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Q&A with Ning CEO Gina Bianchini

By Christopher Schonberger

Q: What advice do you have for recent grads interested in working for a start-up? Beyond being in a specific industry, is there any particular experience that would stand out to you if you were looking to hire someone?

A: I don’t think that you have to have specific experience. I do think it’s helpful to work at a start-up. I think it is really helpful to see it in action, and to go through a year or two of that cycle. We have a couple of people who have been at Ning for two years and they’ve seen so much and have taken on so much responsibility two or three years out of school. They would never be able to do that at a larger company. And that is going to accelerate dramatically what they’re going to be able to do when they go and start something.

The other thing I would say is really important from my experience is getting hooked up with the right people—getting hooked up with people, being a student of entrepreneurship, being a student of different entrepreneurs and what they’ve done and how companies get started. I’m a voracious reader—I have to be. You also have to have people around you that are honest with you, and you have to listen to them. We’re an industry that’s supposed to be really supportive of people doing brand new stuff, so you’ve got to find the right people [who will tell you when you're moving in the wrong direction].

Q: Do you have any general advice for recent grads?

A: I have lots of advice! I think one of the key things is you’re going to get out of it as much as you put into it— whatever it is that you do. I’m a huge believer in following your dreams, especially right out of school. One of the things I saw was that there were a lot of people that I came up through the ranks with who went to law school or became a banker and it was like, “I’ll do this for three years and then I’ll go do the thing I’m totally passionate about.” It gets harder and harder to do the thing you’re totally passionate about if you don’t do it right out of school. And there’s a really practical reason for it: once you’ve spent three years making a fair amount of money, going and doing something that would have been really easy as a recent grad because you didn’t have any money anyways becomes a lot harder, whether you like it or not. And you can do it—I’ve had friends who became writers after being bankers and being business partners and things like that. But it’s harder, it’s a lot harder. So following your dream right from the beginning I think is the right way to go. Because you kind of don’t know any better and if you work your ass off you’re going to learn something through the process. Especially in this shitty economy: go for it, what do you have to lose?

Also, make sure you have discipline. It really comes down to all those things that are common sense. Make the time for the thing that you really care about. So, let’s say you really want to be a comedy writer and you need to have a 9-to-5 job. Make sure it’s not a 9-to-5 job that’s too cushy or too boring or too soul-vacuuming. And make sure you have those three or four hours a night to work or do those things that you really care about. I think that’s what’s really important.

Q: What things stand out to you when you’ve got a recent grad working at Ning?

A: If you’re having fun, you’re going to do a better job. One of the really important things to me about working at Ning is asking, “What do you want to work on”? I want you to work on the things you want to work on because you are going to have more fun and you’re going to do a better job and it’s just going to be a better place to be because you like what you’re doing. If you don’t like what you’re doing, then it’s not fun for anybody. I like what I’m doing. So I think it’s a lot about raising your hand and saying, “This is what I like to do, this is what I don’t like to do.” But you actually have to work hard to back it up—you can’t just say, “This is my favorite thing.” I have a bunch of college grads who say they really want to do strategy. But…they don’t know anything about strategy! So I tell them, “Why don’t you start working on something where you’ll learn about strategy.”

Check back in next week for Part II of our Q&A with Gina Bianchini to learn about creative ways recent grads can utilize Ning networks.

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