A child with great skill but nowhere to devote this attention will create his own future. When the confines of society and industry don’t fit with his ideal view of a life, he will go out and invent something that does. In doing so, he will open up the entire world to new terrain, to new opportunities, to new worlds hidden within the familiar. These are the people who initiate the next developments in the world of technology and business and society. Their shadow will always be cast long and their influence will shape generations because of their unwillingness to accept the world as it is.
Sean Parker has never done things the normal way. He co-founded Napster, became the first president of Facebook, and now fills that role at Spotify. He went from a teenage hacker to one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet, and none of that was an accident. He skipped a formal education and went straight from high school into business. His business, though, was one meant to change the world, not simply get you the right product. The way music delivery has changed in the last decade is because of Parker. It even influenced tangential fields, like film and television, as represented by Hulu and Netflix. Parker is a wild card who keeps pushing things to their limit, and success follows him. Here are some of the best lessons learned from his career.
1. Don’t be traditional.
Tradition can work for many and it will lead you to a potentially comfortable life in a comfortable business, but if you want to be someone who influences business and takes us to places we never saw before, then it’s time to do more. Break the mold and do what no one else is doing. This advice comes up over and over again, but it’s worth repeating. Do what no one else is doing. Be who no one else is. Take the world where it didn’t know it could go.
2. Learn from failure.
Napster crashed, and it crashed hard. But before that happened, he revolutionised music and how we experience and acquire it. He didn’t give up there, though. He was mired in intellectual property law, corporate finance, and entrepreneurship lessons that would last him a lifetime. He used Napster’s collapse as a lesson learned and moved on to the next big thing, which, for him, was Facebook. While most of us will never find ourselves in two revolutionary companies in the same decade, it’s worth examining, and it plays into the previous piece of advice. Your own business challenges likely won’t be this dramatic, but the important lesson to learn is that failure is only a lesson to be learned from.
3. Founders can get fired.
Parker’s not the only founder to be fired from his company. Steve Jobs, for example, was fired by Apple before being asked to return. It’s a strange but interesting lesson to learn. You’re not untouchable just because you’re at the top. This should keep you honest with your employees and understand that they’re in this just as deep as you are. If you’re the reason they’re failing, then they’re going to work to get you out. Even a wildly successful founder of a startup can be replaced, so always prove your value.
4. Pay it forward.
Parker was one of the first people to see Facebook’s true potential and he met with Mark Zuckerberg to ensure he didn’t fall into the same traps Parker had fallen into. He helped Zuckerberg negotiate and retain the majority of Facebook’s board seats. This gave Zuckerberg control and freedom. Every lesson you learn can apply to a multitude of situations and industries, so don’t hold back. Use everything you’ve learned to help yourself by helping those around you. No one will give you anything if you don’t offer them something of value. So use your knowledge to your advantage.
5. Reach out, even to complete strangers.
Parker’s entire career wouldn’t have happened had he not been willing to reach out into the unknown for likeminded individuals. The co-founder of Napster was someone he met online and their relationship developed into the historic company they started. From there he reached out to Mark Zuckerberg and then to Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify. Parker has never been afraid to reach out to those who are doing what he wants to do. He uses his expertise and experience to their advantage, making him extremely valuable to them.
Sean Parker is a renegade entrepreneur and few operate like him, but there’s a great deal to be learned from his reckless career. He’s never been afraid to fail or rise to challenges, and he’s tenacious enough to keep pushing, even when things seem impossible. Above all else, that determination and drive may be the most important lesson of all.