Harvard Business School and Deciding to #beafounder
Wait…why is the door locked?
I am spending the day at Harvard Business School today. I am ahving lunch with some MBA students, speaking about entrepreneurship and investing and meeting some teams who are launching companies out of school.
I imagine a lot of the questions will be about getting a job in VC. I have lots of thoughts on this but they boil down to act like an entrepreneur or better yet, be one. Founder is the hardest job in the world to be good at, but it is the easiest job in the world to get — you just have to start.
As I sit on the train headed to my beloved Boston, I have to admit I am thinking about taking the next step in a career and the last time I visited the business school at Harvard.
It was 10 years ago.
I was a prospective student.
I got dinged.
I recovered by launching a company.
The day I got my rejection letter, I signed up for an Ironman. I wrote “sub-12” on the letter and started training. The training forced me to use technology to monitor my performance and track my progress against specific goals. This activity, combined with hours of solitary time in the pool, on the bike and running the trails of Portland inspired me to build a fitness technology company that evolved into the first home fitness video game.
As I would have been taking my first semester mid-terms I finished the ironman in 11:40.
I did not worry about building a feature or a product or a business, I started with the process of working toward a goal. I knew that my use of technology had helped me achieve my goal and the same thing should work for other people. I started with the hunch based on the unaverage — me and other long course triathletes — and designed a system to monitor training and provide suggested adjustments to the training plan based on training results and stated goals. I called it multi-phase media.
As I would have been planning a globe-trotting b-school winter break, I started talking to angel investors.
Moving from particulars of the system to generalities of the market I realized that while there are more than 1,000 people doing ironman training there are probably less than 1M. Still convinced that the concept of personalized, interactive, goal oriented technology was an ideal training platform, I went looking for a bigger group of people.
As I would have been selecting classes for my second semester I was executing my first pivot.
Gyms seemed like a good place to start. I spoke to gym managers and fitness instructors at a local gym. The managers loved the concept and talked about the cost savings they could see coming from a platform of networked gyms with virtual trainers and the deeper engagement they could get with their members by moving state of the art entertainment from TV to interactive experiences. For trainers, it was “suicide” as more than 75% of their income came from private sessions with “clients” and this was a “trainer replacement.” I learned that the only products they ever recommend to clients were for diet or home workouts. Damn!
As I would have been starting to think about a summer internship, I had another pivot to execute.
I found out that more than 40 million fitness DVD’s were sold in the US every year. In a small market test, home fitness users said they loved the privacy, the convenience and the cost of these workouts. They hated the linear format, the lack of diversity in the exercises and the fact that there was no way to know if you were making progress or doing it right. At the same time, game consoles were becoming ubiquitous and while women were the decision maker in 80% of the games sold each year, they only represented 20% of the end users of the games.
As I would have been heading into my first summer, I was recruiting a team of people to pursue a new hunch, to build a fitness video game and take on the monumental task of convincing women to put a disk into the box next to their DVD player and unlock a personalized, interactive, goal oriented home fitness experience.
We built a great product and sold it with some success. My choice of business partners could not have been worse. How we chose to handle a lawsuit early in the company’s life was immature and bled us to death. The way I structured business development deals and allowed the capital structure of the company to evolve were naïve.
As I was standing in front of 40 people to verbalize the layoffs that they knew were coming, I would have been celebrating my first reunion with my HBS classmates; maybe raising a glass to toast the business I started while in school and the partners and supporters from the HBS network who joined me in the effort.
You never know what will happen, but if you always listen to your hunches and pursue what you are most passionate about at the time, it will work out.
You want to work in VC.
You should pursue it with passion.
You will probably get dinged.
It will hurt.
Recover by starting a company.
I wish you the best in your search and hope my thoughts today are helpful. More importantly, I hope you will call me this summer if you need support in your recovery and have decided to #beafounder.