I’ve always wanted to start a company. I grew up watching my father build a chain of apparel stores, and I started my first business, Liberty Software, when I was 15. A friend and I wrote computer games (Crypt of the Undead was one of our first), my grandmother wrote the music, and we sold them to Atari. In college, I ran the company out of my dorm room; I studied entrepreneurship, and interned at Apple, where I wrote code for the Macintosh and became enamored with the “Think Different” mind-set that permeated the organization, from the revolutionary products the company built to the pirate flag flying on the roof. Early in life, I knew I wanted to create new products, encourage revolutionary ideas, and build a distinctive culture in my businesses.

So it came as a great surprise when, upon college graduation, my entrepreneurship professors told me not to start my own business but instead get “real-world experience.” Specifically, they urged me to take a sales position that focused on building relationships with customers. They called it “carrying a bag.”

I was less than enthusiastic. A career in sales wasn’t anything close to the path I had envisioned for myself. Yet this turned out to be some of the best business guidance I’ve ever received. It certainly changed my life and deeply influenced the company I ultimately did create.

After graduation I accepted a job at Oracle answering its 1-800-number. I didn’t want to be a 1-800-number operator, but soon I discovered ...

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