When picking an industry to enter, my favorite rule of thumb is this:
Pick an industry where the founders of the industry — the founders of the important companies in the industry — are still alive and actively involved.
If you are young and want to have an impact, you want to be in an industry where there is a lot of growth and change and flux and opportunity.
If you’re going to enter an old industry, make sure to do it on the side of the forces of radical change that threatens to up-end the existing order — and make sure that those forces of change have reasonable chance at succeeding.
Second rule of thumb:
Once you have picked an industry, get right to the center of it as fast as you possibly can.
Your target is the core of change and opportunity — figure out where the action is and head there, and do not delay your progress for extraneous opportunities, no matter how lucrative they might be.
Never worry about being a small fish in a big pond. Being a big fish in a small pond sucks — you will hit the ceiling on what you can achieve quickly, and nobody will care. Optimize at all times for being in the most dynamic and exciting pond you can find. That is where the great opportunities can be found.
Apply this rule when selecting which company to go to. Go to the company where all the action is happening.
Or, if you’re going to join a startup or start your own company, always make sure that your startup is aimed at the largest and most interesting opportunity available — the new markets that are growing fast and changing rapidly.
Also apply this rule when selecting which city to live in. Go to the city where all the action is happening.
In my opinion, living anywhere other than the center of your industry is a mistake. Geographic locality is still — even in the age of the Internet — critically important if you want to maximize your access to the best companies, the best people, and the best opportunities. You can always cite exceptions, but that’s what they are: exceptions.
To quote Pink Floyd, “set the controls for the heart of the sun” — be sure you’re heading where the action is, where the biggest opportunities in your field are, as you’ve chosen to think about it. Don’t fart around in second and third tier companies that don’t have a clear mission to dominate their markets.
In a rapidly changing field like technology, the best place to get experience when you’re starting out is in younger, high-growth companies.
There are a bunch of great things that you get when you go to a younger, high-growth company:
Then, once you’ve racked up killer skills and experiences at a high-growth company, feel free to go to a startup.
Look for one where you understand the product, see how it might fit into a very large market, and really like and respect the people who are already there.
Or, start your own company.
Finally, every job you take and every role you fill will always be a tactical opportunity and a strategic opportunity.
The tactical opportunity is obvious: kick ass and take names — gain skills and experiences that will be valuable to you in the future, and do so well that everyone you work with is singing your praises for decades to come.
The strategic opportunity is less obvious and often overlooked.
Every job, every role, every company you go to is an opportunity to learn how a business works and how an industry works.
Learn everything you can about the business and the industry in which you find yourself.
Think strategically: how would I start a firm like this today? Or, if I were starting a company in this industry today, how would it be different than this firm? Why is this firm and other firms in this industry doing what they do? What are the assumptions underneath their behavior? Should those assumptions be changing? How might this industry work differently? Which customers are being underserved? What new technologies might change things completely? How ere things working 10 years ago, versus today, versus 10 years from now? And, my favorite: if the creators of this industry were starting out today, what would they be doing now?