Sometimes your future doesn’t pan out as you expected (and sometimes you’re surprised to learn that the unexpected is exactly what you needed). The following is a reflection on entrepreneurship, as told by Revital Schechter, a founding member of Gleam (a 2016 Zahn startup). Revital will share more about her journey on a panel of entrepreneurs at our upcoming Accelerator Demo.
The most common stories of successful entrepreneurs often start with anecdotes of their childhood. A story about how they started hustling at the age of 8, setting up well-organized garage sales and making hefty profits (in the eyes of a child), or how they were constantly tinkering with new inventions, or maybe how they hit it big with an eBay shop. As much as I would love to say I was that hustler 8-year-old, I wasn’t. I did not even come close. Instead, I sat by my older brother as he tackled entrepreneurship in the early days of elementary school. I watched him grow into the CEO of his own startup while I was in high school, and I always thought this was the exact definition of an entrepreneur. So if you had asked me during my freshman year of college whether I considered myself an entrepreneur, I would have laughed and quickly replied no. In my eyes, I did not fit the bill of an entrepreneur – I did not have any inventions or products to offer.
When I first heard about the Zahn Innovation Center during my freshman year, I was inspired and motivated but I made the mistake of not taking advantage of what was right at my fingertips. I believed that because I didn’t have an idea or a solution for a problem, I was not an entrepreneur. Fast forward a few months later, my roommate brought up an idea that she had to help make mental health care more accessible. She was interested in applying to the Zahn Center and was putting together a team to apply to the annual venture competition. Without a second thought, I signed up and began an adventure with her that changed my life entirely.
The next 2 years were the most thrilling, challenging, confusing, and memorable years I have ever had. I joined a team of strangers, got thrown into a cohort of brilliant and inspiring individuals, and made the Zahn Center my home. And so, Gleam was born. We were on a mission to use technology to make mental health care more accessible in low income communities by easing the burden on mental health workers.
Looking back on it, I always find it difficult to condense what I’ve learned from my journey with Gleam. There is so much that happened in a very brief period of time that boiling it down to 3 points may not do it justice. Nevertheless, here is a glimpse of what the entrepreneurial life is like:
Problem Solving (to the max) – As with many startups, I was working on creating a solution that did not exist yet. This was not a textbook problem from one of my class assignments which had a step-by-step procedure and a clear formula. It was a daily challenge of working together to figure out what a solution could look like, how could we achieve it, and understanding if it would it make the impact we wanted it to have. This was unchartered territory and we were forced to think outside of the box and to push the limits of our creativity in order to create a product. Simultaneously, it was a flood of crash courses on finance, advertising, design, engineering, business development, and other various topics. We did not have the resources to hire experts in these fields – so we became the experts that our company needed. And for those days where we did not have the expertise we needed, we had an army of mentors and advisors and to support us.
Roller Coaster – This is perhaps my favorite term to describe the startup life. It is filled with incredible highs – the launch of your product, the completion of beta testing, signing on your first client. But it is also filled with lows – scrapping the third iteration of your product, getting negative reviews, sleepless nights, and barely having money in your bank account. The greatest milestones you reach are memories that you will keep with you forever, and more importantly you will also remember the bad days. But it’s the hard times that are the most valuable experiences because that is what helps you grow and change as a person and as an entrepreneur.
Friendship – Your team will quickly become your family. After spending so many hours every day with them and experiencing the wins and losses as your startup grows, you will never be closer with another group of people. My teammates were strangers to me in the beginning, but today they are my mentors, my inspiration and my confidants and my family. We have held each other up during the lowest points of our journey and celebrated together for every success. I was able to see each one of my teammates grow so much, and I have no words to express how proud of them I am.
If you have ever thought about pursuing the startup life, do not wait another day. For those of you who are thinking about bringing your idea to life – go for it now. For those who were like me and do not have an idea for a product but still want to be in a startup – find that person with an idea and work with them. Talk to one another about your dream or a problem that you may have noticed in your community because it’s from these conversations that you may meet your partner in crime with whom you’ll build a great company.
The moral of the story is that whether your startup becomes the next Facebook, or if it never reaches a single customer, you’ve succeeded. The experiences you will gain on this journey will carry you through both your professional and personal life. In the end, you will walk out of this having gained so many skills, friends, mentors, and enough memories to last a lifetime. Challenge your preconceived notions of what entrepreneurship is and go experience it for yourself.