If you’re trying to figure out how to start a business, you would do well to look to Jason Feifer for inspiration. In addition to being the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur, Feifer produces a podcast, writes a newsletter, and advises people interested in becoming an entrepreneur. If that weren’t enough, he recently wrote a book, Build For Tomorrow, about preparing for change and building a more resilient, fulfilling career. We spoke to him to learn more about his journey and the lessons he learned along the way.
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Wix: In "Build for Tomorrow," you say that entrepreneurship is more of a state of mind than a description of your work. Can you tell us a little bit more about that thinking?
Jason Feifer: [Entrepreneur] used to be an uncommon word that denoted a founder at a very specific stage in their journey. Now, so many different kinds of people identify with this word. People are looking for ways to be and think self-sufficiently, even if they’re an employee. Obviously, there's a big difference between what a founder does and what an employee does, but the emotional journey of trying to get somewhere by yourself is relatable across so many fields.
Horizontal thinking is—I make a thing, I put it out in the world, I move along, and I just keep doing that. But entrepreneurs have trained themselves in what I call "vertical thinking." They do something because they think it’s the foundation upon which to build the next thing. I think the more anybody in any position thinks that way—what they do now will drive toward opportunity later—the more growth they can unlock for themselves.
Related: Entrepreneurs and Thought Leadership: Why the Two Go Hand in Hand
You talk about “redefining failure” in your book, and I wondered if we also need to redefine what success looks like: How do you define success for yourself if there is no finish line?
It's an unbelievably valuable thing if you can think about failure as data. We need to define success for ourselves in realistic and meaningful ways. It's not like you get this thing you were working toward, then there's cake and you get to go home. It just opens the next door. You've got to figure out how to get to the next one. We can step back and set goals for ourselves that aren’t about succeeding but about achieving momentum.
I often think back to this guy named Ryan Holiday who has written a lot of best-selling books. He wrote this piece about what it's like to be successful, and how it weirdly doesn't feel like anything. Success and failure don't necessarily transform you. So, we have to set our expectations differently.
It sounds like your definition of success is always growing, looking toward the next step of your journey, exploring something different, trying something new.
The goal that I set for myself is basically, “How can I figure out what the next transformation is?” This is why I have constantly upgraded the thing that I do and the way I do it. I don't know that it can get any more specific than that, and I'm not sure that it should.
That connects to your idea that we shouldn’t identify ourselves by the job we have but by the thing that drives us.
One thing that drives all types of entrepreneurs is having a sense of ownership over the thing they're doing. When I was a magazine editor, I used to think that I wanted to be the owner of the thing we were making. I wanted it to be my vision. This is not out of a sense of wanting to control; rather, it’s because the work is a product of my own abilities.
When I got to that place with Entrepreneur, I realized that the next step was ownership of myself. I had an opportunity to build things outside of the magazine that were just mine.
So, every time I achieve something that moves me further in that direction, I feel like that is a marker of success. It's abstract, but it's scalable—and it means that there are lots of little wins along the way.
I really loved all of your examples of moral panics that seem really ridiculous from our vantage point. My favorite was the anecdote in which the musician suggested mothers would stop singing lullabies to their children because of the radio. Do you see entrepreneurs panicking about some sort of change that you think is going to seem ridiculous in 20 years?
This is an oversimplification, but you can divide the world into people who feel like they are being acted on and people who feel like they are the actors. I think the fear of new things is often driven by people who feel like they are being acted upon and don't have control over the things that are coming into their world. It's new, so their instinct is to push back on them.
Entrepreneurs feel like they produce new things. They have their own set of problems—they are often too optimistic, so they might be blind to how new things might not be as impactful as they think.
You can think about those Lime and Bird scooters. I think it's a great technology, and I'm really happy it exists. But when they first came out, the talk was like, “This is going to revolutionize urban transportation.” But they didn't revolutionize transportation. They just added one more good option.
We have to understand that the new things that come along aren't going to destroy, but they're also probably not going to transform. Occasionally, you make Google and it literally transforms everything. But most of the time, you don't.
Most of the time, what you make is something that's useful and has value. And sometimes it takes us a while to understand the value and how to refine it to be useful for the most people.
Do you ever worry that this mindset could be weaponized in order to shut down or dismiss real issues and valid feelings?
That’s a very realistic concern about a totally optimistic, unquestioning approach to saying every new thing is good. I agree that problems need to be engaged with. The thing that we should not do is say, “Is this perfect?” Because nothing is going to be perfect.
Oftentimes, we focus so much on the problems that we say the problem is the whole thing. We might say, “Oh, these scooters are blocking bike lanes, and the solution is to get these things out of my city.” I don't think that's the realistic or smart way to think about it.
I think the better way to think about it is, “Is our new problem better than our old problem?” Because that allows for problems, and you evaluate whether we're on the right path to address this new problem and make things even better.