Nivi: Let’s discuss your tweet: “Escape competition through authenticity.” It sounds like part of this is a search for who you are.
Naval: It’s both a search and a recognition. Sometimes when we search our egos, we want to be something that we’re not. Our friends and family are actually better at telling us who we are. Looking back at what we’ve done is a better indicator of who we are.
Peter Thiel talks a lot about how competition is besides the point. It’s counterproductive. We’re highly memetic creatures. We copy everybody around us. We copy our desires from them.
If everyone around me is a great artist, I want to be an artist. If everyone around me is a great businessperson, I want to be a businessperson. If everybody around me is a social activist, I want to be a social activist. That’s where my self-esteem will come from.
You have to be careful when you get caught up in status games. You end up competing over things that aren’t worth competing over.
Peter Thiel talks about how he was going to be a law clerk because everybody at law school wanted to clerk for a Supreme Court justice or some famous judge. He got rejected, and that’s what made him go into business. It helped him break out of a lesser game and into a greater game.
Sometimes you get trapped in the wrong game because you’re competing. The best way to escape competition—to get away from the specter of competition, which is not just stressful and nerve-wracking but also will drive you to the wrong answer—is to be authentic to yourself.
No one can compete with you on being you
If you are building and marketing something that’s an extension of who you are, no one can compete with you. Who’s going to compete with Joe Rogan or Scott Adams? It’s impossible. Is somebody else going write a better Dilbert? No. Is someone going to compete with Bill Watterson and create a better Calvin and Hobbes? No.
Artist are, by definition, authentic. Entrepreneurs are authentic, too. Who’s going to be Elon Musk? Who’s going to be Jack Dorsey? These people are authentic, and the businesses and products they create are authentic to their desires and means.
If somebody else came along and started launching rockets, I don’t think it would faze Elon one bit. He’s still going to get to Mars. Because that’s his mission, insane as it seems. He’s going to accomplish it.
Authenticity naturally gets you away from competition. Does it mean that you want to be authentic to the point where there’s no product-market fit? It may turn out that you’re the best juggler on a unicycle. But maybe there isn’t much of a market for that, even with YouTube videos. So you have to adjust until you find product-market fit.
At least lean towards authenticity, towards getting away from competition. Competition leads to copy-catting and playing the completely wrong game.
In entrepreneurship, the masses are never right
In entrepreneurship, the masses are never right. If the masses knew how to build great things and create great wealth, we’d all be rich by now.
When you see a lot of competition, sometimes that indicates the masses have already arrived. It’s already competed over too much. Or it’s the wrong trend to begin with.
On the other hand, if the whole market is empty, that can be a warning indicator. It can indicate you’ve gone too authentic and should focus more on the product-market part of founder-product-market fit.
There’s a balance you have to find. Generally, people will make the mistake of paying too much attention to the competition. The great founders tend to be authentic iconoclasts.
Combine your vocation and avocation
Nivi: Do you think one way of getting to authenticity is by finding five or six various skills you already do and stacking them on top of each other, maybe not even in any purposeful way? If you are expressing who you are, you’re going to be expressing all of these skills anyway.
Naval: If you are successful, in the long-term you’ll find you’re almost doing all of your hobbies for a living, no matter what they are. As Robert Frost said, “my goal in life is to unite my avocation with my vocation.” That’s really where life is going to lead you anyway.
You’re right about the skill stack. Everyone has multiple skills. We aren’t one-dimensional creatures, even though that’s how we portray ourselves in online profiles to get employed. You meet somebody and they say, “I’m a banker.” Or, “I’m a bartender. Or “I’m a barber.”
Specialize in being you
But people are multivariate. They have a lot of skills. One banker might be good at finance. Another one might be good at sales. A third one might be good at macroeconomic trends and have a feel for markets. Another one might be really good at picking individual stocks. Another might be good at maintaining relationships, rather than selling new relationships. Everyone’s going to have various niches. And you’re going to have multiple niches. It’s not going to be just one.
As you go through your career, you’ll find you gravitate towards the things you’re good at, which by definition are the things you enjoy doing. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be good at them. You wouldn’t have put in the time.
Other people will push you towards the things you’re good at, too. Because your smart bosses, co-workers and investors will realize you’re world-class in this one thing. And you can recruit people to help you with other things.
Ideally, you want to end up specializing in being you.