Going Against the Flow: Trip Adler, CEO of Scribd

John R. “Trip” Adler III started the social publishing company Scribd in 2013. Adler grew up in Palo Alto, California, and then attended Harvard University where he studied biophysics and graduated in June 2006.

Trip Adler, CEO of Scribd

What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?

TA: There are many different types of entrepreneurship, but I’ll tell you how I think about it in the context of Silicon Valley right now. Entrepreneurship is about tackling big problems – often non-obvious problems – that will have a meaningful impact on the world and this usually involves solving these problems in counterintuitive ways. In general entrepreneurship involves leveraging the hard work of people, financial resources, and market trends, and pulling it all together so that big things happen in a way that gets compounded over time, regardless of how small the initial project or resources were.

I think the most important trait for an entrepreneur is persistence. When you try to do something new and difficult, you are more likely to fail than to succeed. When most people hit failure they give up, but good entrepreneurs simply treat failure as a learning experience and use it to fuel and inform their next move. This process is emotionally exhausting – at least before you get used to it – and that’s why persistence must be an underlying characteristic in order to find success. Unfortunately the road is not always smooth, and this this doesn’t happen just once or twice in the evolution of a company, it happens constantly. In the ever-changing world we live in, you always need to be pushing the envelope on everything, and trying and failing in order to continue learning every part of the business. I think the classic quote is when Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

What are you most proud of in your professional career? If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?

TA: I’m most proud of the team we’ve built here at Scribd. We have some truly talented and passionate people who have accomplished some amazing things. Building a high quality product that serves more than 80M people a month that’s constantly changing reading and publishing is no easy feat. I’m very proud of what our team has accomplished and everything we will get done in the years to come.

I’m not sure I’d go back and do anything over in my life. I’ve definitely had my fair share of failures and moments where I wasted my time or that of other people, but if I did those moments over, I’d have missed out on so many lessons. I can think of at least one product I built that ended up being a pretty big failure because of my own mistakes. If I had given up at that point, that would have been a terrible outcome. Instead, I learned…

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