A Letter to Julie Lein (From Julie Lein)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Dear Younger Self: Start a Business

To my younger self:

I know starting a business is not on your radar.  You’re still hoping to change the world as a Supreme Court Justice, although your more immediate interest is on the next “Saved By The Bell” episode.  But, when it comes to making an impact, launching a startup offers an unparalleled opportunity. So I wanted to give you some advice to make the going a little bit easier:

  • Find a problem worth solving: The best startup teams are driven by an unrelenting passion, and you are drawn to making a positive impact in the world.  Channel that energy into a new business!
  • Look outside the established:  When choosing career paths, people tend to gravitate toward established organizations – government, corporations, and nonprofits.  But these organizations do not have a monopoly on good ideas, and we need fresh ideas to shake up how we tackle our biggest problems.  Think about new business models with the potential to tackle our seemingly intractable challenges in a different way.
  • Talk is cheap – it’s all about execution:  When you hit on an idea that captivates you, go after it.  Start doing customer research, engaging the right team members, and launching a proof of concept immediately. There is a lot of talking about thinking about doing things – and you must be a doer. Expanding beyond the idea phase into execution is the most critical factor for success.

And just remember, launching a startup is hard, and that is OK.  Starting a new business is not linear, which is probably why it isn’t taught in school (or, at least, it isn’t taught well!).  There will be ups and downs – many more than if you chose a more “established” professional path.  But the only way to make a big impact is to push yourself. And don’t lose sight of that passion for making an impact – it will guide you toward a career that creates real change.

Julie Lein is co-founder and Managing Partner of the Urban Innovation Fund, a venture capital firm that invests in transformative urban technology. The fund provides seed capital and regulatory support to entrepreneurs solving our toughest urban challenges – helping them grow into tomorrow’s most valued companies. She is also the founder of Tumml, an urban ventures accelerator.