Stacey Ferreira – a very successful twenty year old - on taking risks.
Is it a risk to start your first company right out of high school? Is it a risk to donate $2,000 to charity in the hopes you might get to meet Sir Richard Branson (of the Virgin Group)? Is it a risk to drop out of college so you can take that leap of faith and work on your business idea full-time? Yes, yes, and yes! But what if those risks are smart and calculated risks? What if what you have to lose by not pursuing the opportunity is greater than what you have to lose by taking the risk? What if you could view risks in a different right, learn to deconstruct them and then reconstruct them into opportunity? Might some of your life and career decisions be different? Might you be somewhere today that you aren’t in either your life or your career, because you took more risks? This is a topic I am extremely passionate about especially as it pertains to women – whether as entrepreneurs or in their corporate careers – so I was delighted when I saw Stacey Ferreira being interviewed on the Today Show. I contacted her via Twitter and we set up a time for me to interview her.
The day after Stacey Ferreira graduated high school, she moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles, California to start a business with her brother, Scott Ferreira and their friend Shiv Prakash. They built a platform that is known today as MySocialCloud (www.mysocialcloud.com) – an online platform that allows individuals to store their usernames and passwords for auto-login.
Two months after Stacey moved to Los Angeles, Stacey noticed a tweet sent by Sir Richard Branson asking 25 of his followers to donate $2,000 to charity and meet him in Miami. Stacey and Scott donated $4,000. The net outcome of that decision was that further down the road it led to them landing a one million dollar investment by Branson, Jerry Murdock (Insight Venture Partners) and Alex Welch (CEO/Founder of Photobucket) in their budding business.
I always tell people that part of taking risks is to start before you know exactly where to start, just make sure that you start. So I was delighted when on the website of Stacey’s current venture – 2 Billion Under 20 (recounting stories from 50 young inspirational people who have done everything from starting businesses to escaping genocide) (www.2billionunder20.com) – I saw the statement ‘Start Somewhere. Start Now.’ I asked her what that statement means to her personally.
She shared with me that she talks to hundreds of entrepreneurs and the biggest thing she always sees with people is they feel they don’t have enough information to start or they don’t know where to start. Her advice, like mine, is it doesn’t matter where you start. If you have a general direction, just start. You will learn as you go. You will never have everything figured out. If you are waiting for all the information it’s never going to happen. She and her brother had been working on a couple of projects before college, then the summer came and they weren’t in school anymore. They felt they had an idea for a viable company, that they had to dedicate themselves to it and not just play around with it a couple of hours a week. They didn’t know everything about security, marketing, getting investors, and other areas pertinent to running a successful business. But they believed in their idea, they believed in themselves, and so they started. If they hadn’t made that bold decision they wouldn’t be where they are today.
[text_box class=”blue”] The kinetic moment: when you see the potential in something and decide to make a move, even though you still have questions, doubts and concerns. [/text_box]
That moment in time when they constantly got positive feedback from people about their ideas, when they knew they needed to dedicate themselves to the pursuit of their vision, that is what I call the ‘kinetic moment’ – when they saw the potential in something and decided to make a move, even though they still had questions, doubts and concerns.
We spoke about how starting before you know exactly where to start means you don’t get everything right first time, and how that is ok. By making repeated small efforts you make progress. You are making active and positive choices. Don’t worry about making mistakes; just fix them when they happen. Since it can still be overwhelming to many folks to adopt this philosophy of ‘just get started’, I like to simplify it even further by getting people to identify their first three steps. So I asked Stacey: ‘What were your first three steps with MySocialCloud? What were first your 3 steps with 2BillionUnder20?’
- Find a good team. She knew she worked well with her brother and she trusted him. He had the programming skills, she had the business skills. So they identify what other skills they were missing and found the right people to help them close the gaps.
- Build an initial product. They outlined their website and started building it.
- While they were building their product and even after it was live in production, they made sure they had ten customers that were willing to try it out and give them feedback so they could adjust it.
2 Billion Under 20:
- Make sure she had a good team. She is working on the book with Jared Kleinert, a successful young social entrepreneur.
- Build the product. They are in the process of compiling the stories. At the time of this interview 130 people spanning 30 countries around world and 20 different states in the United States had submitted stories.
- Think about ‘life after the book’. After the book they want the concept to be part of a larger community so they created a Facebook group of somewhere between 200 to 300 people under the age of 20 that are now networking and creating projects together.
Another term I like to use in my conversations with women about risk in their careers is the term ‘disproportionate visibility’. People regularly assign a higher likelihood to situations that are ‘disproportionately visible’ or easy to imagine. My personal belief is that often, when faced with a career related decision that entails risk, women in particular place more weight on the likelihood of negative outcomes, they let the possible negative outcomes be ‘disproportionately visible’ in terms of influencing their decisions. I feel strongly that this is something that we as women need to learn to counteract. So I asked Stacey what did you do to combat that issue, and instead where she looked to create opportunities for disproportionate visibility to success?
What she shared with me was wonderful:
- She commented that one of her favorite quotes is ‘failure depends on your expectation of learning’. If you are in the process of doing anything you can’t really fail as long as you are learning something from it. You can’t fear failure because even if you ‘fail’ you have learned so much from the experience. That was the first jumping point for her, realizing that even in failure you learn and learning is always a good things.
- She also shared that as they considered starting the business, they concluded that if for any reason it didn’t work out they would just go back to school and would be where they were before, and that was not a big deal. They looked at it as go for it and we have nothing to lose, or don’t go for it and we have everything to lose.
- She is a big believer in calculated risk, not in taking blind risks. So she makes sure she has clear goals with everything she is doing. People ask her how she took that leap of faith to drop out of college and start working on her idea full-time. It was a calculated risk. She didn’t take it until she had the right team lined up, the investment to back her, and resources in place so that they had a greater likelihood of success. You can set things up so that it isn’t so much of a leap before making a big change. Have a goal and a plan.
[text_box class=”blue”] Disproportionate visibility: People regularly assign a higher likelihood to situations that are disproportionately visible or easy to imagine [/text_box]
When we take risks, it’s expected that not everything will go according to plan. So I asked Stacey if she would be willing to share a key disappointment, how she overcame it and what she learned from it. She spoke about how one of their biggest mistakes they made as a team at MySocialCloud is that they started off with a vision and plan built around being a password management company. Then users said they should add a product with a bookmarking component and a social media aggregation component. They started building all the features for these products, and wondering why those portions of their site weren’t getting much use when they were putting all this time into it. As first time entrepreneurs they weren’t used to looking at utilization data. When they started looking at the actual utilization data they scaled back, took those additional product components out and went back to focusing on the password management functionality. The growth and usage skyrocketed. In retrospect they know they should have stuck with their gut instinct. They think about if they had focused one hundred percent on that password management functionality initially and not been sidetracked, how much further they would be than where they even are today. By the way, where are they today? Recently, the MySocialCloud team announced their acquisition by Reputation.com. At Reputation, MySocialCloud will become an integral part in Reputation.com’s Consumer Data Vault and will continue to serve as an online password vault. Stacey’s takeaway lesson here: Don’t waver. Follow your gut. You know best.
On a more personal note, I started to close out our time together by asking Stacey about some of her personal favorites:
- One of her favorite books: ‘Never Eat Alone’ by Keith Ferrazzi. One of the things that struck her in the book is how when Keith was younger he would hang out in the building his dad worked in. He would spend time talking to the janitor and all he learned so many great lessons from him. No matter what someone’s job is you can learn from them. Everyone has life lessons.
- Favorite music artist: Stacey majored in music at NYU before she left to build her business, so she has a lot of favorite music artists. Right now she is really enjoying Mackelmore. He has great lyrics on equality for human beings.
- Her way of shutting out all the noise and decompressing: Working out and running. That’s her time to think for herself.
- A place she didn’t think she would spend time at, yet loved it when she ended up there: Chattanooga, Tennessee – the most random place she ever thought she would be. She went there at the beginning of August as part of an entrepreneurial fellowship group – THIEL Fellowship. It’s right on the river, a beautiful amazing place where people are so nice and personable. People welcomed her into their community to hear her thoughts on entrepreneurship. She mentioned how while businesses coming out of the San Francisco valley are filling a useful need doing cool things, she doesn’t find them nearly as fascinating as what is coming out of Chattanooga. Peter Thiel who co-founded PayPal started it. The fellowship is intended for students under the age of 20 and offers them a total of $100,000 over two years as well as guidance and other resources to drop out of college and pursue other work, which could involve scientific research, creating a startup, or working on a social movement. Selection for the fellowship is through a competitive annual process, with about 20-30 Fellows selected annually. Since Stacey is now 20 years old, she serves in a mentor capacity for people selected for the fellowship.
Stacey is twenty years old. She’s already on to her second business venture. She’s made some choices others would cringe at, yet she’s made them boldly and wisely. When it comes to sharing stories about taking risks in a smart calculated fashion and turning those risks into opportunities, Stacey’s is a great story to share. As she continues to push forward and upward in her path, and as she continues to mentor and help others in pursuit of their dreams, I hope that everyone reading this will be inspired to start thinking differently about how you can take more better and smarter risks in your own lives and careers.