Chris Sacca's Commencement Speech

This commencement address was given to the Class of 2011 at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. Watch the full speech here.


The Dean of the School introduced Chris by listing some of his accomplishments but afterwards Chris wanted to list a few "of the more important ones:"

  • When Chris was in college he led his dorm in noise violations.
  • He had his fake I.D. confiscated twice.
  • He borrowed a lot of money go to school and he still can’t figure out where all his work-study cash went.
  • He got arrested in college once for an on-campus food fight, and
  • The only activism he was involved with was when they shut down their on-campus pub.

In 1998, when Chris graduated he took his student loans that were meant for grad school and used them to start a hedge fund. Within 18 months he had made over $12 million dollars. But, over a period of one week in 2000, he lost it all and ended up over $4 million dollars in debt.

It took him 5 years "of the hardest, ugliest years of his life" before he made it back to a net worth of $0 dollars.

He now runs a venture capital firm called Lower Case Capital. They manage over $1 billion dollars and the company only has one employee other than Chris.

He acknowledges that luck, of course, played a huge role in his success. But he also thinks there's a kind of "formula" to success.

I think there’s actually a formula for how this can work for each of us and that success can be within the grasp of everyone in this room because, after all, my undergraduate school and my graduate school experiences weren’t particularly inspiring from an academic perspective.

I definitely wasn’t a model student. Did I ace every test? Nope. Did I make it to every single class? Hardly.

In college I found out I had allergies. Very specifically I had an allergy to being inside a classroom on a sunny spring day. So what was the secret of my success? Was it my GPA? No. 

I’ve been asked my shoe size in bowling alleys more frequently than I’ve been asked my GPA throughout the rest of my life.

Your GPA only matters to people who have no other reason to find you interesting.

 

What is Success Anyway?

Is success about making the most money?

No. Money, for the most part, turns people into jerks. Money doesn't make you a good person and it definitely doesn't mean anyone will like you.

So, if money isn't the answer, how will we know when we've done it right?

In my experience, quite simply, success is happiness. It all comes down to happiness...

The happiness that quite literally fills your lungs. The kind of happiness that makes a noise, it announces its arrival with a deep inhale and a deep exhale.

That happiness is success because it turns out,
Happy people get jobs.
Happy people create.
Happy people win.
Happy people fall in love and raise families.
Happy people lead and change the world.
Happy people get what they want because often happy people are the ones who realize they don’t actually need much more than they already have and they appreciate what they’ve got.

 

The Formula to Happiness

Step 1 - Control-Alt-Delete

We all know that this is the nuclear option for your computer. Control-alt-delete takes your current state and wipes it out. It reboots everything.

Today is the chance to hit control-alt-delete in your life. Your past mistakes will all get wiped out in a full reboot; that can happen today. This goes both for your personal and professional issues.

So when you let go of those buttons and life boots back up, who do you want to be? How do you want people to describe you?

 

Step 2 - Be Present

Chris talks about his love for Twitter, but he talks about how it can become an addition. Every time we pick up our phones we're devoting some of our attention to it and away from the people we're actually with.

We owe each other our full attention. Why?

Life is funnier when we’re all laughing together, love is more intense, and we’re all smarter when we’re paying attention.

Being present makes you smarter, funnier, and undeniably more attractive.

When you’re right here, right now, you notice things. You notice the nuance and expressions of the people around you. You notice the things that might make you a new friend or get you hired or even give you a chance of hooking up.

You notice today and how wonderful it is.

 

Step 3 - Go on Offense

Going on offense means calling plays and managing the clock. It's about keeping the other team on defense reacting to you.

Take that and apply it to the rest your life.

Let’s look at email for example. Email always puts you on defense.

Your email is a publicly posted to-do list where it’s up to everybody else to impose their whim on you. Even worse, because it's the very first thing we check, we start doing stuff for other people and we forget what we wanted to accomplish for ourselves. That stops now.

It’s an awesome time in history to be authoring our own futures in real time... Anyone of you, right now, could use the internet to become an expert in any subject at all.

Never in history had there been fewer barriers in the way. No matter where we come from, what our parents did for a living, how much money we have, we all can be unqualified successes.

So who do you want to talk to? Where do you want to spend your time? What do you want to learn?

"Offense also means owning your personal brand."

Your voice should be the first two or three responses when I search for your name on Google.

Sitting back and watching television, that’s playing defense.
Going outside and being with your friends, that’s offense.

Provoke and inspire. Don’t just get involved but inspire others to be involved. That’s playing offense. The most successful people I know live off of their own to-do lists.

 

Step 4 - Be Helpful

We live in scary times:

  • The climate is in crisis
  • One in seven people on this planet doesn’t have access to clean water.
  • An entire region of the world is in the throes of revolution.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Americans are deployed overseas right now in dangerous wars.
  • Here at home we’re still mired in the worst housing crisis our nation has seen in decades.
  • Jobs have gone away, millions of Americans are just down on their luck, they’re entirely and systemically screwed right now and it’s not getting any better anytime soon.
It can be depressing and yet at the same time there’s such an opportunity there because it’s never been easier for all of us to be helpful.

Almost selfishly, you feel better when you’re helping others. Not only do you start to appreciate what you already have but you empathize with their situation and you feel empowered because you know you can help them.

Chris also says that as it turns out, helping people is also the easiest way to get a job.

Every day I get pitched dozens and dozens of new business plans and I receive resumes from all over the world. Once you’ve seen a few thousand, they all look the same. My eyes glaze over I can’t help it.

However the people I do end up noticing are the ones who engage in conversation with me on twitter and elsewhere. They’re the people who blog, the people who start interesting conversations and add to the conversations that others have started.

They’re the people who actually dive in and start new projects without any hope for compensation or asking for anything selfishly. They’re just looking to help. Starting from nothing, and having a material impact in the lives of their fellow humans.

Those are the people who get the job offers. Those are the people who get recruited because they demonstrate the initiative, the entrepreneurship, the awareness, the concern, the humility, the drive, the dedication, the willingness to go out and do something.

That’s who everyone wants on their team, the starters and the doers.

There’s never been a better opportunity for each of us to change everything for everyone.

As my favorite author, Buckminster Fuller once wrote, “We are blessed with technology that would have been indescribable to our forefathers. We have the wherewithal, the know-it-all to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and give every human on earth a chance. We know now what we could have never known before, that we now have the option for all humanity to make it successfully on this planet, in this lifetime. Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment.”

We all have the chance to guide us towards utopia. We all have the chance to make sure that every single person on this Earth has that same shot of happiness that you have.

I have no doubt in that and as you’re helpful and as you’re good to others you’ll acquire the most valuable asset in the world, the most coveted in unobtainable treasure for so many business people today. That is number five, the ability to sleep well at night.

 

Step 5 - Sleep Well At Night

It’s amazing that in 2011 ethics is still such a problem in business. It's probably the problem in business.

Every passing day it becomes clearer and clearer how over the last couple of years individuals and their institutional sponsors defrauded investors and took ill-gotten gains off the table without a hint of sorrow or regret. Lies have been told to everyone involved, including congress.

Yet bonuses have never been bigger and an entire industry has been bailed out.

Chris says, "I know some of these jerks personally and professionally and while it’s easy to envy their private planes and Aspen chalets, I’m here to assure you that every single one of them is haunted by demons, each of them. ...  They’re unhappy at home because their family and friends can smell the stink of dishonesty on their skin and on their clothes. Their relationships suffer; their kids grow distant."

I’m here to tell you there is no price worth trading off for sleeping well at night.

Don’t cut corners. Don’t B.S. Don’t lie.

Be proud of yourself and stand for something. Money will come, trust me. But no amount of money in the world will help you sleep well at night if you haven’t been legit.

 

Step 6 - The Most Important Step - Be Weird

The most important piece of advice I can give you on the path to happiness is not just to be yourself but be your weird self.

It takes too much energy to be anything but your weird self. We spend too much of our lives trying to live up to the expectations of others.

We buy things we don’t really want with money we don’t really have to impress people we don’t really care about.

But the truth is, we're all weird. We all have our quirks. Celebrate them. "Be goofy, tell corny jokes, dance awkwardly, express your half-baked thoughts, but most importantly laugh about your failures."

Weirdness is why we adore our friends... Weirdness is what bonds us to our colleagues. Weirdness is what sets us apart and gets hired.

Be your unapologetically weird self. In fact, being weird may even find you the ultimate happiness.

There is an old expression whose author was lost long ago, but they saying goes, "We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love."

Weirdness lies at the heart of all happiness.

Want to be happy? Just go on with your weird self.