3 Words of Wisdom From a Successful Entrepreneur

I’m fortunate that I have the opportunity to build Terrible Labs with an incredible team of engineers and designers. In just a few years, we’ve grown from three people with a questionable brand name to one of the most respected design and development consultancies around.

Prior to starting Terrible Labs, I spent time working at several other startups, and as a result, I have been lucky enough to learn from many great mentors. Below are a few words of wisdom that have helped me in my career thus far.

1. Ask “What do I want to learn?” not “What do I want to do?”

For the longest time, I would gauge a job opportunity based on its description. I’d look for gigs that described requirements where I thought I’d be able to add significant value on day one. I believed that if I was doing a good job and the company was performing well, I’d be happy.

After accepting a few jobs based on the role, I found that my passion for the company quickly faded. That’s when I was told to stop judging a job based on its description and judge it instead on what I would be able to learn and who I would be able to learn from.  I took that advice to heart and began thinking about the skills I wanted to acquire. Once I knew what I wanted to learn, I began pinpointing people in the Boston area who were best suited to help me attain those skills.

When we started Terrible Labs, I wasn’t excited about the prospect of starting a company. I was excited that I’d get to learn from some of the most talented engineers around. I’m not an engineer by trade, but I am passionate about being the best at managing an engineering team, understanding how to build a web or mobile application, and being able to take an idea and turn it into a product. Needless to say, I have now been at Terrible Labs longer than any other company in my career.

2. Don’t be afraid to get a job.

I was guilty of wanting to work for myself and start my own company right out of college. I thought I had the chops to make it happen and the connections to get it done. Don’t get me wrong, some people can pull it off, but most of us end up spinning our wheels and end up with little to show for all of our hard work.

In the waning days of my first startup, a close mentor of mine told me that if it were not for the first few jobs he had, he would not have been able to build his current company. He went on to tell me that the business problems he encountered at his job and the people he solved them with became the foundation for his startup. I spent the next few years working at a couple of different companies. Sure enough, it was at those companies where I met my co-founders of Terrible Labs — and several of our future clients.

3. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Early on in my career, I believed the startup lore that successful startups are created by those who sacrifice salary, work around the clock, and only eat ramen. So while working on my first startup, I went along with the hype and lived the “successful” lifestyle. After coming up short and not having much to show from my effort, I was reminded that a career, even in a startup, is a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t feel like you have to start a company tomorrow. Take the time to build your skills, make money, eat a meal, and break away from work once in a while.

Cort Johnson is a co-founder of Terrible Labs, a boutique design and development shop, and TicketZen, the easiest way to pay parking tickets with your mobile phone. He also works with Flybridge Capital Partners and its general partners as an advisor to support and broaden the firm's investment activities.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.