This article was written by Ted Chan, CEO of CareDash. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel of entrepreneurs at MIT Launch’s summer entrepreneurship program. I couldn’t have dreamed of something I would have wanted to do more when I was in high school. It was a great panel that included Patrick Boyaggi of RateGravity, Jonah Lupton of SoundGuard, and Matt Handy of SQD. I’m focusing here on a few of the key entrepreneurial lessons we shared for those starting out:
1. Build fast, fail fast
I learned about freelance website eLance (now part of Upwork) about 10 years ago, and I’ve since spent a million dollars and many late nights on this site. Upwork allows you to post a project of almost any type and find a freelancer with the skill set and willingness to complete it. I try to communicate a very clear, early vision about what I want to build, get to a minimum viable product (MVP), and get feedback. I will only invest in the product further if the feedback is strong, whether that comes from trusted peers, the marketplace, or potential user groups. Being able to let go of ideas that aren’t likely to get traction is key for entrepreneurs with finite resources.
I will only invest in a product if the feedback is strong, whether that comes from trusted peers, the marketplace, or potential user groups.
2. Practice tactical vs strategic communication
Slack, HipChat, or the revamped Skype, among others, are great team tools for getting things done. One of my team members at CareDash correctly pointed out that these are great tactical/ operational tools, but are less effective for strategic communication. Strategic communication includes things like speaking about your vision, getting buy-in on ideas, and true brainstorming. Strategic communication is more difficult in remote environments, but just as important.
3. Find a straight-shooting mentor
Mentors are, by definition, very nice—nice enough to take the time to spend teaching and advising someone in this busy world. I have many mentors who are unfailingly encouraging, but the ones who have helped me the most have been the mentors who have provided feedback in constructive ways. Constructive feedback could mean pointing-out that your product doesn’t have a market fit, or telling you the risks of a specific career or industry choice. As a mentor, I do my best to not only be encouraging, but honest. My most valued mentors have kept me from making some poor decisions.
As a mentor, I do my best to not only be encouraging, but honest.
4. Develop your critical thinking skills
I encouraged the students to go to a college or university that best fits with their style of learning. For many, a small, rigorous liberals college might be the best environment. I also encouraged them not to just focus on technical and scientific skills. I felt my college experience at Swarthmore prepared extremely well for the business world by providing me with the critical thinking skills I needed to analyze information and make the right decisions. I rounded out my technical skills with courseware, self-teaching, and hands-on experience, and my business skills with a MBA at MIT Sloan.
5. Focus on building meaningful relationships
I hung around for 15 minutes after the panel, and later exchanged some emails with some remarkable students—they had come from Spain, Kenya, and all over the US. I was amazed by their entrepreneurial drive and ambition at such a young age. Another favorite part about the event was seeing my good friend Jonah Lupton from Soundguard, who seems to be in a great place. When we met ten years ago, he was a financial advisor, and I was still mostly in management consultant, moonlighting with a few ideas. It was about that time we both made the decision to leap into entrepreneurship. I think we would both say it has been a rewarding journey, certainly not without its shares of bumps and bruises. You never know when old connections will resurface or when opportunities for collaboration will arise. The network these students have already built is incredible—there’s no saying how their journeys will intersect or how they’ll be able to help one another face challenges. Which brings me to my last point:
6. Embrace failure as part of entrepreneurial mentality
Entrepreneurship is inherently about risk, and with risk comes the possibility of failure. So much of success in entrepreneurship is about failing fast or having the mindset to bounce back from failure. As a leader, your team takes on your mentality toward risk and failure. The willingness to fail fast, be honest in assessing your own product, and accepting the need to change/ pivot/ re-think comes from you. No one gets it right the very first time. Just as important—the path to success is one you and your team should embrace and enjoy!
Success in entrepreneurship is about having the mindset to bounce back from failure.
About Ted Chan Ted Chan is the Founder and CEO of CareDash.com. Ted created CareDash after noticing two troubling trends on healthcare review sites: healthcare providers serving certain segments of the US population were underrepresented and many existing sites accepted financial compensation in exchange for removal of negative provider feedback. These practices have made access to information about the quality of provider care more difficult for large segments of Americans. Ted also founded the websites DynamicPath and PracticeQuiz.com, which form one of the largest free test prep providers. Ted received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Psychology with High Honors from Swarthmore College, and MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management.