCO had the best sound bite on following fascinations: "I decided that I wanted to stop playing the game...which means that I wanted to stop trying to get a paycheck from some jackass every day."
3. Stick with your boring, safe job while you identify your passions. Andy Baio, who founded Upcoming and blogs now at Waxy.org, thinks that there's something to be said for a stable, boring job that doesn't conflict with anything you might be doing on the side. "Especially if you work in finance, you can go home and work on your own stuff. In finance, you don't have to worry about the company stepping up and saying that your online calendar conflicts with the core business around mutual funds."
4. Work on the side with friends. Baio noted that a fringe benefit of doing something with friends is that you don't need to worry about commercial success - just fix a common problem together, and give your work the time it needs to become whatever it will be. As Lane put it, 'The challenge is not just developing the right talent on the side, but finding the right people and joining the right groups.'
5. Be a generalist. Jane Mount, a director at 20x200 and former at Word.com, thinks that being a generalist is good in this economy. If you can do lots of things, you're more likely to find a role for yourself on projects that you find interesting.
One of the audience members had a great question: How do you explain yourself at a cocktail party when you're in an exploratory mode? I found myself in this position when I left Omidyar Network, and what I found to be most helpful was telling folks that I was looking to bring my marketing, strategy, and VC expertise to interesting people, and interesting projects. More specifically, that I was getting myself 'out there' so that serendipity could happen. Looking back at a bunch of months working inside the Get Satisfaction family, tons of entrepreneurs met via STIRR Pitch Lab, and an eventual investment role at First Round Capital, I'm pretty satisfied with this approach.
When all is said and done, Lane has some great advice: Pursue things that matter to you, and you'll find a niche. The market comes and goes, but people still need to get things done. As Brown put it, "The difference between unemployed and self-employed is just in your head....get fired into the right career."