It also marks an intensification of requests for advice in my InMail. Talented young aspirants that want to know what it's like to be a Forbes honouree and help on their own selection. I decided it might be more efficient do this once and do it thoroughly so here it is - my thoughts on the acclaimed 30 Under 30 (30U30) list, what it's been like becoming an honouree and some tips as to how to improve your chances of becoming one yourself.
30U30... isn't that a British 80s reggae band?
The Forbes 400 (or Rich List) is well known to many. It's iconic; a symbol synonymous with business success, entrepreneurship and all the trappings of material wealth.
But is it an appropriate thing to measure? Wealth may be some indicator of human advancement, ingenuity and societal impact but it is undeniably a poor one.
A bit like GDP, wealth measures (in the words of JFK) "everything except that which is worthwhile". Plenty of individuals - I would even say the majority - who have had a lasting impact on our world amass no billionaires' empire. Think Rosa Parks, Marie Curie or Tim Berners Lee (ok so his net worth is estimated at a respectable $50m but he could have potentially been the first trillionaire).
By contrast, since 2011 the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 lists have been recognised as 'the definitive search for the world’s most inspiring young innovators, bright rising stars and the leaders of tomorrow who are transforming the world'. The list is geared to be future facing, to scan for 'ones to watch' and the leaders, disruptions and industries trends of tomorrow.
Unsurprisingly past honourees have won Gold Medals, Super Bowls, James Beard awards, Pulitzer Prizes and more. They include the likes of Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg, Snapchat's Evan Spiegel and a host of other famous names that would indeed overlap with the Rich List, but also include many other non-household names that are equally pushing boundaries and challenging the established order. It was a dream to make the list myself, one that happened earlier this year for my work in sustainable energy.
Perhaps you need no convincing; the chance of being on the cover of Forbes Magazine is motivation itself. But recognition and honour aside there are some excellent reasons you should consider putting yourself forward to join what is affectionately referred to by the collective of honorees as 'Forbes Fam'.
First, it's not really a list. Its more of an exclusive (and active) community. There are WhatsApp groups hundreds of members strong for different cities around the world and proactive meet-ups... we even have our own 30 Under 30 mobile app; a modern Rolodex of connections any aspiring entrepreneur would kill for. Case in point, I'm heading to Boston later this year and already looking up 30U30 energy folk at MIT and Harvard for an exchange of views.
Access to this global cohort of bright, driven young millennials opens up a world of contacts, experiences and peer support from entrepreneurs of every background and industry imaginable. It's an invaluable resource to help personal growth, swap experiences and incubate ideas that could change the world.
I've had the privilege of meeting a great many honourees, often in vastly different fields to my own. Take Tyler Oakley who uses his YouTube platform with 8 million subscribers for LGBT activism; Kai Kloepfer, trying to reduce accidental firearm deaths by guns getting in the wrong hands through biometrics; or Obinwanne Okeke, who built 9 companies in Nigeria from the ground up. The list of amazing people you meet at these events goes on and each person is as impressive as the last.
Next are the summits. Forbes hosts a number of these around the world each year to enable delegates to learn, network and collaborate. For 30U30 honourees the passes (snatched up by others for $1900 per ticket) are free. These events form the focal point of community building. They bring together investors and thought leaders; people like Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra and Jessica Alba all spoke at the summit last year.
Imagine a networking event where everyone you talk to is someone you could talk to all night if you bumped into them at a regular party. I feel like one of the dumbest people in the room when I go to these events and that is an outstanding place to be if you want to be challenged, expand horizons and to grow.
It undeniably casts a spotlight on you and your organisation, start up, or idea. In the days following the list announcement my Linked In views skyrocketed into the thousands; followed by droves of InMails and connection requests. It's the sort of attention that could give a vital boost and exposure to growth of a world changing idea.
So how do you go about getting a shot at it?
Understanding the odds
Despite the name, the 30 Under 30 has in fact grown over the years into a collective recognition of around 1200 people each year under the age of 30 - so perhaps the odds are not as bad as you think.
How so? Well whilst there are 30 people per list, there are 3 lists for different regions covering (at the time of writing) the US, EMEA and Asia as well as cross cutting a differing number of industries; things like Energy, Media or Healthcare. The categories are not entirely consistent geographically; for instance the US gets 20 (for a total of 600 Honourees) and Europe gets 10. On a pure population to places ratio there are some better places to enter than others; although unless you are a digital nomad, that may be out of your control.
Before you get too buoyant however, note that Forbes recieve over 15,000 entries in the US alone, placing the odds of making the list as tougher than entry into Harvard and Stanford. There are more than 25 applications for every place.
The process itself is fairly straightforward. An online application portal opens each year for each region (here's the link again for 2018) and will have a particular cut off date before which the nominee must be under the age of 30 (the 31st Dec 2017). With a few basic details you can self nominate or be nominated.
Self-nomination is understandable particularly in the context of small start ups (where you may not have someone to nominate you and it's really up to you to put yourself forward) whereas the latter to me makes more sense if you are part of a larger organisation as it carries more weight, particularly if it comes from a senior executive. In certain circumstances a small team of founders can be collectively recognised rather than an individual.
A short 500 character statement as to why the nominee belongs on the list is required, as well as a further 500 characters on what motivates the nominee nominee to be successful or make a difference. The provision of Linked In, website and any other media links is also requested. These latter parts are critical so do not overlook them.
Upon receipt of all applications the Forbes editorial team undertake a filtering and shortlisting process. Not being privy to the detail of this, my guess is the statements are used as the first filter follows by desk based research of the media links (that's why having a good 'googlability' and digital presence is key).
A team of journalists contact shortlisted nominees to request more information, clarifications and a better understanding how you'd be a fit. I had maybe 3 further rounds of exchanges, clarifications and requests for more information from the Forbes team after I was informed I'd been nominated and shortlisted.
A panel of expert judges from your chosen industry then pour over this more comprehensive shortlist before decisions are ultimately made on final selection. The whole process took around 8-12 weeks from nominations closing to results for 2017.
"Finalists in each category are decided by Forbes reporters who study their respective industries year-round to find emerging young talents. After many months of research, reporting and interviews, we bring short lists to our A-list and expert judges. Each category’s judging panel weighs in on who they think deserves the honor. Forbes has the final say on who makes the cut."
How To Stand Out
What follows is a series of personal advice as to what I think would make a difference to your nomination. Bear in mind I am not a Forbes staffer nor a judge, so my introspection comes from only one side of the nomination process. I tried however to incorporate some observation of common facets to successful honourees from our conversations.
1) Find Your Passion
If you want to make the list, let's start with the fundamentals - authenticity is key. Find something you're good at, that genuinely means something and that you're willing to dedicate your life to the pursuit of improving. Easily done eh?
Passion is the adrenaline that carries you through difficult times, the failures and the naysayers (of which there will be plenty, for sure). It's different and personal to everyone, but I think everyone in the world fundamentally seeks meaning in what they do and those lucky enough to wake up each day looking forward to work are well in their stride to making the 30U30, because it's a rarity.
If you haven't found yours yet it's not something I can easily guide you to; it's such a personal thing. Carmine Gallo in his book Talk Like TED identified that it's a key trait in successful and inspirational TED speakers. He asks you to consider what makes your heart sing? Putting money aside, if you could do anything in this life, what would you do? Follow that strand, and see where it takes you.
For me, it's sustainable energy (and by association work to build a New Energy Network with energy storage). Not as a lofty altruistic ideal but because I believe it's fundamentally critical to humanity's survival and prosperity. The counterfactual is unsustainable energy; fossil fuels are finite and the world population continues to follow the laws of exponential mathematics. This fork in the road takes us to two very different futures - one with clean, reliable and affordable energy for all and energy poverty (incidentally one of the key barriers to Human Development) eliminated forever, or a much darker one that leads our society to fall like the many great civilisations before it.
If you're seeking meaning, I was struck by the words of Bill Gates address to College Grads recently. To him the three big areas likely to make a difference today were Artificial Intelligence, Biosciences and Energy. But whatever you choose to do, commit to it. Live it. Love it.
I can not prove causation but I can have a stab at a striking anecdotal correlation. Almost all of the Honourees that I have spoken to at Forbes are extremely well travelled. Some to the extent that they are full on digital nomads, forever hopping from city to city, most speak several languages but all have open mindsets.
If you have the chance to travel (or better yet move), be it city, country or continent I encourage you to take a risk and give it a shot. It builds confidence in yourself and tolerance of others. You gain an added appreciation that we all have our own confirmation bias that is a product of our individuality, upbringing and the cultural norms in which we are raised. The more you travel, the more you're aware of it. The more you join the dots and cross-pollinate ideas.
" Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of earth all one's lifetime."
3) Have Grit
This applies in different guises to all careers and industries, but considering entreprenurship can you guess what the number one trait Venture Capitalists look for in backing a young (or indeed old) renegade? It's grit. There are a lot of synonymous ways of describing this: self belief, self confidence, patience, persistence, determination but you get the idea. You need to cultivate a simple, unwavering, unapologetic view that you have an idea that will change the world and you're going to make it happen.
This goes hand in hand with point 1 regarding passion. If you're doing something new, it almost always will rub up the established order the wrong way. They'll tell you that it can't be done. That it won't be possible. That you're wasting your time.
You need to be prepared for a lot of doors slammed in your faces, a lot of 'no'. It's disheartening, depressing and downright demotivating. Not only do you have to deal with it personally, you also have to be there to pick up the spirits of your team and lead. It ain't easy, but no road to success is.
It's too easy to look to the airbrushed, filtered vision that we are often presented of success stories and be disheartened. Don't be. You will screw up, repeatedly. So do I. So does your business idol. The only people who claim not are so deep in their comfort zone that they are never pushing boundaries or attempting anything new.
Keep trying, keep failing and failing better.
4) Build up a personal brand
You may or may not think of yourself having a brand, but you undoubtedly do.
Your personal brand is the collective image of you that is the cumulative product of how you project yourself both in person and digitally through Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and so on. Is it important? Undoubtedly. Is it about you? Surprisingly not - it's about creating and demonstrating value to others.
Putting these concretely, I already told you that one of the key ways Forbes screen 30U30 candidates is by googling you, checking out your digital presence (Personal website and Linked In and so forth) to see if it stacks up with the content of the application. Make sure these are up to scratch.
There are some great tips on creating a more impactful Linked In page here and here. For my personal website I applied the same sorts of principles. I used Strikingly as my web builder, which is a low cost and user friendly way of pulling together a professional looking website if you can spare the hours.
It's vital these are congruent to your application and to your own individuality. Don't be afraid to inject some personality into proceedings and to differentiate yourself from the business you work for - the Forbes list is, after all, a recognition of individuals.
5) Understand your audience
A little preparation and media savvy is your friend. You'll be told who the expert panel of judges are for your category and with a bit of research you can get to know them and what is likely to resonate. Get in their heads with a bit of desk research. Follow them on Twitter and Linked In and get a feel for what they care about. Tweak your messaging accordingly.
Above all make it easy for Forbes Staff to screen you. You might be the best nominee in the world but if the evidence is a pain in the ass to find you might be filtered out in the first round.
The key info needed should be easy to identify, coherent and typo free. You have to nail the personal statement and capture the assessor's attention. Understand what they're looking for - drive, ambition and a story. Make sure you tell one!
"Start Young. Think Big. Stick with it. Do these three things and you'll be successful"
That was the advice of the Father of Venture Capital Sir Ronald Cohen, who shared these words in the opening keynote at the 2017 Forbes Summit in Israel. It probably encapsulates all of the above, and it resonated with me.
If you aspire to make an impact, the groundwork has to be laid early. The Forbes team don't expect a finished product, but they absolutely do look for potential.
Convey it, and you'll be in with a shot.
Liked this post? Maybe you'll like my last one: Mission to Mars: 7 Takeaways from my visit to SpaceX.
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